Designing a Set for Into the Woods

Designing a Set for Into the Woods

I have been traveling and haven’t had much time for any fiber art. Each year I go and see my sister Rebekah in Richmond, VA and then we travel on to a handcrafted wholesale show from there. This year the show was in Washington, DC and the name changed to the American Made Show. Because it was closer to Richmond and Rebekah’s home, we did have a bit of spare time. Rebekah has been involved with the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School Drama Club since my niece Lizzie attended the school. She still occasionally helps out with set design and while we were visiting, the director for the upcoming show of “Into the Woods” had asked her to help out with designing a set. I sat in on the meeting with the director and several others who were helping out with the set design. Even though it isn’t fiber art, it is a creative pursuit and I found it very interesting. If you haven’t seen “Into the Woods”, there is a new movie out with Meryl Streep or you can find one of the older Broadway productions online to watch. It’s a musical with a mix of fairy tales.


After the meeting, once Rebekah had an understanding of what the director wanted, she got out her supplies. She always builds a mock-up of the set first in 1/4 or 1/2 inch scale using card stock and foam core board. She needed to build a set piece that included Cinderella’s castle, an interior of a home with a hearth and Rapunzel’s tower. The director wanted it to be all one piece that would have wheels and could be turned around to match each scene as needed. He also thought it would be a good idea for the center to be hollow so the actors could move undetected from one scene to the next.


Here are Rebekah’s first drawings of what that set piece might look like. Meanwhile, I was supposed to be working on creating trees for the forest. So I searched online for photos of “gnarly trees” and forest scenes.

Trees in front of backdrop

Then I started cutting out trees in card stock. These were supposed to be 1/2″ equals one foot but I think I might have messed up because they ended up being too big.

Standing Tree Up

I used more card stock to make the trees stand up and to give the trunks further support.


Here are a few of my trees standing in front of our chosen backdrop photo.

front of stage

I also made a bunch of branches that would be put at the front of the stage coming down from above to denote that you were moving back “Into the Woods”.

more spooky trees

I also added charcoal to the trees since the blue card stock wasn’t exactly tree like.

Cinderella's Castle

Meanwhile, Rebekah made this amazing structure. This is Cinderella’s castle.

Side door tower

The side door into the tower.

Rapunzel's Tower

Rapunzel’s tower.

Finished Hearth

And the village hut with a hearth. This is a three-sided structure, you can see the bottom of the steps to the castle on the left side. The hearth is open so that actors can get in and out of the center. There are plans for a ladder so that the top of the tower can be reached.

Inside Structure

This is a view of the inside of the structure. The hearth door is on the left and the stairs of the castle are towards the top. You can see Rapunzel’s window in the bottom right of the photo.

Cow and Hen

Since I got finished with my trees before Rebekah was finished. I also made a cow and a hen. These are props for Jack in the Jack and the Beanstalk part of the story. I had a really good time helping to create the mock-up for the set. I hope that Rebekah will be able to get me some photos of the set after it is built full-scale. If you are in the Richmond, VA area, you might want to check out the production.


27 thoughts on “Designing a Set for Into the Woods

  1. When you see a production, you might think ‘what a lovely set’ but you possibly don’t appreciate how much work goes into making it.
    This post has been an eye-opener into the thought and hard work that it takes to make a set – and how exciting for you, Ruth, to have been a part of it.

    1. Thanks Lyn! I for one would be guilty of not knowing how much work goes into making a set. I have talked to my sister about it but until you get involved, you really don’t know the extent of it. But I had fun 🙂

  2. Where would any production be without the backstage crew? Set design is an art of its own and your sister is obviously very accomplished. It would be great to see the finished set. 🙂

    1. Thanks Judith – yes, backstage crews are much more important than most people think. My sister is definitely an artist and really enjoys the set design. She’s just a bit too busy now with a full time job or otherwise she’d be in there building and painting too. 🙂

  3. Wow, that’s really cool! I would never have guessed how much hard work goes into it either. I suppose it’s easy to be guilty of thinking something is straightforward if the person is so skilled they make it look effortless to produce. I hope she does get photos of it finished 🙂

    1. Thanks Zed – yes it is amazing how much work that goes into a high school production. All with volunteers. I’m sure it’s even more work for a professional type stage show.

  4. I understand a lot of work is involved with set design, but you made me see it from a different angle. Very complex and involved…Truly amazing, and thanks for sharing with us.

  5. Oh what fun! Glad you had such a nice visit. I love going places and getting involved in a totally different craft. Of course that often gets me involved in a new hobby like mosaicing my basement wall. You missed our pretty little snow though.

    1. Thanks Ann – we had a good time. It really was a very complicated set and thinking about what it had to do on all three sides etc. was an interesting lesson in problem solving.

  6. wow, this is quite the eye-opener. the castle / tower is truly amazing, it takes a very special talent to see a 3D structure, inside and out and then be able to construct it. Please do post pictures of the finished set, this is fascinating 🙂

    1. Thanks Teri – I was impressed with Rebekah’s ability to take an idea and create a working model. I hope I’ll get good photos of the real set.

  7. So cool Ruth! My oldest son was a makeup artist so we we’ve had the opportunity to see production up close, but the set you and your sister designed is awesome. It’s wonderful you were able to share that experience. Being creative no matter what venue is important!

    1. Thanks Marilyn – interesting occupation for your son – does he work for TV, movie or Broadway type industry? I think it would be fun to be involved with costuming.

    2. Ruth, he’s now a teacher and independent video game developer living in Burbank, CA. He decided to switch majors after he moved to CA to attend UCLA. But he’s in the right place for TV and movies. 🙂

  8. Wow, I am impressed by your efforts, Ruth! But the loveliest part was being able to share your creativity with your sis.

  9. When I was little, I was duped into painting a set for a small play we were doing in my school, and never forgot all the hard work that went into it. What you and your sister did just proves to me that there’s even more to it than just plain construction! All the planning, the talking, the researching… Hah, and I was complaining about my part 🙂

    I bet you had a lot of fun, and I’d love to see the finished set once it’s done.

    1. Yes, putting a set together is much more work than most people assume. You have first hand experience, so you know 🙂

      I enjoyed the problem solving that’s involved, what will work and what won’t. I will definitely be asking for photos once the set is built.

  10. As you can tell, I’ve been down the rabbit hole again and I’m delighted to have found this post Ruth, very interesting. I came across the play recently while I was researching for our last panto – Red Riding Hood and the 3 Pigs, and the set you and your sister designed, or something similar, would have worked really well for our show.
    I certainly agree that the technical staff (all departments) are the “paddling like hell” bit of the “serenely swimming swan” of the actual stage show.
    Did you ever manage to post any pictures of the finished set?

    1. Thanks Ann, It’s nice to be reminded of this post. It’s been quite a long time ago. I’m not sure that I ever got any photos posted of the real set. I’m sure I had some at one point but I don’t know where they are. My sister is no longer creating sets for these shows but it was a lot of fun when I did help her.

    2. Oh well I thought it would be a long shot. The sort of set you described was pretty much the sort of thing (but without the wheels) that our Society chairman has always wanted to use, but can’t because we don’t have a revolving stage. Now with your sister’s design with the wheels he can see how to do it. I’ll have to remind him when we start designing the sets for Aladdin in the Autumn.

We'd love to hear your thoughts!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: