This blog post was originally shared on my old studio blog on December 30, 2013.
For a number of years I’ve participated as a volunteer with a local non profit group dedicated to the preservation of local community theater. It’s a cause I believe in and it’s been a great opportunity to utilize my skill set in ways I don’t normally get to. One of the things I’ve really enjoyed doing is building props and designing and building sets for productions. The director of the play may or may not have a vision for how he/she would like to proceed. There will be specific requirements that need to be met that will enable the story to be told properly. Of course there’s always a budget and as a non profit organization it can be pretty tight. It’s a fun sort of puzzle to figure out.
Production- The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society Murder Mystery
– A comedy by David McGillivray, Walter Zerlin Jr
For this play I painted a copy of The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hal. It’s not an exact match as that wasn’t necessary (the painting didn’t present a major plot point in the play). I had an old canvas with a warped frame that I used (budget friendly). It was so crooked that it had to be nailed into the frame but it did the trick. This was a fun piece to work on and I really enjoyed recreating the richness of the fabrics. The painting was mounted on a stage flat that was flipped upside down during the play. I have no idea where this painting ended up. The actress in the photo (I’ve covered up her face as I don’t have her permission to use her image) asked if she could have it and then later passed it on to someone else. These are the only pictures I have of the canvas. This was the very first set I helped build and it never occurred to me to take good pictures so I could share them until later in my history of volunteering with the organization.
Production- See How They Run
Author – Philip King
This was one of my very favourite set builds. The director simply requested that the set looked 1940’s-ish so that left things pretty open. The action takes place in an English vicarage. This was a set build that required quite a bit of construction but the real fun was in the details. We finished the walls with this great wallpaper that looked really dated and used a hand painted faux finish to give the appearance of wood grained wainscoting. The plaster fireplace was left over from a prior production and only required a new finish. There’s a whole school of painting from the 1800’s regarding horse and hound hunting in the English countryside. I used imagery from that tradition to create a painting for the wall behind the fireplace. To save money, I used a frame from a broken mirror with a piece of old hard board as a base. I have friends who are collectors and they were kind enough to let me come over and “shop” their home for 1940s-ish props and furniture. We were able to fit retro French doors and period lights into the budget. I used an old sheet primed with house latex to put together a backdrop that was hung behind the French doors.
Production- Dear Santa
Author – Norm Foster
This play ran from December 5th to December 14th, 2013. The set design for this production presented some interesting challenges. The director wanted a very open set with no flats across the back. She wanted it to appear as if the audience was viewing the production through a picture window but the window couldn’t take up any significant space. The main action was to take place in two areas, Santa’s office and Santa’s work shop. It was a very large cast so there really wasn’t room for much of anything on the stage. Dressing the theater was a great way to create atmosphere so I built a number of props for the space. I attempted to create the picture window effect by placing flats that resembled the outside of a building on the far sides of the stage. I defined the rest of the space through the placement of furniture and props. This was the first play for which I personally constructed, not just decorated, the flats and structures (bit of a learning curve but I got pretty handy with a jigsaw by the end). The theater is located in a public building and the space is used by a variety of groups so I had to construct the pieces offsite (you can see some pictures of the space I used for the build here ). I had built a large archway to look like a giant snowflake. I wanted to make sure it was wide enough and tall enough for Santa to pass through. When I got it to the theater I discovered that it was too large to sit under the stage valance. Oops! We moved it around until half of it rested in front of the valance and the rest behind. The half flats at each end of the stage did look like window openings but because they left the stage really open (as the director requested) there was a line of sight issue that allowed the audience to see back into areas they should not be able to see into. Taking a hint from hand crafted Christmas cards I built decorative accents that addressed that issue.