Why are Stage Sets so Expensive?

Posted by Stage Dealer on

When building a set for live production, there are a lot of moving parts involved, all of which contribute to the cost of manufacturing a “one-off” custom stage set for an entertainment production. A quick overview of the process:

The Design Process

The process begins with the design portion, where the set designer comes up with the stage set concept and creates several sets of renders for the creative team to discuss and evaluate as a possible fit into the entire production. Typically this portion of the live production process requires several concepts and revisions to arrive at a design that fits with the overall creative vision.

Engineering and CAD

The next step in the process is the actual engineering and CAD construction line drawings of the stage set. During this portion, the design and engineering team make sure the set can fit in the space as well as detail the construction elements and techniques used in building the stage. Again this is a multipart process with the designers and engineers involved with the scene shop that is building the stage sets for production. At this point the finishing of the set including the paint, materials used, code compliance (fireproofing), and other critical items are confirmed before actual construction begins. All of these stages of set construction require dedicated professionals to manage the process all along the timeline. All of this time is built into the cost of the stage set, even before we get to the construction process.

Construction

In the construction portion of the stage set build process, the scenery shop executes the construction diagrams created by the design and engineering CAD teams. Depending on materials and the difficulty in construction, this process can take up to six months and can require hands on attention from of the designers and other members of the engineering in creative teams, to deal with issues that arise in the set construction process.

Ok, it is a lot of time, is that why it is expensive to build stage sets?

Custom building a “one-off” piece of equipment, in this case a stage set, is always expensive due to the time and the inherent customized needs of theater. The designers will never design the same thing twice requiring engineering and construction teams to literally build each new stage set from scratch. A scene shop that may have built a thousand sets over a thirty year period can only streamline their processes, not reuse or repurpose specific items that they have built based on another design. There is never an “economies of scale” in materials (because they are always different), design time, or engineering time.

When an automaker designs and manufactures a new car for instance, all costs of engineering and design are spread across thousands of vehicles, and all parts are sourced in bulk leading to an overall lower-cost of production. The theatrical industry has never benefited from this type of manufacturing “economies of scale”. Without these types manufacturing benefits, virtually all nonstandard theatrical equipment including sets, props, custom lighting or custom video elements have a very high cost associated with producing them and presenting shows that include these elements.

Designing a stage set that can be used across just two productions reduces the cost of the set by 50 percent. Use the stage set in four productions and your production costs have dropped by seventy-five percent! These savings can either be reinvested in other aspects of the production, or you can construct a set that is 4 times the size or complexity and remain budget neutral. This concept can be applied to all aspects theatrical creation beyond just set design, enabling producers to deliver higher quality productions at lower price points.

Contact us to learn more about how to save on your next live production with Stage Dealer.


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