But Will It Wash Off… – I forgot to post this when it first came out, but Jay Duckworth and Alex Wylie needed some spray paint that would wash off. During The Public Theater’s production of Julius Caesar, they had a scene where the protesting crowd added graffiti to posters of Caesar; of course, it needed to be removed for the next performance. Yes, that’s the same production that faced heckling and interruptions this summer.
If You’re Going to Copy Broadway Show Design, Don’t Brag About It – A lot of theaters, particularly universities and community theaters, do not seem to be aware that copying the set design of a Broadway show is unethical and often illegal. Christopher Peterson breaks down the issues involved and highlights one recent example that garnered a bit of publicity.
Learn to ‘Sharpen This’ – or Any Other Tool – Chris Schwartz points us to some upcoming events by Lie-Nielsen where they will show you how to sharpen your woodworking tools for free (there’s one in NYC in November). He also links to his whole “Sharpen This” series, where he gives tips, tricks and advice for sharpening; this is a seemingly simple task, but you will find tons of conflicting and arcane information about it online.
[Mr. Unitt at the Lyceum Theatre said,] “There is a story told of a firm of which one of the members thought a chandelier would look well in the scene. So he went out and bought a fine crystal affair. At the dress rehearsal he noticed it was not lighted, and demanded the reason. He was told that the act took place in the afternoon, and the light was coming in the windows.
“He went to the back of the house where his partner asked the same question, and was told the same answer.
“‘Well, light it. Who in h–l’s goin’ to stop us?’
“The anecdote gives the note which dominates a large part of theatrical production to-day, ‘Who in h–l’s goin’ to stop us?’…
“In the evolution of the scenery of a play, the scene painter is or should have the manuscript to read. In the rush of affairs now he may see only one act, or perhaps only the scenario. In the meantime the stage manager has made a plot and works out the exits and entrances on exact lines. Then the stage manager, author and scene painter get together and consult. That, at least, is the way they must do to get the best results. The scene painter sees only the pictorial side and must be held to the practical necessities of the case. One of these is that the wall scenes must be folded that they can be put in the six feet of doors, for scenery must travel. Fireproofing is another great handicap. This is usually done by painting on fireproof cloth, of which the chemicals are pretty apt to affect the colors. Another difficulty is the harmonizing of real things with the artificial. The use of real antiques, real palms, real flowers and foliage does not produce as successful results as when purely artificial scenery and stage properties are depended on.”…
[Mr. Homer Emens said,] “He must have an instinctive knowledge of effects. A handsome thing may not look handsome behind the footlights. An expensive stuff may look cheap. It is a fact that painted properties look more real than do the real things…
On the edge of things, in one of those architectural monoliths described, Mr. Ernets Gros, the scene painter, was found. His office was interesting with a collection of stage models which could be identified as scenes on the Belasco stage. Here was a scene painter’s library filled with handsome volumes labelled “Greece,” “Rome”—every nation, ancient and modern—books of epochs, periods, archaeology, costumes were represented, as well as periodicals of the most luxurious types in paper, illustration and text. Truly an equipment…
“Modern developments have not helped us in the least,” said Mr. Gros. “Scene painting has in no way advanced. The whole matter lies with the manager. If he is a man with artistic perceptions we have one result. If he depends on his advertising, we have another…
“The first thing the scene painter does is to prepare his model. Then he gives the stage carpenter the measurements. When the frame is ready the painting proceeds. Dry colors only are used; no drop of oil goes into scene painting. Fire-proofing has added to our labors by its effect on the colors. When the scenery is ready comes the problem of lighting, which must be determined by experiment. The electric light is brutal. We try to control it by the use of different media, but in no way can we get at the softness and mystery of gas.”
Stage scenery and the men who paint it. M. G. Humphreys, il. Theatre 8: 203-4, v-vi, Aug 1908.
Summer at The Shop – The Triad Stage blog recently featured their production facilities, which is where I work. Check out my workshop, and get a sneak peek at some of the projects I’ve been working on, like some military radios for South Pacific.
Backstage at Signature: 100 Heads for Venus – Cassie Dorland had to make a hundred fake heads for the Signature Theatre’s production of Suzan-Lori Parks’ Venus. This video shows how her and over a dozen prop builders as they mold, cast, and paint all these heads.
Watch Adam Savage Make His Own Excalibur in One Day – Adam Savage recreates this iconic movie sword in aluminum using an enviable array of belt sanders. It’s a lengthy video, but filled with lots of little tips and tricks if you are interested in metal working.
Photo-Etching and Soldering Your Own Brass Model Parts – Make Magazine highlights David Damek’s techniques for creating detailed parts out of brass. He uses it for making models, but you can easily adapt these methods for adding decorative brass details to props like treasure chests and jewelry.
While at the 24th Annual Society of Properties Artisan Managers conference in Houston, we got a chance to tour the stage and warehouse of the Houston Grand Opera. On the first day, we visited the Wortham Theater Center, located in the heart of downtown Houston. Being an opera, the stage and seating are far larger than most of the theaters we work in.
Dedicated to the Craft with Mary Creede – Thrillist has this great video peeking into the shop of Jerard Studio and talking with its co-founder, Mary Creede. This Red Hook shop has been building and maintaining specialty theatrical props for over 25 years. Most recently, they provided a number of items for Hamilton.
Disabled Artisans Seek Equality in Behind-the-Camera Jobs – Variety looks at some of the disabled craftspeople and technicians working in film, including a visual effects supervisor, a director of photography, and a film composer. We talk a lot about serving audiences with disabilities, and occasionally deal with performers with disabilities, but very few conversations happen around backstage and behind-the-scenes people with disabilities. It’s a conversation worth having. Monona Rossol published a datasheet about Americans with Disabilities in the Scenic Arts back in 1997, but I haven’t come across anything more recent in those twenty years.
DIY Rocketeer Jetpack – David Guyton built a rocket pack from The Rocketeer out of sheet metal. He also made a video showing how it was done, and posted the template patterns for free on his store. Be sure to browse his store for a ton of other patterns offered for sale.
Prop Making 101, with Sarah Kaiser – Part 1 – Sarah shows us how to build some props from Warhammer 40,000, notorious for its giant, over-the-top sci-fi guns. These guns also contain a ton of light and sound effects controlled by an Arduino, so it’s a good project to try if you’ve been wanting to practice that aspect of prop building.
Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies