Stage design has become a staple in many churches today. It is a way to keep things fresh, and there has been an increasing amount of time, energy, and resources devoted to these designs over the past few years. The pursuit of cool stage designs can be both addicting and expensive, both in money and time. Our church used to switch stage designs quite often, nearly every sermon series, which is a ridiculously hard to do. Since you are reading this, you probably do not have the staff or resources to pull off such a prolific amount of stage change-over. We have settled on two to three changes a year. Probably a little slow for some people, but we have found that by doing less numerical changes we can do higher impact ones within our budget.
Before going into an official list, allow me to get the basics out of the way. First, an effective stage design is most easily achieved with a black background. I know plenty of churches that cannot achieve this for one reason or another, but as our friends in the theater have known for centuries, the black background provides us the ability to create dynamic elements stand out, while hiding imperfections and maximizing light. If you have even the slightest ability to make this happen, I suggest it. Your stage will actually look bigger (with lighting) because it will give the allusion that it goes on into the distance that we cannot see. The contrast between the black background and the light stage design elements will also allow most of the imperfections of lower quality materials to disappear. We currently have painted furring strips that are all sorts of jacked up in our design, but the contrast between the light and dark elements makes the flaws in the wood imperceptible when the light it on. So first thing I suggest is a black background if you can. Second is, when possible, avoid direct light shining on the design. This will, like the aforementioned contrast, hide many imperfections and increase the dynamic look of the designs.
The third thing that I would suggest is necessary in most applications is some form of color wash lighting. We use RGB slim par leds to throw and reflect light off many of our elements. They are around $100 each, which is not very cheap when considering how many you may need across a single stage design, but they function as a baseline for most of our designs and allow us to even begin to look at super affordable elements. You will need around 1 light for every 3-4 linear foot to get adequate coverage, more if you can afford it.
With all of that said, here are 5 affordable stage design elements:
1. PVC Pipe – This was the easiest and cheapest stage design element I have ever worked with. The white of the plastic pipe reflects light wonderfully and is both cheap and easy to work with. We simply placed the pipe horizontally on our back wall, spaced about a foot apart, and used the leds as up lighting in various colors. Pretty simple. We could have made other patters, but this worked and was very effective. At $2 per 10 ft. pipe, we were able to do a 10×10 stage design for $20.
2. Construction Clamp Lights – This is an element we added to the above pvc to give it some extra pizzazz. Paired with a dimmer pack, these can become dynamic elements in your worship set, light brightening during a really intense moment. Be careful with these as the aluminum reflector bowls are of different intensity depending where you sit, so you will need low enough wattage bulbs to not blast the congregation. I have seen these as low as $7 per, so they are easy on the budget.
3. Fabric – This one can go in so many directions, and with many price points. I have see stretchy geometric fabrics all the way down to borrowed bed sheets. The key is light or just white and the leds casting light onto the fabric. Even a sheet can be stretched across a frame of any shap and made to look great if done properly. The cost ranges widely between material but even the stretchy stuff can be found online for under $8 for 3ft by 5ft sections (sold by the yard if you want or need longer sectons).
4. Wood – Wood is another element that is both cheap and easy to work with. Painted, it can take on the look of lights themselves. Stacked together, it can provide a simple and effective background. Painted black, it can almost invisibly support any other design elements making them appear to float or suspend. It is pretty versatile and has been used in nearly every stage design I have ever done. It is reasonably inexpensive, especially if you stick to non-select pine. It takes some digging through your local big box store to get good looking and reasonably strait pieces, but it works. Prices vary depending on size.
5. Corrugated Plastic – These sheets of plastic, that usually come in 4×8 sheets are extraordinarily versatile. In fact, we even use them for our screens…way cheaper than buying pre-built ones. We have used the white variety by cutting it into smaller geometric shapes and again reflecting LEDs off them. We have also used more translucent ones (not clear) to reflect light from within a pillar we made out of them, effective creating pillars of light contained within the plastic. The effect was pretty awesome. The uses are endless. The sheets cost around $20 per, which will net a pretty good amount of design elements.
The list of materials is virtually endless. Anything bright enough to reflect light and create a texture will work. I included the list of materials that I have found to be both effective, and reusable in multiple designs. All in all, two-part creativity is the key to good stage design. I rely on others in our church, as well as research into other church’s designs to help begin the process. It takes creativity to come up with something that doesn’t look weird. The second part is to find creative solutions to fit the vision into the budget. Even from short distances the flaws in what we might think are substandard materials cannot be seen with well designed lighting. Meaning you can some up with tons off fun solutions that no one will ever notice. Enjoy the process.