Peter Pan Set Design and Build

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 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.

The rest of the design consisted of a small number of set pieces like Wendy’s house, the pirate rowboat, the lagoon rock, Nana’s house, etc, that were built by myself and other handy members of the production team. With such a large cast and crew, and numerous scene changes, it really helps to keep the set pieces to a minimum. That said I really enjoyed the challenges that come with this type of production.

Advertisements

Bits and Bobs 6

I’m continuing to fit in little projects between larger pieces. Here’s another piece in the series I’m slowly building that’s based on doodles. It’s acrylic on 8″ x  8″ gessoed hardboard panel.
Dusting of Snow

Below is a study of autumn milkweed rendered in acrylic on rag paper. A subscriber to my other blog – http://www.odds8ends.wordpress.com – asked why I use photos with my posts instead of drawings or paintings. To be honest I never really considered it simply because my own photographs and words have always been the standard I applied when posting there. The study below is a little step into exploring possible methods of creating images to use with text on that blog.

Waiting on the Wind

Studio Bits and Bobs

My rechargeable batteries for my Canon camera have bit the dust so I’ve used my printer scanner to upload some of these images. 

This is a pigment sketch I completed in 2013. I never really liked it (scale was weird- angles were off) so it was the perfect piece to mess around with.

Crowing FloralI decided to add some colour and texture. It was an improvement. But… I hadn’t bothered to secure the paper to keep it from wrinkling when it got wet so it was pretty lumpy. I tried spraying it and weighing it down, several times, but it didn’t work. I had some paper tape that’s normally used for printmaking with rag paper so I thought “what the hey” and soaked the paper and hung it up. Of course the sketch was drawn on cheap sketchbook paper which doesn’t react like print paper and the whole thing became even more of a mess with the glue soaking through the thin paper. I ended up throwing the drawing into the sink, giving it a good rinse, and wiping off as much of the glue as I could. As you can see below it finally ripped and the brown glue stain never came out. All in all I think it was a positive exercise as I learned quite a bit about the limits and characteristics of some of my materials.

Learning exercise

Sometimes when I’m feeling a bit stale I try to doodle my way out of it. I’ve never done anything with the little drawings…until now. I had some small canvases (they don’t look it here but red and blue are 5″ x 7″, the yellow is 8″ x 8″) that weren’t ear marked for anything and decided to take the doodles one step further.   I like how they turned out. They’re just simple little images not really located anywhere. I’m looking forward to completing more and seeing where they go.

Red

Yellow

Blue

Logo Process

A friend of mine recently opened a theatre company. He was looking for someone to put together a logo for him. An upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 8 has resulted in all my old image editing software no longer being available for me to use  as most of it is no longer compatible with the updated OS. I was still able to create something for him using Microsoft Word ( I can’t even find the words to express how much I miss my old computer!!). His requirements were fairly simple in that he didn’t like shading, it wasn’t to be overly ornamental, and he wanted something that illustrated the company name. I did a couple of really quick sketches and then built a rough mock up. Using that basic build  I put together around 20 to 30 variations and sent them off to him for approval.

mockupThis was the original build. You can see it’s made by simply overlapping shapes.From that starting point I was able to create a number of compositions- such as these 3 below.

Mockup4 mockupb

mockup3

 

 

 

Here’s the one he chose to use for the banner of his company’s premier production.

AFewGoodMen681

It’s pretty simple but it met his immediate need. This might not be his final decision but for a MS Word build it doesn’t look too bad.

 

I still had those rough sketches that I started with and rather than toss them in the trash I fleshed them out into a finished pigment drawing…booksketch

 

Community Volunteering

For the past four 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. Then there are things that need to be addressed like line of sight and safety issues.  I’ve uploaded some pictures from some of the projects I’ve contributed to.  The pictures aren’t the best quality as these projects aren’t something that I would include in my portfolio but they’ll work to show the variety of tasks that can be involved with this kind of volunteering.

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 facsimile of The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hal. It’s not an exact copy 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. It was so crooked that it had to be nailed into the frame but it did the trick. This was my first time reproducing a work of this kind and I really enjoyed recreating the richness of the fabrics. I have no idea where this painting ended up as 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.  The painting was mounted on a stage flat that was flipped upside down during the play.

Farndale Cavalier

Farndale Cavalier Downside Up

Production- See How They Run by 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 that depicts 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.

See How They Run-Full Set

See How They Run-Mantle

See How They Run- Back wall detail

See How They Run- Props detail

Production- Dear Santa by Norm Foster

This is the most recent play I’ve participated in (it 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 2 specific 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 on my other blog). It did make for a some hiccups. 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 (his character is sort of hefty) 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 those issues.

Dear Santa- Snow storm foyer

Dear Santa -Oversized letter to Santa

Dear Santa -Stage view from the tech balcony

Dear Santa- View from side catwalk

Dear Santa- Front of the house, lights up view

Dear Santa- Sonotube postal biplane

Dear Santa - Snowflake arch

Dear Santa- Window view

Dear Santa- Snowman detail

Dear Santa-Flat holy detail

Dear Santa- Sonotube nutcracker