The Art of Mystery: Set Design and Atmosphere in Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – Q&A with Scenic Designer

By Priscylla Guzman

Klara Zieglerova
Klara Zieglerova





We chatted with Klara Zieglerova, our scenic designer for our upcoming Summer Chills production of Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Klara spoke to us about her work and the process it takes when set designing for a production. From close communication and creative collaboration with the director, to finding the perfect placement for a chair, here is what Klara Zieglerova had to say about bringing a setting to life! 

What does it mean to be a scenic designer? 

As a scenic designer, I create the actors’ physical world during the play. Firstly, I read the script and discuss the play with the director. After this initial meeting, I research and sketch my first ideas. This happens in a close joint effort with the director. Once we are on the right path with the design, I start making a small-scale, white model or often a three-dimensional virtual model. If the play has more than a single set, we work on ‘storyboards’ to work out how changes happen from one scene to another. Once the director and I have a set that works well for the show, it’s time to finish a scale model and create a set of construction drawings. These drawings then go to the technical director and their team for budgeting, and we discuss ways to stay within budget before the build of the set commences. Seeing the artists, craftsmen, and builders turning my design into reality is fun!  

How long does it take for you to prep and create a design for a show? 

I start my work in a regional theatre 4-5 months before the first rehearsal. This process can be up to a year or even longer for larger musicals. 

What is your favorite part of the process of set designing? 

As a scenic designer, I get to design anything from a luxury hotel in Cleveland or a Tudor-style Manor Hall in England to a homestead in the American West, to name a few of my last projects. I enjoy how varied my work is, no two projects are the same!  Every project is designed in a style of a different time period and as set designers, we often design not only the ‘architecture’ of the set but also its furniture, graphic design, and so on. I learn every day! 

In Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, there are a lot of specific details for the set, such as the fact there are various places the characters go back and forth to. When designing a set for the show, how do you plan something that will not be over-complicated but allows an audience to see the difference between the settings? 

This is a great question! The director, Mark Shanahan, and I work closely on the design of Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. As a memory play, Mark and I wanted the transitions from the scene to be fluid and effortless. Nobody waits for walls to move or furniture to arrive while remembering their lives! This approach told us the single elements which create different scenes. Say Fernley Hall and Dr. Sheppard’s kitchen need to be on stage the whole time, and we take the audience from scene to scene just by slightly changing furniture and lighting.  

What was the most challenging part of designing this set? 

Finding the best placement for the Writing Room on stage was tricky! The position of one of the chairs in the room in particular is crucial, and we had a lot of back and forth to determine where it will go, not only to achieve the most optimal sightlines for the audience but also for the best dramatic effect.  

What are you most excited to see once your set design starts coming to life?  

One of the most exciting moments for me is when the acting company moves from the rehearsal hall and populates the stage in the theatre. At the early stage of the technical rehearsals, there are usually still a few bits and bobs incomplete. However, seeing my set ‘inhabited’ by the cast for the first time is thrilling.  

What is something you would like for others to know about being a scenic designer that perhaps not everyone knows about?  

Most people may not realize how early set designers start working on a production. At times I wish I could start working at the same time the actors start rehearsing the play to design the environment of the play based on observation of their journey in the rehearsal hall. Naturally, this is not possible due to the time constraints of the set construction, which must be ready for the first preview. This puts a lot of emphasis on the designer being a good communicator and close collaborator with the director from the early days of the design process. 

Don’t miss out on seeing Klara’s set design for Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd running until August 27!