Time for a new series of Snippets from my theater set design book Alice Through the Proscenium - this time from the chapter "Design Elements:
What exactly is design? What are you designing and what bits and pieces are you designing with? The elements listed below are some – not all – of the elements of scenic design. They are often elements of Design in General, whether of plays, pastries, houses, or hats. These are listed here mostly so you, the designer, can go, “Huh! Forgot about that!” And then think about it…
Mass – This is perceived heaviness and solidity. Sets, being built of light materials, often lack this, instead looking cardboard-y. But real life has mass and real walls sometimes substantial thickness. Mass adds importance to an element. Aida’s Egyptian columns need size - and not to quiver when leaned upon. At other times you may want delicacy and lightness.
Solid/ Void – Solidity tends to read as stable and massive – void as light or empty “negative” space. The interplay between these qualities is sculpture. Study the model. There has to be a lot of empty space on stage to put actors in, but avoid aggressive voids which suck energy and life from the production.