Musical Theatre Set Design Case Study

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Project overview

Musical theatre set design

Co-designed and built a set for the PADOS musical performance of Bonnie and Clyde in April 2024. Particular focus needed to be given to the logistics of the set to ensure that it was easy to transport to the venue and install in a short period of time.


4 months (including discovery, design, build and install)


Co-designer, builder and performer


Myself, Stage manager acting also a project manager, build/install team, performers


Established in 1918, the Prestwich Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society (PADOS) presented its inaugural opera production, marking the beginning of a rich history spanning over 105 years.

Since then the society has grown its membership numbers and become a key staple in the Prestwich community, providing equality entertainment for the ever growing arts focused interests of the surrounding area. They have also been fortunate to win multiple awards at regional and national level for their dedication to the production they produce.

PADOS continues to produce a wide variety of musicals, reviews, pantomimes, and plays, striving to emulate West End shows while pushing artistic boundaries.

Design Brief

Bonnie and Clyde is set in 1930's american during the Great Depression. The design needs to hint to a lack of money / work and a more rough and ready appearance.

Consideration needs to be given to projections used within the show to highlight key changes in time and location.

A car is a key storyline item and features prominently multiples times in the production. Consideration needs to be given where this will be stored for easy access during scene changes.

The cast size will be 22 people with scenes that have full cast on stage. There is also additional smaller set / props that will be used and space is needed for these.

Conducting research

Before beginning, I wanted to see what other companies hd done for the Bonnie and Clyde production and how they had tackled some of the requirements for the staging.

Creative and technical discussions

What is the director's overall vision?

  • The band needs to be on stage and elevated above the main set.
  • Cast members will be doing the majority of the set changes so the need to keep these in character is important.
  • Projections will play heavily in the show to highlight changes in location. This is primarily done because of the speed of these changes within musical numbers.

What are the theatre's technical constraints?

  •  Size of the stage is minimal however there is the ability to add a stage apron to extend this.
  • Stage left has no space to store any set.
  • Space for storing large set items is limited on stage right due to the need for cast entry/exit.

Previous show learnings

To start my design process, I wanted to look at previous productions of Bonnie and Clyde. I found this a great starting point to understand how others have tackled the same script and effects needed as part of the show.

Key things that I took away from these shows.

  • Wood plays a key part to the set. This could link back to the rural nature of many of the scenes in the show.
  • The car is a central focal point in the show and effort needs to be given to this and how it can be made into a focal point.
  • Projections highlight scenes are atmosphere. The surface of this is mainly flat compared to a projection mapping technique.
  • Moody colours are important to convery emotion of the time and energy in the show.

Defining the design area

How might we ensure that the band is included in a way that doesn't draw attention from the character action?

How might we ensure that projections are clearly visible on stage to convey atmosphere and emotion?

How might we showcase the car as a focal point, whilst also considering scene changes to cause minimal distractions to the action on stage?


As PADOS is an amateur theatre company, budgets are very tight and need to be used wisely.

Building experience
Volunteers make up the backstage and build teams. Consideration needs to be taken with understanding their skill sets and what can be built to a high quality.

Quick scene changes
During the show, there is a number of scene changes that need to happen quickly to keep the momentum of the show moving. Understanding the logistics of backstage operations, including stage hand numbers, will be key.

Backstage space
There is limited space backstage and in the wings, so majority of the set will need to ‘live’ on stage.

Ideation and testing

It was time to look at various different ideas that could work to bring the world of Bonnie and Clyde to life. Utilising wire framing to help quickly create ideas that could be used to provide reference for teams proved useful.

3D wireframes

The utilisation of a 3D model for the stage proved immensely beneficial for several reasons:

  • The director gained a comprehensive understanding of the stage’s potential for accommodating action with the cast.
  • The choreographer could effectively plan out movements, knowing precisely the space available.
  • The set build team received invaluable insight into the project’s scale and the materials required.
  • The stage manager was equipped with clear expectations regarding show requirements and available space for smooth execution during the run.

Car design

The car played a pivotal role in the show’s narrative, requiring meticulous consideration to ensure seamless logistics for its swift integration onto the stage during scene transitions.

This sketch served as a catalyst for sparking conversations and generating ideas regarding the construction of the car and the logistics of transporting it to the theatre. It was crucial in guiding the thoughtful planning required to seamlessly incorporate the car into the stage transitions.

Colour inspiration

As projections would play a significant role during the show, careful consideration of colours was crucial to effectively convey the narrative and time period.

I opted for a faded aesthetic for the wooden elements to signify their age and decay, mirroring the scarcity of funds available for repairs during that era.

The selection of colours on the car, notably the sand hue on the body, paid homage to the real-life Bonnie and Clyde, who painted their car similarly to blend in with the road and evade detection.

Installation & delivery

These are some of the images from the production during show week. The set looked fantastic and was received well by audiences.

Project reflections

After the project had finished there was time to look at the project in a retrospective manner to fins out what went well, what didn't work and what could be improved. Here are some of the key things that need to be considered for next time.

Adjudication review

Designed and built by members of the society, the set comprised of a central wall created from wooden panels, giving the audience an authentic and rustic feel.

Really a very successful and interesting set design and construction giving the impression of Depression era Texas.

Greater Manchester Drama Federation (GMDF)

Volunteer planning needed to be better

The society relies on the support of volunteers to operate all the backstage areas, including set building. 

Whilst I knew this during the design phase, it was hard to plan time around the unknown schedule of the volunteers, as sometimes they were unable to commit due to personal appointments. This made it hard to draft a timeline for the build.

Going forward, I would need to allow additional contingency time for time to ensure an on time delivery.

Lets talk

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