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Alice Through the Proscenium: more scenic set design

Updated on April 2, 2014

Announcing the Set Design Book You Need

After ten years spent designing more than a hundred and fifty shows (many of 'em award-winners), one critically praised Indie film, and an obscure TV game show - Poof! (maybe not exactly Poof!) a how-to book.

This how-to is perfect for beginning set designers, but also helpful to more experienced theater designers - or to anyone who wants to understand what set design is all about. (Bonus information on film or TV production design!)

The Book:

Alice Through the Proscenium
Alice Through the Proscenium

Alice has been selected by the American Association of Community Theatre as a "Recommended" read in their on-line bookstore.

What's in the book?

With humor and wide experience, Alice Through the Proscenium explains the strange world of theater (and a bit of TV/film) from a designer's view, with step-by-step explanations of the design process, from the first production meeting, right through Opening Night to Strike:

---- Reading the play

---- Designing - research, design methods and elements

---- Documenting that design through drawing and modeling

---- Building, painting, furnishing, and dressing a set

Architectural Styles - useful for sets
Architectural Styles - useful for sets

Alice also includes: a fast illustrated romp through style history; lists of helpful tools, materials, and books; a glossary; and sometimes life-saving advice like how to paint with a gorilla. Or how to deal with critics (more dangerous than mere gorillas).

Written by an architect and theater designer for beginning and developing designers, Alice Through the Proscenium explains in a step-by-step way the set design process from first reading the play; through "design" proper - including research and design methods and elements; to documenting that design through drawing and modeling; to constructing, painting, furnishing, and dressing your set onstage; right through Opening Night to Strike.

By jpote - on

This is a book whose time has finally come. When my son became involved in set design in high school, I looked for books that would show him the entire process. I found no such book. Searching the net, I found Clare DeVries' website and it showed what I was looking for perfectly. Beginning with early discussions, moving to general layout, going to sketches, final drawings, revisions (based on how the set really worked) and then photographs of the final, beautiful, award-winning sets. That work is now in a book. It is the one you have been waiting for - buy it now.

Other Reviews:

by joseph11 - on

Posted March 18, 2011, 11:32 AM EST: I have both a hard copy, signed, and a iBook copy. I am a set designer and this book is a true, what to expect, helpful guide for new and veteran designers. You get advice in this book that school text books can't give you. I own many books like 'How to Design Stage Scenery volume 1 of 2' yes, those books are helpful and I do read them but this book has real life examples and advice that you can apply towards your project(s). The charm in this book are the quotes used from Alice in Wonderland like "Don't go splashing paint over me like that!" "I couldn't help it." The handy thing about the Nook or iBook copy is you can reference this quickly when you are on set. I myself have pulled out my iPad and problem solved on the 'To Kill a Mockingbird' set just the other week. So what are you waiting for get your copy, paint, draw, learn and remember to have fun!

by Cogar - on Amazon

As a designer who spends a lot of time working with students, I have found the book to be an exciting potential resource in the theater classroom. Taking away the clouds that often surround the process of what we do, this book offers to the point insight and equal amounts of wit. Whether you are an old pro or just starting out, this is a must read.

Miscellaneous Testimonial-ish Factoids:

Alice Through the Proscenium is being used in classrooms. It's also selling well and world-wide - gathering fan comments from as far away as Malaysia!

Fan Mail Writer
Fan Mail Writer

Fan Mail

Since this quote is from the author's email, the "where" has been redacted from the comment so as not to identify the writer:

"It's a really fantastic guide to scenic design, simple, thought-out and funny. As the Assistant Technical Director at [hum, hum hum], I am going to suggest our set design professor read and think about including it as a text book in the Spring Semester when she teaches design. I remember the books I read in undergrad were full of information but often confusing, focusing on the minutia of carrying out the technical aspects and wasn't really written for someone looking to design. I hope everyone is reading your book."

There you have it - a satisfied customer, bless 'im!

Okay, What's Really in the Book?

Table of Contents:

Prologue page 5

Chapter 1 - Reading 7

Chapter 2 - Resources 9

Chapter 3 - Restraints 15

Chapter 4 - Design Process 21

Chapter 5 - Design Elements 37

Apologia 52

Chapter 6 - Documentation 53

Chapter 7 - Construction 61

Chapter 8 - Paint 68

Chapter 9 - Furniture 75

Chapter 10 - Set Dressing 78

Chapter 11 - Join the Tea Party 82

Chapter 12 - Aftermath 95

Chapter 13 - Post (Theatrical) Production 97

Chapter 14 - n' More 104

Epilogue 105

Amalgamated Home & Field Kit 106

Glossary & Index 107

About the Author 115


Never underestimate the set.

A theater set does more than define period or place. It is the play's world. A play-ground for actors. It can be an actor. It defines characters, colors mood, hints at themes, and helps set a production's quality. A poor design can hijack a show, lurching into inappropriate, over-whelming, or - dull.

There's more to scenic design than just a built set: lighting can create place and mood without walls or furniture. And, while the physical set usually reacts slowly to changes in the story, light can react to every mood and moment. Lighting and scenery together - with sound and props - create the acting environment.

When the author first dived into the strange world of theater, she couldn't find many guidebooks: most were meant for aspiring actors, not would-be designers, and the few "Tech" books tended to be too this-is-a-hammer-ish, more about building than design. Her best guide turned out to be Alice in Wonderland.

So she jotted notes as she stumbled around onstage - mapping her missteps and successes - and these notes grew into chapters and the chapters grew into this guide to scenic design. Not a textbook, but a roadmap and traveler's tale. Perhaps it can help other newcomers and amuse the experienced, who will recognize a few of the trip-hazards underfoot.

Take a brief look-both-ways before leaping..!

(More sample pages are on the, B&N, and Amazon sites.)

Exciting News! - Alice Through the Proscenium is At Last Available for Kindle

It's taken a while (and changes at Amazon) , but Alice is finally e-published for the Kindle.

A nice, clean e-version and handy-dandy to carry to the theater.

Alice Through the Proscenium: more scenic set design
Alice Through the Proscenium: more scenic set design

This useful set design guide can now travel with you to where you need it.

DeVries designed bookplate
DeVries designed bookplate

And with that you get...

...A set of Ginsu knives! (Nope, just kidding)

But if you buy a copy of "Alice Through the Proscenium" you CAN get an actual signed-by-the-author bookplate that I just designed in honor of my first long-distance (and long-standing, bless 'em!) readers. Purchase through and you'll get a thank-you email: respond with a bookplate request and an address and then snail-mail will bring one your way.

If you see me in person, I'll be happy to sign a book or a bookplate.

Or, I suppose, if you buy the e version... I could send you pixels?

Store Boughten Bookplates - (Books about bookplates - how meta!)

What a wonderful archaic art form! Designing my own bookplate (the wing'd book one above) was so much fun, I think I'll invent some more designs - so keep your eye open here, eh?

Alice Building Wonderland: set construction explained
Alice Building Wonderland: set construction explained

What's Next?

There's a sequel in the works!

No firm publication date yet (it's still being written), but there appears to be a dire need for a sequel that talks about the whole process of creating scenery. Not just the design of a set, but how to choose a set designer, how plan during pre-build, Build itself, and then everything involved with a set through Opening Night to Strike.

It's coming, it's coming...

Alice Building Wonderland: set construction explained.

Other Recommended Set Design Books - (But not as nice as mine. Could I be prejudiced?)

The Performing Set: The Broadway Designs of William and Jean Eckart
The Performing Set: The Broadway Designs of William and Jean Eckart

Inspiring designs from Broadway's famous design couple

American Set Design (Bk. 1)
American Set Design (Bk. 1)

A must-have if you're a student of set design.

American Set Design 2
American Set Design 2

And the sequel-must-have!

Designing and Painting for the Theatre
Designing and Painting for the Theatre

THE best book I've found. Expensive though as it's out of print.


Book Marks - a Reader's best friend

Comments Please - Already collecting ideas for the second edition - early readers' comments eagerly solicited!

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    • cdevries profile image

      cdevries 5 years ago

      @chezchazz: Thank you - and thanks for your visit!

    • chezchazz profile image

      Chazz 5 years ago from New York

      Congratulations on the publication of your book and the terrific response to it!