Art Deco Sconces

We recently opened “And Then There Were None” at Triad Stage in Greensboro, NC. Agatha Christie’s classic murder mystery takes place in 1930’s England in a sleek, unique seaside home. Robin Vest’s scenic design gave us a sparse, Art Deco-inspired interior populated with a few trappings of a world traveler.

Flanking the fireplace were two tube sconces. Finding an appropriate vintage pair was proving to be too expensive, so I decided to make them.

Turning the End Caps
Turning the End Caps

I turned the top and bottom caps out of poplar on my lathe. I think this was the first project I personally used the shop’s lathe for, even though I purchased it last year.

I bought some plastic mailing tubes for the lamp shades. Glass tubes were pricey and difficult to find in the right size. I measured their inner and outer diameter and turned the end caps so the tubes would slide onto them snugly.

Cutting lamp parts for the arms
Cutting lamp parts for the arms

I needed some curved metal arms to hold the end caps, and they needed to be hollow so I could feed the wires through. I had some spare chandelier arms in my bin of lamp parts which I cut to size. It was a lot easier than attempting to bend a metal tube without kinking it.

Unpainted assembly
Unpainted assembly

Above is all the pieces mostly assembled. I drilled holes in the end caps to feed the metal arms in, and used epoxy clay to secure them. I cut a disc out of poplar for the wall plate and drilled two more holes to hold the metal arms. The bottom arm was epoxied in place, but the top arm was only bolted to the plate. I wanted to be able to disassemble the sconce in case I needed access to the interior of the tube.

I added a decorative disc of metal to the wall plates that also came from my lamp parts bin, which you can see in subsequent photos.

Base coat
Base coat

With all the pieces fitting together as they should, and sanded smooth, I took them apart and painted them. I used a variety of spray cans. First was a sandable primer, followed by two coats of gloss black, than two very light coats of chrome, finished off with an extremely light dusting of the gloss black again. I only waited about half an hour between coats, so the whole process was finished in a morning. If you wait too long between coats, the paint may develop that dreaded “orange peel” appearance.

Adding the LED tape
Adding the LED tape

Because the tubes were plastic, I could not use any incandescent or halogen bulbs. The heat would build up and melt everything. I bought some warm white LED tape and mounted it to a small stick of wood to hold it straight against the back of the tube. The wires ran through the arms and out the back to a transformer and DMX controller, where it could hook up to the theater’s light board.

I cut a piece of thick vellum to line the inside of the tube and provide some diffusion.

Finished sconces
Finished sconces

Here they are, fully assembled and ready to go. Even though these LEDs were the warmest white I could find, they were much cooler than every other practical light fixture on stage when we got in the space. I opened the tubes and added a piece of orange gel from my lighting designer to warm them up.

Sconces on stage
Sconces on stage

Here they are on stage. While they are very similar to modern tube sconces, they have just enough subtle period detail to help create the world on stage.

Lit sconces
Lit sconces

These sconces are so lit.

These Props Links Will Blow You Away

It’s the middle of a hurricane here in North Carolina, as well as Opening Night for my first show of the season, but I still found some great stories and videos on props that you can check out:

Broadway’s Biggest Debut: King Kong – Ugh, this puppet is so amazing. It is controlled by 14 puppeteers and it contains a ton of animatronics as well. Be sure to see some of the videos of Kong in motion.

TAIT Take Over – Karla Ramsey – Scenic artists at TAIT Towers create the proscenium arch for the Elton John concert. It is a combination of foam carving and clay sculpting, with everything molded and cast for the final piece. A few of my friends and colleagues spent the summer up here working on this, and the results are spectacular.

Cosplay Shines At DragonCon – Make Magazine has a great round-up of cosplay photographs from the recent DragonCon in Atlanta, GA. Yes, there is a whole convention just for dragons.

Modeling and 3D-Printing Wonder Woman’s Tiara for Cosplay! – Darrell Maloney made this video to show us how he modeled a digital version of Wonder Woman’s tiara from the recent film. He then 3D printed it, and shows us how he finished and painted it as well.

Submit Your Role Call-ers! – American Theatre Magazine has a regular segment where they highlight theatre workers that more people should know about. This December, they will be profiling twenty folks that should be known outside their discipline. You can nominate people you think they should highlight; let’s see some props people up in there!

Late Weekend Prop Links

How Sharp Objects Made Amma’s Creepy Dollhouse – Don’t read this if you haven’t watched the show yet, since it contains major spoilers for the season finale. But the exquisite detail (and six-figure budget) that went into this dollhouse is stunning, and really shows off the craftsmanship that the props team is capable of.

Cinefex Vault #14 – Troy – Remember that movie, Troy? Wolfgang Petersen’s epic tale of Ancient Greece was filled with extremely accurate period detail, so when they needed boats, they built real boats. Marine coordinator Mike Turk’s business has been building ships in London since 1710 and supplying boats for film since 1938.

The Chair Maker: Lawrence Neal – Lawrence Neal is a fifth-generation chair maker. Watch him work his magic in this stunning short video.

When Damage Is Done – American Theatre recently covered the spate of harassment stories which have unfolded in several theaters over the past year. From Long Wharf, to the Guthrie, to the Alley, these otherwise-renowned institutions represent just the tip of the iceberg of bullying, harassment, and sexism that has long been brushed off in our industry.

Goodman Theatre

On the final stop of our tour of Chicago theaters is the largest of all, the Goodman Theatre. The Goodman is the city’s oldest nonprofit theater, and Alice Maguire has been properties supervisor there for nearly thirty years.

Behind the set at the Goodman
Behind the set at the Goodman

We first received a tour of their two theater spaces, both of which currently had shows on stage. Continue reading Goodman Theatre

Order Up! Prop Stories To Go

Order Up! A Working Ziosk Prop – Jay Duckworth details how his shop built a working computer-ordering system for a booth at a Chili’s restaurant that appeared on stage. It took a combination of a cheap tablet, a 3D-printed housing, and some clever programming and graphic design to pull it off.

SYFY WIRE Fan Creators – The SYFY Channel has created a whole series of mini-documentaries about fans of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, who build things related to their fandom. It’s a mix of propmakers, cosplayers, artists, and even a baker.

In Memoriam: John C. Taccone, IATSE Stagehand – John Taccone was a stagehand in New York City and a member of the New Amsterdam Theatre props crew for 21 years. His untimely passing earlier this month was memorialized on the Broadway marquee of the New Amsterdam.

The House That Mr. Mayer Built: Inside the Union-Busting Birth of the Academy Awards – This is an oldie, but it was new for me. The Oscars were originally created as a way to prevent the unionization of actors, writers, and directors in Hollywood. It didn’t work. Still, it is a good reminder of how spectacle can often be used to mask some deeper purpose. If you want to know more about the history of unionization amongst the Hollywood technicians, I covered a bit of it in my “Brief History of IATSE” article from a few years back. It was outright war at times.

Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies