Notes from a recent discussion on the HSTech Mailing list. Continue farther down the page for more contributions.

What i have found in talking to design heads in college is that they are much more interested in pictures taken during set-up/building than the final product. This holds true only for construction of props, costumes, and sets though. This is very useful for recreating a portfolio as most high school theatres keep pieces of old sets, you can easily dig up and photograph small sections of the work.

One thing that I did recently for a big show was set up a digital camera to take a picture of the entire stage every 30 seconds or so during set construction, lighting load-in and set-up, and some early programming (had to take it down to fit a followspot in 8=). All the photos were stitched together into a time-lapse video of the show, from a blank stage to a full-cast picture at the end, and we showed it after intermission, and burned it (along with the other show video) to a DVD for future keeping. 8=) It was excellent.
Daniel Hoffman (

I would say that putting your most impressive work first is fine. Remember the old saying about first impressions… I know when I look at portfolios that my interest drops significantly by the fifth page or so.
Matt Kelly

First, I agree with everyone else who has said to put your most impressive work first. When they open that book, binder, portfolio binder, whatever, you need to wow them. They are looking for things that show you are a thinker. What is unique about your design, construction, etc. What makes you different from everyone else who is applying? Remember, you need to make an impact.

As for playbills, you may want to consider not putting them in at all. I know that when I was applying for college, two of them specifically said no playbills. Again, they don’t care what other people did. They want to know about you. So if that means a title page with the important information on it, then so be it. In my mind, as applying as an LD, it was my position (most often M.E.) who the LD was, who the director was if it was someone to be noted, and what group you worked with, again if it needs to be noted.

These are just some thoughts and guidelines that were suggested to me when I was going through building my portfolio. Hope it helps.

To add to what the others have said. This may all depend on what you’re using the portfolio for. Jobs? College? etc… When I look at a portfolio, I want see the wonderful work, but I’m also going to want to see the thought process. That means for some shows, I’ll be looking for the rough sketches, the napkin thoughts, maybe some stuff that didn’t work. Again, it depends on what the portfolio is for. When I applied to NYU for graduate school, they wanted to see how I think. If I’m going to hire a technical director, I’d like to see if you can draw a platform to be built. If a lighting designer, then I want to see how you’ll be communicating with me during the process. In my portfolio, I have lighting sketches that match some of the photos.

Part of being a stage manager is knowing a little about everything. I’m guessing that to become an SM you had to work various crews, so why not show some pictures of your best lighting you’ve done, your best costumes, etc. And then some of the set of a show you stage managed. And yeah, bring your best cue script… the one they’ll be most impressed with is one they can understand. Cue scripts are supposed to be like this: if you die while stage managing a show, and your assistant stage manager dies, any random person should be able to pick up and call cues from your script, because the show must go on!! Anyway, yeah, put a little bit of everything in your portfolio- anything to make you look good!
Bill Harvison

This will be a general reply regarding portfolios, not addressed to anyone in particular…

First off, I suggest everyone check out the college and portfolio section of the HSTECH website. The information there should be helpful to everyone.

Now, this is what I did in my portfolio. Everyone is different, but this was my particular train of thought.

First thing I did was make enough copies of the portfolio so that not only could each person in the interview have their own copy, they could in turn take it with them to review in more detail later. When there is a solid representation of you in front of them, they are more likely to remember what you talked about with them.

The first page of my portfolio consisted solely of a headshot and my biographical information. I did this simply because I believe I do well in interview circumstances and want the first thing they remember to be my face. The biographical information also helps to relate you immediately with letters of recommendation, your application, and so forth.

The second section of my portfolio consisted of a resume, varying from 1 to 3 pages per school. Some schools want just a general overview of academic and theater related awards, activities, internships, etc, while others may request more of an explanation as to the meaning of certain honors and the roles you played in certain productions. I personally always brought a copy of both and put whichever one seemed appropriate in when I got to the interview.

Now the actual portfolio itself. In my case, I have been involved in all aspects of technical theater save sound (both my cousin and a good friend are sound engineers…there was never an immediate need anywhere I went to learn it in great details -something I plan to change in college). Therefore, I showed all aspects of the production I could.

Instead of choosing my best productions or listing them all, I chose only three productions which I talked about in some detail. Each show began with the a page consisting of the Playbill cover (all three productions had original artwork by someone involved in the production on the cover) along with various shots of the actual production in a collage around it. At the bottom of the page I gave a brief summary of my role within the production and a basic synopsis of the conditions ( IE, one of the productions was a part of this intensive theater workshop where in four weeks the group writes their own musical from scratch and at the end performs it in a local venue…thus, little time is given to accomplish technical feats).

The next page of each section consisted of a problems page which through pictures, diagrams, and words expressed various obstacles that appeared and what was done to overcome them.

The last 2-3 pages of each section were used to present designs and such and show how they went from paper to realization, or why they never reached realization and what they were replaced with.

Now, from the three shows I chose, not all of them were my best work. I started off with my best ‘quality’ production and ended with the best work I had done by that time (at the time, it was the theater workshop spoken of earlier). I put particular emphasis on showing not only the thought process behind each production, but also the improvement and increase in responsibilities through each production. The first consisted of a rough floor plan for the sets; the last consisted of a detailed, three dimensional rendering of the set, with shadows and all (of course, detailed for me consists of a straight line.,.. there is still a ways to go till I can call it a decent drawing…the improvement though and the commitment to improving was what to emphasis however).

The end of the last production consisted of the first 3 pages of the prompt book, since I had stage managed that production. This production (the original piece) ended up not finishing the actual script till 2 days before opening night. I first received the script the day before opening and designed the entire light plot as well as called the show from that. The prompt book was setup in such a way to express not only the cues (which I color coded afterwards) but also to show that the piece was still a work in progress up to closing night.

As for the actual binding, I used a solid black 1/2″ binder with sheet protectors for each page. While not as important, I found that this not only impressed some of the people who interviewed me with its professionalism, but also allowed them to remove pages and make notes and such on their own copies.

I hope this is of aid to whomever can use it! Remember, this is just the way I personally did it. There is really no one right way to do anything in theater, which is what makes it so interesting! Experiment, combine suggestions and see what you come up with.

Any questions, feel free to contact me personally.
Ian Schwartz

So much has been written here about portfolios, and there is still so much to be said. Those of you who are trying to put one together for the first time can be confused about what to include or how to present it. The problem we all face is that not everyone agrees upon what makes up a good portfolio. Scott’s section on the HSTech website is a great place to start.

Here’s my advice: make sure you know why you have put each individual item into your portfolio. Ask yourself, “What am I trying to show potential employers/schools with this particular item?” If you don’t know the answer to that question, you should consider removing the item from your portfolio.

I suggest that you avoid including programs or Playbills. What do they show? We don’t really need “proof” that you did what you say you did. The rest of your portfolio should show us that. Programs are really hollow filler, and most people view them as such. This goes as well for posters (unless you designed them or otherwise had something to do with creating them) and reviews.

You should include pictures that show the breadth and depth of your experience, and the scale and quality of the shows and artwork to which you have been exposed. If you tell me that you were the set designer for your school’s production of “Oklahoma!,” it doesn’t mean very much to me. On the one hand, if I see a picture of a blue cyc with a hay bale in front of it, I know what your skills are as a designer. On the other hand, if I see numerous design elements that are carefully chosen, nicely executed, and appropriate to the space and the production, then you show me something entirely different about your design skills. Consider that, and choose your work carefully to show yourself in the best light (no pun intended). We
want to see what the quality is of the art to which you are accustomed. This goes for everyone – designers, technicians, stage managers, whatever.

Make sure your portfolio is nicely executed. Yes, this means neatly crafted and presented, with pictures mounted cleanly and square and straight, and with correct grammar and spelling.

One quick personal note: I hate portfolios that are time-dependent. I am referring to those that include CD-Roms or DVDs or videotapes. I want to look at a portfolio at my own rate. If you think you are going to hold me hostage by forcing me to view fifteen minutes of your high school production on a computer screen, you should think again!

Above all else, make sure your portfolio is a reflection of YOU. I look at hundreds of portfolios. I remember the ones that tell me something about the person that owns it. I forget the ones that are carbon copies of everyone else’s, and I forget them before the candidate even leaves the room. Make your portfolio show us who you are and what your passion is. The rest will take care of itself.

Best of luck to all of you embarking upon this important process for the first time. I feel your pain!
Henry R. Grillo
Assistant Dean/Graduate Program Director
School of Design & Production

Thanks to Becca Goodman for this terrific contribution.

Building a portfolio Building a portfolio starts freshman year. You have to document and save absolutely EVERYTHING you do, and take pictures.

~If you don’t have documentation you didn’t do.

At my first portfolio review I have a completely full 3 inch binder a 2 inch and several 1 inch binders of my work. The guy next to me had hardly anything. I’ve never seen a bigger disaster. He left the school before classes even started. You don’t have to spend a ton of money either. The most expensive part of my portfolio was sending it ($60). Putting your stuff in a nice black binder is perfectly acceptable They way to impress is in contents and organization As long as what’s inside is good, the outside just needs to be labeled. Be sure to include you phone number, e-mail, resume, letter of intent, references, letters of recommendation, and a table of contents.

Be sure that your portfolio is well organized. Nothing impresses college recruiters more than good organization. Finally, keep a photo copy of the entire thing.

A friend of mines portfolio got lost in the mail and the only reason she got into her school is because she kept a copy and was able to take that with her to her interview.  It never hurts to get insurance on your portfolio if you are sending it through the mail. The US postal service provides insurance on all packages, for a small fee.

Now, send in your portfolio, relax, have confidence, and above all, don’t forget to breath!

Hope this helps

Becca Goodman
Stage Manager

Some thoughts from Ian Schwartz. Thanks Ian for taking the time…. These are great!

So, you want to study technical theater in college. Before you do that, ask yourself the most important question possible: why? Because you did crew for a couple shows and had a good time? You helped a friend set up his amp for a concert, and thought it was cool? Or because you love the idea of designing, building, and managing your own little world? Any decisions made in regards to college should be well thought out. Hasty decisions have strong consequences more often than not.

Now that I have finished my little disclaimer, let us move onto my take of the portfolio. The first and most important thing to remember about ANYTHING you turn into a college is that each college identifies a student by their name and social security number. Put these on every sheet you turn in, whether in the upper right hand corner of your letter of intent or on the back of a portfolio page. Why? Say something happens to your portfolio while they have it, causing it to randomly spill out onto the floor along with a dozen or so other portfolios. Guess how they put it back together. And guess what happens to those that they cannot.

Often, it is hard to have accurate documentation of the shows you have done. Who honestly has time to deal with school and than design and build a show from scratch? Many short cuts are taken at the expense of materials that will be used later for your portfolio. Here are a couple suggestions on how to make up for what you have lost.

First and foremost, production photos are always important. However, should you not have enough or any, look towards any videos that were made of the production. If they are decent enough quality, it is possible to use a computer to get still frames and enlarge these to photo size and quality. Be wary though, the pictures will end up being very pixilated. You must find the size and quality that expresses your work the best.

Also note, it is highly unlikely that the college admissions counselors actually saw one of your performances, much less keeps tabs on what behind the scenes stuff was done. Should you not have a sketch or the correct blocking for a stage managers prompt book, there is no reason as to why you could not go back and make it up.

With these two things in mind, it should be easy enough to find materials to put in your portfolio.

Remember, however, that the admissions counselors reviewing your portfolio are undoubtedly reading at least ten others a day. Keep it short and to the point, while still showing your strengths. You need not have information about every production you have ever done. That is what your resume or activities list is for.

Another often overlooked point is what colleges are looking for in the portfolio. If they were looking for someone who already knows everything, why would they need to come to college? The major things you should show in your portfolio are your problem solving abilities, your passion and dedication for technical production, your continued desire to learn, and your growth and experience gained. For my portfolio, I picked three productions. The first show I ever did of quality, where I was simply a crew and stagehand, but learned as I went along. The second was one where I had more say, however, still within the confines of the school. The third was a large production I designed and stage managed in a union house.

Every person is going to have had different experiences. Colleges are looking for potential just as much as experience; they are looking for people who will be good alumni.

Other tips:

  • Many colleges ask for a headshot in order to identify you. Unless it is previously stated, using this as the front cover and providing your biographical information allows for quick reference between your application and portfolio.
  • Neatness and organization are vital to any portfolio. Sloppy work shows carelessness and lack of interest. Some colleges might even take it offensively.
  • While production photos are great, show the colleges the process it took to the final product. These include sketches, ground plans, even concepts that never came to be.
  • K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple Stupid! Colleges want to see as much as they can about you as quickly as possible. You are only one of many applicants.
  • Do not take credit for what you really didn’t do. For minor things, it is possible to get away with. However, if you say you designed the lights but didn’t and are then asked during your interview about it…need I go on?
  • This covers many of the important points.
  • Remember, we are all artists: use the above information in your own unique, creative way.

If you have any questions, feel free to
e-mail me at
Ian Schwartz
Class of ’03

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