Getting into college


Hey, i am a senior in highschool and am looking at going to Virginia Commonwelth University (VCU) and majoring in scene design/technology. The only drawback is that my exceptance into the program is based solely on my portiofol and i m really confused where to start. They really dont give me much outline of what they want so onece again I turn to the magical world of the internet for help. any help at all would be apreciated. thanks

You might start at your director/TD and have them help you put something together, than call the college or stop by with an appointment to get some help in this. Given it's what they require, I'm sure the theater department already has some help info on it or might even make staff available to give you some info and pre-presentation help. Might being the operative word. You can also get a wealth of info on portfolios by pulling up some info off (stagecraft) see the link. In addition to that, interior designers have to do portfolios so if you can't find any scene design books such as Scenographic Imagination having that info a library should have info on portfolios there. By the way, the above book would also be a really good thing to read in learning how to do the below ideas.

A portfolio is a really difficult thing to make and takes a lot of time to build. The usual one has drawings photos and pfrequently rograms in all parts of it that you have designed. Perhaps even swatches of fabric and scenery you have done such as an interior designer might have in their portfolio. That's assuming you have designed the stuff. If you did not, than you can't take credit for them much less would you have the drawings.

On set construction or costumes if that's your experience, photos of what you built with say letters or notes from the designer/TD should suffice to some extent. If the designer did a rough sketch for you to construct it with, have him or her sign off on it and post it with a photo of what you built given the information you had.

For Costumes, collect up some photos and tracings of them than note off to the side what the parts of the costume are being used. Than do a fabric swatch with the material. Do some sketches of your own design and do the same. Perhaps a colored in perspective sketch of all the actors as they might appear on stage while in costume.

On lighting, there is not much credit you can take if your job was focusing or light board because it's more or less what someone is directing you in doing. In that case, you might get permission to get photos of the lighting done and have notes on what you were doing with it. In a beginning portfolio such things can bulk it up some but only bulk it up not be it's focus. Getting permission for using someone else's designs is important however and you will need to state such as a header above the photos that it's lighting crew work or something like that so it is not misunderstood that you designed it. Next sit down and do some sketches and story boards in addition to light plots for actual show designs. Just because your design was not put on stage does not mean that it's not a design. Do a colored drawing or small painting, draw say a man reading a news paper at night while sitting on a bench under a street light. Even take a photo of it, than do some rough sketches and quick plots of how you would design such a real life thing on stage. Find an image in a magazine and do a study on where the lighting is coming from, and what it is' doing. Than do a rough plot of not only how you could re-produce the picture on stage but what gels etc. you will need. There is a few portfolio pages. Most lighting books on design will have such info and studies you can do in learning design. Gelette as an author writes some good books on this. Do up some cue and patch sheets, clip away at them to show only what's of interest and post them on the lighting plot. Follow the below designing a show steps also but for lighting. Perhaps even make up a model of a stage in say 1/2":1'-0" or for this example, 1":1'-0", find some doll house furnature and models paint a set and do a design with some mini-flash lights and mount and gel them to give some lighting design angles. Take a picture not only of your little lighting lab but of what you are lighting looks like. Blow up the pictures to say 8.1/2x11 and post them next to your drafted design for the model. This would be unusual to see in a portfolio and might set you apart from the rest of the high school applicants.

Next step I would think is to sit down and start designing some shows that you can present. No, they will not have been realized - the term for a show that was actually produced, but a design is a design for the most part this early on. I assume you have had some drafting in high school, otherwise text books on scene design such as Drafting for the Theater for scenery and a lot of books on lighting will cover drafting to some extent. If you don't have training in drafting, you had at best get a scene design book right away and start practicing your drafting so you can present neat enough drawings. Such learning drawings from high school class and or the text books can also be included in your portfolio for a page or so. I still have the compass I had to do a full page exploded pictorial of in mine, it's too cool not to have. This thing says something about you. If you do something that's cool, even charcoal something in art class, include it because it's about you. Say up to 1/4 of your portfolio can at this early of an age be on stuff other than theater design.

Get a copy of your school's theater blue prints, pick a show, and start designing according to how the design book says. Include in your portfolio all your sketches, story boards, perspectives, perhaps if able, even build a model and take a photo of it. You can also include small pictures say from magazines or manufacturers pamphlets to detail and color in what you intend to include in the design. Mini sketches of certain areas of the set, working drawings for props even the soft flats used. Do the general elevation and plot for the set, do some construction drawings etc. and your first show is under the belt for the portfolio. Add to it say some paint store paint color chips and fabric swatches etc. If you want to do texture on the walls, paint up a small sample of what that texture would be. Do at least three more show designs from differing types of theater so they get an idea of where you are design wise, and what your drafting looks like and it should suffice since it's normal that you will not have had time or training in doing many show designs that are presentational quality. If you have any designs under the belt, perhaps pull them out of the stack, re-draft and sketch them up so they are presentable than add the photos or even newspaper reviews. On a portfolio, think collage, it's best if not just one page one drawing, keep the eye moving about the page, put all kinds of interesting things to see per page.

My portfolio includes not only shows designed and shows realized, but stuff from drafting classes of note, stuff from art classes, and after that I don't remember. Granted my main portfolio is about an overstuffed inch thick and 36x48. As someone just getting into this type of thing, I would say 12 to 16 double sided pages would be excellent and a goal. It has been at least 5 years since the last time I opened it and I was never very good on keeping it up to date. I also don't think I ever needed to use it to get a job, word of mouth gets you in the door. Speaking of that, this portfolio idea to get into a school is a lot of work. Do a lot of schools require it these days? Before I got into college I don't think I ever heard of such a thing. Than we had weeks in class spent in developing portfolios along with photomorgues.

The only thing my portfolio does not include is photos - I was always really bad with the camera inside and usually too busy. That's a shame because it's very important and should I need to apply for work, it would not help get the job. Such as the wagon for Sweeney Todd I once designed and built, looked great, worked excellent yet I don't have any photos of it. I was not the overall designer for the show - assistant designer, yet that was my major design for it and it was all mine. If your designer askes you to make some rocks yet does not tell you what shape they are or how to specifically paint them, than the rocks are yours and you can take credit for them given the designer agrees. Stuff like that is photo worthy. Later on, even if all shows are of interest enough to insert in the portfolio, perhaps you can just have a page or two of pictures from other stuff you designed or worked on.

I'm sure there are lots of people on the forum that can give a E-Photo of how they organize the portfolio. For the most part, you keep the eye moving around the page would be my advice. Fill the drawing up with stuff tacked onto it. If the set and interesting things are not going on at the edges of the page, attach a small colored perspective drawing of it, attach fabric swatches with notes as to what they are, even fold a page in half or into quarters and insert another page such as the elevation so you can learn as much as possible off one page. Others might differ in opinion. At least on every page for a design, you should have at least one title block. Don't try making it seem like you have been doing design for a long time, be honest with your dates on stuff. Be honest about everything, it's safer.

Remember that not only does your portfolio need to be at least some pages long and varying in what's shown, but it's supposted to be an example of your best work, where you are at in design and where you are going. If you have say 4 fully designed shows at this point taking up about 3 pages each, and say another 6 pages of more stuff such as studies about ideas and details, construction drawings for props or other smaller things and sketches of all kinds of stuff, that should be a good start assuming a 24x36" size. Say double that for a 18x24 portfolio. It's very ambitious also but would be a good amount.

A goal would be one show every other week to get them out of the way with a week preceeding each of them in doing your research and sketches some of which can also go in. Say you find an interesting picture of a cross atop a church, and your are designing Saint Joan. Doesn't have a huge amount to do with the actual design but inserting even such a picture from a magazine, or better yet exploding up a color copy of it will help present your design concept. The portfolio is kind of a log of what you have done, but it's also a presentaion of the show you design.

Than, after the main stuff is out of the way, just keep sketching and doing studies on things such as the magazine lighting sketches above - how it was lit, or say find a picture of a prop for instance a fire place mantle and draft up construction drawings for it. Insert it's picture in with the construction drawings. If you do an interesting prop, take lots of pictures of it during construction.

Anyway just a few ideas, It would be a lot of work to pull all of the above described, especially with school but it's a goal and given a clear cut project as this can become, some teachers might give you class credit for it such as an individual study period on portfolio making for next semester. You might inquire about such a thing because with it being a school project you would also be assured of getting some premium teacher time in advice of how to do it. If I remember right Art students also have to do portfolios, not only might you be able to find some info on the subject down that route, but if your theater teachers don't have much experience with portfolios, perhaps the better supervisor might be the art teacher.

Finally, since it is the 21st century, if you have access to auto cadd, I would highly recommend doing your entire portfolio on disk that includes say PDF drawings of your designs and photos etc. Perhaps a slide show. That would impress them given you still will have to do some hand sketching and drafting, than perhaps scan them onto the disk.
Thank you for all that info man it helped a hell of alot. now im not that confused anymore. also the sweeny todd barber shop/meat pie shop wagon is totaly sweet to build. i got to help fabricate one last summer. again thanks for all the info.


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