This blog post was originally shared on my old studio blog on January 25, 2018.
The local non profit theatre organization that I volunteer for (the West Elgin Dramatics Society) staged J.M. Barrie’s ‘Peter Pan’ for their 2017 year end production. I had the opportunity to design the set. Barrie’s 1904 play script includes pages of set and production notes that weren’t a realistic aim for the organisation’s budget or the performance hall footprint. The cast was a large one (32 on stage plus the backstage and tech crew) so space was at a premium. The production called for a nursery, three separate settings in Neverland (daylight woods, lagoon, night woods split with the house underground), the deck of a pirate ship, and a place for Nana’s dog house/the Darling house yard.
I first read Peter Pan as an illustrated story when I was a child. I wanted to bring the same kind of feel to the set design. I decided to build large “boxes” that the stage crew would rotate to display four scenic murals with the other two scene sets remaining in place. Each original mural was 8 feet high by 12 feet long spreading across three “box” faces. I constructed the boxes combining existing theatre flats with additional ¼ inch mahogany sheets over frames made of 1 inch by 3 inch pine boards. Set build for a WEDS production usually begins around two weeks before a play opens so time was definitely a factor in getting the set together. Budget is always a consideration so the paint used to create the imagery was a combination of discount mis-tinted house paint and acrylic craft paint. I created the pieces with the knowledge that the flats used to build the boxes would be disassembled at production’s end to be painted over for use in other plays. In some of the pictures you can see some wear and tear under the paint from other set uses. That does make it hard to determine how much work to put into them but hopefully there were enough details included to create the required atmosphere.
The view from the catwalk shows the Darling family nursery as well as the yard where Nana’s house sits.
The backdrop on the wall and the trees were originally created for past productions (See How They Run and Alice Through the Looking-Glass). Community theatre often means recycle, recycle, and recycle some more.
The beds used were inflatable cots which worked surprisingly well in appearance (they aren’t fully inflated or completely covered here as this was just prior to opening), mobility, and storage.
Two of the boxes formed nursery walls that were hung with curtains to conceal the first woodland scene.
Using two of the boxes as nursery walls was the best solution to where to put them when not in use. As you can see from this picture there was no place for them backstage either stage left…
…or stage right. That’s the third box in front of the theatre’s baby grand piano.
The Neverland woods.
Here’s a closer look. Most of the work was done with foam rollers, house painting brushes, and a 1 inch acrylic flat brush.
Rotating from woodland to lagoon. I used felt furniture pads on the bottom and the boxes moved quite well.
The lagoon set. The lines between the surfaces look quite heavy here. These pictures were shot in regular daylight. With the theatre lights on during the play run the dividing lines weren’t as noticeable.
Lagoon detail. I live near the northern shoreline of Lake Erie. If you’re familiar with the area you’ll definitely recognise elements of it in this composition.
Rotation from lagoon to split night woods and house underground.
During the play run these pieces were set up with a split between them so plot lines could develop on the stage back to back with only lighting changes
Night woods detail.
Rotation from split scene to pirate ship deck.
Pirate ship deck.
Pirate ship deck detail.
I’ve blurred the actors’ faces here so don’t be alarmed (they’re not melting). This rehearsal picture shows the actors utilising the split set.
Again I’ve blurred the actor’s face. This rehearsal (wet tech) picture shows the ship deck scene as stage lighting is being added.
This last picture below is me explaining to one of my stage managers how it’s all going to work. She later said she had her hands on her head not because she didn’t think it would work but because she was concerned about the amount of work that was required to get them sorted out. I’m around 5 1/2 feet tall and you can see that even with my arm fully extended I couldn’t reach the top. Though the boxes were large and the stage crew were all small women they had no problem moving them.