When I do design for a theater production, I sit down with the director and ask about their vision for the show, about what the tone is, what themes stand out to them, and how they want to make the audience feel. There are a million ways one can direct any show; I want to be sure that my design really reflects this particular production.
After that conversation, I'll come up with some rough concepts to show the director as a starting point for discussion.
The director liked the starting points, but felt that the first one was too dark, and that while she was going for a more psychological take than usual with this production, this was a little too much like a thriller. She suggested some other elements to explore, including daggers, trees, shadows, and an empty chair/throne. Using that feedback, I found some stock images as a base for the final composite.