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.

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Sketchbook Selections September 2017

I’m continuing to enjoy the addition of water colour to my drawings. There’s obviously a bit of a learning curve but that’s part of the journey. Here are a couple of my latest renderings.


Pigment pen and water colour

Pigment pen and water colour

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

Bits and Bobs 5

I’ve been busy putting together a small show that’s currently running at a local performing arts centre. Here are 3 new pieces that I included in the exhibit. They’re all acrylic on 6′ x 6′ gallery wrapped canvas.

Red Peak

 

Foggy Corner

It’s a little hard to get an idea of the scale of these small canvases. I refrained from cropping this photo in order to provide reference points to better illustrate the sizes.

IMG_0211

Milkweed Autumn

This portrait is acrylic on a 2 foot by 3 foot medium rough canvas. The canvas presented a problem as it already had the roughing in for another piece which didn’t get very far. If you’ve ever worked with canvas you know that it can be very difficult to completely eradicate any under painting. I didn’t want to trash the canvas (it was gallery wrapped so it wasn’t cheap). I opted to sand out as much texture as I could and put down 2 layers of opaque undercoat. Finally I incorporated a bit of the spatial characteristics of the original paint sketch to negate any issues that might arise from the canvas having a prior partial life.

Rosa at the field's edge

 

Portrait of a Young Man

This portrait is on a 2 ‘ by 2 ‘ canvas and it’s executed in acrylic. It’s a very personal piece as it’s a portrait of my son. Many of the decisions I made, from composition to lighting, came about for very specific reasons. Several years ago he came home from school for a month to recover from surgery to correct a life threatening medical condition. We all have a number of “befores and afters” in life and this was a very significant one for him (and for all our family). Here I’ve set him alone against an ambiguous background. There’s a source of light behind but his face is cast in partial shadow. He doesn’t gaze out of the canvas but inward, caught up in his own thoughts.

 

Portrait of a young man

 

 

Bits and Bobs – 3

I’m continuing to work on smaller scale pieces to keep up momentum when I need a break from larger paintings and drawings. This piece is on a 6″ by 6″ birch plywood panel (it’s mounted on a 1.5″ basswood frame). I didn’t seal the panel so that I could take advantage of the pigment bleed to suggest foliage in the background.

Eastern Towhee