PART III: Drawing for Theater

Chapter One: Design Drawings

      1. Tell the Story
      2. Design Sketch
        1. sketch by hand for the computer
        2. cut, paste and what-if
        3. simple 3d
      3. Presentation Drawings
        1. Models
        2. Virtual Reality Models
        3. Isometric Projection
        4. Orthographic Projection
        5. Perspective Drawings
        6. Design Elevations
      4. Layout Drawings
        1. Groundplan and Section
        2. The Hanging Schedule
      5. Shop Drawings
        1. Construction Details
        2. Painters Elevations
      6. Lighting and Sound Design Drawings
    1. Chapter Two: Construction Drawings

      1. Unit Drawings
        1. Discrete Building Units
        2. Variations of Look
        3. Scene Layout
      2. Building Phases
        1. Undercarriage
        2. Sub-Assemblies
        3. Unit Numbering
        4. Framing
        5. Latches and Bolt Patterns
      3. Drawing Details and Notes
        1. Drawing Clutter
        2. Detail Boxes
        3. Detail Sheets
        4. Detail Notations
        5. Typical Details
        6. Door and Window Schedule
      4. Drawing Symbols
        1. standard symbols
        2. standard welding symbols
        3. standard plumbing symbols
        4. personal symbols
        5. symbol keys
      5. Painters Elevations
      6. Specifications
        1. Special Requirements
        2. Typical Requirements
      7. Construction Lists
        1. Bid List
        2. Contract
        3. Construction Checklist
        4. Shipping Checklist
    2. Chapter Three: Managing the Stage

      1. Staging
        1. Staging Symbols
        2. Blocking Diagrams
        3. Scenery Blocking and Storage Plots
        4. Prop Diagrams
        5. Orchestra Plot
      2. Travel Papers
        1. Assembly Drawings
        2. Packing Lists
        3. Carnes and Import/Export Documents
    3. Chapter Four: Lighting and Sound

      1. Lighting
        1. lighting plot
        2. standard symbols
        3. detail drawings
        4. equipment schedules
        5. color list, instrument list
      2. Sound
        1. sound plot
        2. standard symbols
        3. detail drawings
        4. equipment schedules

AutoCAD Backstage home. AutoCAD Backstage Index. next chapter.

Tell the Story

The trick to a good drawing is to get a message across quickly. Overall shapes and relationships should stand out immediately. Important information must grab attention. Details and textures add greatly to the life of a drawing, adding richness and intelligibility, but they must blend into the background and not compete for immediate attention. Adding shadows to three dimensional objects clarifies and makes the shape readily recognizable.

A large part of balancing the impact of various elements is done by varying the line weight in the plot. By separating classes of elements of the drawing onto different layers it is possible to change colors (pen weight) and linetypes at any time. If the line weights in a plot do not have the right sparkle, it is easy to change them and try again. The title block must be bold and assertive. The outline of the scenery and the walls of the theater must stand out prominently. Items seen at a distance, mechanical details, hardware and decorative attachments, textures and hatches, reference lines,...these call for a much lighter line weight.

AutoCAD drawings lend themselves very easily to a clean, clinical starkness. The precision of the lines, always perfectly straight, at perfect right angles, the exact same width beginning to end, and perfectly trimmed at the ends, leads to a barren quality. Messing up the lines is time consuming and leads to editing nightmares.

Add richness through details. Show the electrical cabinets and curtain pulls around the edges. Not only will this add texture to the drawing, but impediments to stage access and scenery storage will be very clear. Details and notes that crowd the important drawing elements are more problematic. Too many notes and details can drown intelligibility in a crazy quilt of less import information. In all things there is a balance.

When adding notes to the drawing, be sure that they will be large enough to read when plotted, but not so large as to distract from more important information or clutter the drawing.

chapter index.

Design Sketch:


chapter index.

Presentation Drawings:

chapter index.

Layout Drawings:

The typical theatrical groundplan is an assembly of drawings. The groundplan of a particular show will also contain the groundplan of the theater, a title block and the line sets schedule. Each scene may have its own plan, or each scene may be placed on a separate layer.

While working for Houston Grand Opera, most of the ground plans that I drew were for one of two theaters. I created a drawing for each theater that had the theater Xreferenced into it. An Xreference [Xref] is a drawing inserted much as you would insert any drawing block, accept that it does not reside in the drawing. When the drawing is opened, the Xref is also opened. When you send the drawing to plot, the Xref is sent as part of the plot. When you save the drawing, you save a note telling the drawing where to find and how to display the Xref. The original Xref file has not been altered at all and does not need to be saved. It is not a part of the new file. This means that if you update the ground plan of the theater, it will be updated everywhere it is inserted as an Xref. There is only one copy of it in use. Your drawing files stay a lot smaller because all of that information is not being copied and re-copied repeatedly.

The Groundplan of the Theater:

Accurate drawings of the theater are one of the indispensable assets that a designer relies on. With poor drawing to go by the designer may be placing scenery in difficult or akward places or scaling pieces too large or too small for the theater. By adding a high degree of accuracy and detail to the theater drawings, many ugly suprises can be eliminated from the process of loading the show into the theater.

Because AutoCAD allows the same drawing to be plotted out in many different ways and at different scales, you only draw the theater one time. Come back to the drawing and improve it whenever there is time. Because this drawing is crucial and can represent many hours of effort, always make several backup copies.

If you work primarily in one house, as in a resident company, your groundplan of a theater will be an often used drawing. Make it look good. A great deal of sketchiness in the show drawings can be masked by a polished looking shell. If you are Xreferencing the theater groundplan into the various show drawings, continual improvements in the theater drawings will be reflected in the show drawings.

Start the theater drawing with the walls. Accurately placing the walls of the stage house is crucial. Ideally you will want to have measurements of the walls and the diagonal distances, corner to corner. There are many theaters which have nearly but not quite square walls. Set VISRETAIN to 1 (ON). This command was not documented in my Release 11 manual. When you use Xref, AutoCAD imports the Xreferenced drawing with all layer assignments set as they are in the original. By setting visretain ON, changes in the layer settings are remembered by the drawing containing the Xref. Changes to the presentation of the Xref are commonly made. Layers such as traps or a lift are frozen or unfrozen for a specific ground plan, or a color might be changed. With visretain on, the new ground plan will remember changed layer assignments, colors and line types every time you open the drawing. The original drawing is not changed.

The reference point or (0,0) point for all theater groundplans should be center stage at the plaster line. Wherever the cursor is in the drawing, the screen coordinates will tell where that location is relative to the centerline and the plaster line. For a normal stage house drawing, with the rear wall of the theater at the top of the drawing: stage right locations have a negative X coordinate, stage left locations have a positive X coordinate. A positive Y coordinate represents a location up stage of the plaster line and a negative Y coordinate is down stage of the plaster line.

Do not include standard equipment in the house ground plan that move, movable lighting towers for instance, unless they have very few standard positions. An Xref can only be manipulated as one entity. It is not possible to move a part of it without moving the whole Xref. Instead of putting the towers on the original Xref groundplan, insert moving portions separately in the copies. Manipulate those elements separately in each new drawing. If there are only two or three locations for a unit, draw the unit in both locations on the original. Place the different drawings of the units on separate layers and freeze them. Then unfreeze the layer showing the unit in the position desired for a specific ground plan. This insures the accuracy of placement and saves the need for a separate Xref.

I draw the fly rail on to my basic theater ground plan with slashes to locate the line sets. Place the line numbering in a separate drawing. The line set numbers are sized and spaced to fit the line spacing on the ground plan. The line sets in the Brown Theater at the Wortham Center in Houston are on 6" centers. I entered the first one in place and arrayed the rest with 6" spacing. I then edited to adjust for the occasional anomaly. The insertion point for the hanging schedule can be the 0,0 point of the ground plan or it could be at the end of the first slash on the rail. Just make sure that you can insert the line schedule accurately every time.

In hand drafting I locate the hanging information next to the line numbers. With AutoCAD I do the same, with a catch. I place the lineset numbers in a separate block. In that block, next to each line set number is an ATTRIBUTE. Attributes are specialized text entries designed for use in blocks. For the full details on attributes, skip ahead to the Attributes section in the chapter on Manipulating Elements. Each attribute is PRESET to blank unless that lineset normally has a specific purpose such as a projection screen or grand teaser. Attributes can be justified left, right, center, etc. just like any text entry. Array the attribute definitions and edit them using DDEDIT as if they were regular text entries. The DDEDIT command calls up a dialogue box, showing the TAG, the PROMPT and DEFAULT entry of the selected attribute. Fill in new text for each field and the attribute definition changes. Set the prompt to the lineset number. Change the tag if you wish. If line one always carries the grand teaser, enter "Grand Teaser". Only the TAG is visible until the attribute is placed in a block.

When selecting the entities for the lineset block, be sure to pick the attributes in lineset order. While saved in a block, the attribute tag and prompt fields can not be edited. To change the attributes in the lineset block, use the Dynamic Dialogue Attribute Edit [DDATTE] command. Type DDATTE (Dynamic Data Attribute) and hit enter. Select a lineset block and hit enter. A dialogue box appears with each attribute prompt followed by a blank line. Just fill in the lineset information for each lineset used and select OK. Now the completed hanging schedule will appear with all lineset notes.

It is possible to create a block using only attributes as elements. When invoking DDATTE, you must select the block. If all the attribute fields are blank, and there are no other elements to the block, there will be nothing to pick. Your block is lost in cyberspace. Build the hanging schedule in the original ground plan or section. Save the hanging schedule as a block or blocks. Then save again as a WBLOCK. This creates a separate drawing of the complete hanging schedule. Open it and edit just like any other drawing. The original blocks can be PURGED from the original ground plan.

By Xrefing the hanging schedule into the drawing separately from the theater ground plan, you can Xref the same schedule into the ground plan and section or several ground plans and sections. When it is time to change the hanging schedule, and nothing changes faster than the hanging schedule, there is only one place to go. Change the hanging schedule once and you can be reasonably assured that it has changed everywhere.

Use a blank hanging schedule as a prototype for each new show's hanging schedule.

chapter index.

Shop Drawings:

chapter index.

Lighting and Sound Design Drawings:

chapter index.

AutoCAD Backstage home. AutoCAD Backstage Index. next chapter.

Copyright © 1999 Wm W Wells. All rights reserved.