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Photo: Paula Viitanen

The SCA Production and Design stream provides a path for students to develop as emerging artists in live performance environments across the embodied, time-based, and spatial disciplines.

Our dynamic curriculum explores an expanded understanding of live performance and installation that aspires to engage the full sensory imagination. This means that our graduates equip transferable abilities across theatre, dance, live music concerts, opera, events, film, immersive spaces, devised works, and installations.   

By collaborating within the unique interdisciplinary ecology of the School for the Contemporary Arts (that includes programs in Dance, Film, Theater Performance, Music & Sound, Visual Art, and Art & Cinema Studies) we examine the disciplines of Production and Design beyond the limits of what a traditional theatre program offers.  Our state-of-the-art facilities include a broad range of performance venues, production studios, and current technology that intersects with Vancouver’s vibrant performance scene.

Our approach emphasizes an encouraging hands-on environment that responds to the interest of its students and the research of its practicing artist-instructors. We plant a strong foundation in the conceptual, technical, and critical abilities for potential careers or further studies in live perfomance and beyond. The coursework includes technical direction, producing, drawing, projection design, sound design, set design, lighting design, design-led creation, immersive environments, installation, production management, puppetry/toy theatre, moving-image making, drafting, building and more.  

The students receive significant individual feedback during classes and throughout production assignments. We are interested in the professional development of students and provide opportunities and exposure to design oriented thinking, technical planning, producing, and executing abilities in the field. We hope to inspire and empower our students to pursue their own artistic practice and collaborations sustainably both in the human, environmental, and community paradigms.

For information about applying to the program, please follow the links at the Future Students section of our site.

Program Information

During this four-year program, students will: 

1. Establish creative agency across a diversity of artistic and production engagements:

  • Discover an emergent artistic identity to flourish within and beyond the University

  • Acquire foundational knowledge and develop versatile methodologies across various modes of collective, collaborative and independent creation

  • Obtain hands-on experience with design-oriented thinking, technical planning, producing and executing capacities in the field of contemporary live performance and installation practices, including but not limited to: dance, theatre, film, opera, concerts, festivals, and events

2. Develop various processes and approaches for production across live-performance contexts:

  • Assess, adapt and implement production strategies such as iteration, prototyping, research creation, experimentation, open-ended play and creative problem solving

  • Recognize and respond flexibly to a range of production environments

  • Work across a range of budgetary and logistical scales from DIY to large-scale productions

  • Draw upon a diverse conceptual, technical and creative tool-kit to bring works to life from “seed to harvest”

3. Pursue sustainability across creative creation processes:

  • Develop sustainable design approaches. Understand and respond to the environmental impact of production across the full-lifecycle of materials, from sourcing to post-production planning

  • Critically consider issues surrounding equity, labour, accessibility and financial management across various contexts

  • Nourish inclusive and mindful communities, both with collaborators and audiences

4. Demonstrate a practice of dynamic, multi-modal observation, interpretation and communication

  • Develop analytical and critical skills across various sensory modalities, from seeing to listening to time perception and beyond

  • Interpret and communicate observations across different media

  • Discover and nurture a sense of imagination across the senses

5. Develop artistic and professional communication skills and abilities including:

  • Drafting, system diagrams, sketching and other visual skills

  • Scale-modeling, prototyping, iteration, fabrication, and other physical skills

  • Critique, pitching, productive meeting management and other verbal skills

  • Writing grants, artist statements, managing documentation, and other written skills

  • Daily communication management, budgeting, technical drafting, team planning, and other logistical skills

6. Contextualize work artistically, culturally and historically:

  • Discover a plurality of creative practices across genres and mediums

  • Contextualize work within today’s ecology of the contemporary arts

  • Critically engage with artistic work, theory, practice

7. Build and nurture communities:

  • Share and learn from one’s peers both within the university and beyond 

  • Practice empathy for oneself and others. Recognize and care for personal and collective needs in working environments and beyond

  • Foster respectful collaboration that honours other people’s knowledges and intelligences

  • Develop an awareness of how diverse publics interact with artworks

8. Cultivate lifelong learning:

  • Recognize that knowledge, skills and abilities progress over a lifetime

  • Understand technical competencies across disciplines and assess how one’s foundational skills fit within them

  • Cultivate resourcefulness

What kind of students are we looking for?

We value creative and resourceful thinking, open mindedness, and a collaborative spirit. We are committed to the artistic and technical education of every student we accept and expect an equal commitment from the students toward their own development.

We welcome incoming students from a range of backgrounds and disciplines, including but not limited to: traditional theatre production, design, moving-image, the visual and sonic arts, sketching, doodling, video mapping, performance production,  puppetry, crafts, DIY tinkerers, and beyond.

SCA Theatre Production & Design faculty (left to right): Wladimiro A. Woyno Rodriguez, Stefan Maier, Miwa Matreyek, and Kyla Gardiner.

Production & Design Program FAQs

Q: How are we different from typical production and design programs?

A: Situated inside of a contemporary art school we can offer a broader range of experiences than programs that just focus on theatre can provide. In addition to working in theatre, our students work on productions in dance, can collaborate with film students, work on concerts, visual art installations, and participate in MFA thesis projects.  

Our facilities are excellent for the exploration of contemporary mediums and our strengths are primarily in the time-based arts. Lighting, sound, and projection with current technologies and expertise from faculty who work regularly in the industry. We do have a scene shop that allows us to work on construction of some scenery, but for the most part we are not building realistic box sets for a Shakespeare play. Instead we are thinking about elements of a more contemporary scenography that thinks about video surfaces, multi-channel audio, various audiences configurations, spatial interventions and aesthetic compositions. We are often working on productions that are developed without a script, through a devising process, choreography or through collective creation - which lead to diverse interactions with production elements and design. We are not building large opera sets but we are thinking deeply about intention, audience focus, transitions, composition and immersivity by using the tools at our disposal.  

We not only teach approaches to the theatrical production process, we also think about and implement processes that can adapt to different modes of production and interrogate what is required. For example, if we want to have live cameras that capture images to project on the set as part of a dance moment, what is required for that to be developed? What does the rehearsal room need to equip beyond an empty room? What are the tools (consoles, media servers, software) that allow for those actions to be recreated? Do the tools exist? Can we modify them or adapt them from other applications?

We are training our students to be agile and innovative thinkers that can respond in different environments. We teach design through extended experimentation and iteration processes that develop with the individual voices and interest of the students. Our approach to technical skills trains innovative technologists. While live performance technicians have  practical and specialized skills in the application of technologies (e.g., operating a lighting  console), technologists contribute a comprehensive understanding around technology design and integration (e.g., modifying the code and functionality of a lighting console based on identified needs of a production), as well as the concepts, tools, and forms to which it contributes. Instead of established processes that are marred by traditional limitations, technologists can mine cutting-edge tools for inventive uses that not only enhance performances, but incorporate technologies into the dramaturgical process itself.

Q: Is this a traditional stage management program?

A: No. Traditional western stage management primarily responds to a mode of regional production system that is changing as performance and how it is made evolves. Because we are not often working on productions that rehearse and are built in a traditional centralized approach, having training as a traditional stage manager process is often counterintuitive and frustrating.

We do teach many of the same organizational and technical knowledge that a stage manager would need to know, but we are more interested in team members that can respond naturally to the needs of a production. Do we need to have someone in every rehearsal to notate blocking on a script if the show has neither regular blocking or script? If the lighting designer, projection designer and sound designer are operating these elements of the production in conversation to the action on stage, does a stage manager have to be there to call cues from a script?

Our program is interested more in providing producing skills that can respond to the evolving needs of a company of artists. Sometimes this means developing a special rehearsal methodology that would perhaps include the technology in the rehearsal room or a series of residencies that tackle each element at the time. This includes some of the stage management skills, but also it means you need to know how to create budgets, manage a production calendar, manage deadlines, know when you need specialized expertise and curiosity to learn how to make something you’ve never encountered work.

If you are interested in stage management for plays and musicals we might not be the best fit. There are many programs in the province that might be able to give you that experience. However, if you are thinking more expansively into live performance, dance, concerts, events, live films, animations and forms that don’t even exist yet - we can provide training that is agile and transferable when it comes to the organizational component of a broader performance industry and beyond.

Q: How much time can I expect to work with my professors? And in what capacity?

A: Our cohorts are small. Each yearly cohort in our program is between 15 and 20 students. Most of our degree specific courses for the degree work happen during hands-on studio classes that prioritize group and individual feedback, as well as demonstrations and theory lectures. For this reason we can better respond to the individual learning needs of students compared to larger programs. We do expect that there will be significant production assignments in class and as part of school-wide productions in positions such as technical direction, production management, producing and design. Each production will have at least one faculty mentor that will provide guidance and significant feedback during the length of each project. We are committed to the development of each student in our program; not only in their technical skills but also their soft skills like fostering team work, communication skills and organizational skills.

Q: Will I get to work on real productions at the school? What kind of productions?

A: Yes! We participate in a huge range of events and performances. There are theatre shows, dance performances, interdisciplinary collaborations, master thesis productions, installations, concerts, films, festivals, productions in repertory and even performances that are entirely instigated and created by the production and design students. They range from mainstage productions with the participation of many other students and programs at the SCA, to small DIY works with peers .Students can expect that they will likely be performing in some capacity in each other’s works.

We assign students to a range of production assignments that are congruent with their development during the program. An example of this trajectory would be for lighting: In the first year you might be working on the installation of the lights for the production as a technician, in the second year you might be working as a lighting board programmer and operator, in third year as a head of lighting or assistant lighting designer and in your fourth year as the lead lighting designer. 

Q: Is this the right program for me if I want to specialize in production exclusively? Will it set me up to work in a technical union like IATSE?

A: While we do work on many productions and do learn a lot about different technologies, that is not the sole focus of the program. We investigate the WHY concurrently with the HOW. Technical competencies and training that would lead to membership in IATSE or other technical unions require daily technical experience beyond the scope of university programs. This program will give you a well rounded foundation and an understanding of concepts, the training approaches, expectations of different trajectories that follow careers such as a lighting technician or a stage carpenter. We also spend equal time learning about production planning, visual communication such as drafting and drawing, visual research, source material analysis, design and collaboration. Careers in our industry are ever evolving in complexity and we believe it is more productive to understand how to learn to use technologies through understanding of concepts than to become specialist in tools that change every 5-10 years.

Q: What spaces do people work at after their time at SFU?

A: Our alumni inhabit a wide range of different careers in the live industry and beyond! Folks form companies together after graduation, collectives and live long artistic partnerships. They are designers in many disciplines like lighting, sound, projection, set, and puppeteers. They’ve gone on to become production managers for different companies, technical directors, film workers, touring artists all over the world. Some have gone on tour with dance companies while others have continued their training in graduate programs.

Q: I’ve never worked on a theatre play or show before. Will this hurt my application?

No! We want to see evidence of curiosity, creativity and particular interest in the field. We are looking for generous, hard-working and empathetic attitudes that are excited to learn and try new things.

Tinkerers, those who are wiling to problem-solve rather than get stuck, and those who love to learn and try new things, will do well in the program.

We value creative and resourceful thinking, open mindedness, and a collaborative spirit. We are committed to the artistic and technical education of every student we accept and expect an equal commitment from the students toward their own development.

Q: What kind of systems and technology will I get a chance to learn about?

A: We work with current theatrical technologies in flexible and reconfigurable spaces. Our students learn about lighting systems that include LED lights, moving lights and projectors and have opportunities to learn to program operating systems such as the ETC EOS line of products. Within video and projections students work with a range of media server software such as Isadora, Qlab, TouchDesigner and content authoring and editing software such as Adobe Photoshop, Premiere and After Effects. For sound, students work with a range of sound consoles from small mixers to fully programmable consoles and and software (Max MSP, Qlab). Our wood shop is well equipped with table saw, chop saws, routers and a range of other tools. We could list more exhaustive tools, but ultimately we focus on the concepts of how things work, which is more transferable and upgradable than brand specialization and/or loyalty. So for example, if you end up in Europe in front of a lighting console you’ve never seen, you’ll know that there are addresses that need to be patched into channels that control the dimmers to fade the lights on and off - the specifics of how that will particularly be done will be in the manual - but the functionality at the root of the task is ultimately the same.  

Q. Do I have to perform in this program?

Yes, it's very likely that during your time in the program, you will be performing in your own or in your classmate's projects. As we build projects as assignments or for the end-of-the-term class showcase, there is often an integrated need to have bodies/performers who can be in each other’s work, such as for puppet shows, video projections, or shooting video footage for content. It doesn’t mean that you’d have to learn lines or be able to perform a complex choreography. You wouldn’t be forced to perform in a large production in the Wong theater, for example.  

However, we’d say there is a great learning opportunity in experiencing the “inside” of a performance. Let’s imagine a scenario where a project integrates video projection design, lighting, and a single performer. By performing and encountering the issues of the work yourself from the performer’s standpoint, the insight from the experience might help you problem-solve how to make the timing, staging, and visual composition work better.  

We would love to see students have an art practice and a playful inquisitiveness to “jump in” themselves.  

A good technician needs to be able to see their work from the standpoint of the performer and the audience, beyond their own. Building, viewing, and performing in these classroom projects will inform your process and skill sets that would be useful to apply to larger productions down the line. 

Q. How important is English language proficiency for this program?

A: We have many students from around the world in our program with a range of English language proficiencies. That being said, because we are working in environments that can sometimes be dangerous (working at height over others, working with power tools, team lifting, special effects, performance communication), we prioritize a confident handle of spoken English. You can see what the minimum English language requirements are for admission into SFU here: English Language Requirement.

Photo: Paula Viitanen
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Production & Design

APPLY TO: THEATRE PRODUCTION & DESIGN

Visit our Undergraduate information page to find out about the application process and timeline for the SCA Theatre Production & Design area.

Anthropocene (2016), SCA's Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre. A devised work directed by Ker Wells and performed by SCA students, with set design by SCA alumni Robert Leveroos and lighting design by the SCA's Kyla Gardiner.