inspiring design: How I Produced My Winter Program

inspiring design: How I Produced My Winter Program

By Trudy Horsting

This article was inspired by a recent interview with Vincent Thomas

“I find inspiration in almost everything. I find it through music that sends a bolt through my spine. I find inspiration in humanity and nature. I think the creators have given us such a platform of inspiration. What we experience, what we smell, what we see, what we touch, and what we taste all becomes some form of inspiration. We just have to allow ourselves to use it and to recognize the inspiration in every single thing.”

Vincent’s words inspired me to look for creativity and inspiration in even the most mundane aspects of the world, and this discovery not only showed me that inspiration is out there but that inspiration is everywhere.

I was blessed with great instructors who focused on building both great performers and great instructors throughout my performance career. I felt ready to lead by the time I had my first program. I knew how to write warmups, run rehearsals, give corrections, and write choreography, but I quickly realized that the activity was so much more than that. I loved performing and educating but finding creativity and inspiration for design was foreign to me. It turned out to be one of the most challenging aspects of teaching a group.

Finding Inspiration

Designing for the group I wanted versus the group I had was two very different ventures. I wanted a show that would highlight their strengths as a small group, but every one of the shows I imagined in my head was for programs far more extensive than the one in front of me.  

After scrapping all of my original ideas, I turned to other strategies for inspiration. Here are some tactics I’ve used to help me begin my design process. 

  1. Begin watching past shows. Everyone always wants to do something new, but you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to create a unique design. Major themes are often similar in concept but presented in very different ways. Maybe you’ll be inspired by the color pallet someone used, or you’ll fall in love with the style of music they chose. Keep your eyes and your mind wide open. 
  2. Start with emotion. What type of emotion do your performers portray well? Is there potential to develop this simple emotion into something more profound?
  3. Analyze shows you’ve done in the past and identify aspects you enjoyed about it. This process might inspire a new development in your design process. 
  4. Put on a randomized music playlist and let the sounds inspire you. Imagine every song having a visual aspect to it. What colors are used, and what are you seeing in your head as you listen?
  5. Read. You may find inspiration for a timeline between books, comics, newspapers, and other written sources.
  6. Don’t limit yourself to a single starting point. You can begin your design process with a costume, a song, a storyline, a prop, a floor idea, or something else entirely. 

Another important tip is to be okay with the process of development. It takes many attempts for a concept to be fully developed by a designer, and some of the best and worst ideas only reveal themselves after being put on a floor. Talk to others, reach out and ask for opinions, and be receptive to any feedback given.  

While beginning the first steps of design, however, I occasionally come across a case of creative block. This concept is where none of my ideas, creations, or thoughts develop into anything I can use in the design process. I’ve found a few different ways to tackle this block, and hopefully, these can help others experiencing similar frustrations.

Breaking out of Creative block

First, I force myself to sit down with a timer set for 20 minutes and just write. I write anything that comes to my mind, and no idea is considered too crazy. Depending on where the creator is in the design process, this can be done with either pen and pad or a piece of equipment.

If neither of those work, I’ll go on a walk. With nothing to distract me, I’ll allow myself to use my senses uninterrupted. I’ll jot down anything that comes to mind on my phone. 

Of course, everyone will find inspiration through different things and harness it in different ways. What works for me may not work for others, and that’s the beautiful part about the design process. 

If you would like to contribute to this series and give your experiences on the design process, feel free to contact me at and schedule an interview. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Trudy Horsting is a graduate student at Arizona State University pursuing her Ph.D. in Political Science. She holds a BA in Political Science and a BA in Writing, Rhetoric, and Technical Communication from James Madison University. While at JMU, she was a member and captain of the Marching Royal Dukes Color guard and JMU Nuance Winter guard for two years. She was a member of First Flight World Winter guard in 2019 and FeniX Independent World Winter guard in 2020.