Much time has been spent dealing with the frustration of looking at a blank stage, and wondering just what elaborate set pieces we need. But what if your stage is not big enough for those gorgeous enormous sets? Your budget is minimal, and furthermore, where are you going to store everything when the show is over?
Not every production needs elaborate sets. Simple rolling sets, or flats, can be used to create an image for the viewing audience without taking up a lot of space.
Some things to consider if you are going to venture into designing and building some fair sized set pieces:
o Will your sets be stationary or moving?
o Are the sets going to have people standing on them?
o If your sets are going to spin or move across the stage, will they need a mechanical apparatus to do so, or will it need handles for stage techs to push?
o Are your sets going to be constructed out of wood or metal framing with fiberglass coverings?
o Have you ever considered having “nooks” and hidden shelves designed into your set pieces to hide stage monitors, microphones, and/or special effects equipment?
We talked with two of our own set design team members, to find out just how they a) put up with us, b) how they figure out what the heck we are talking about, and c) make our visions a reality.
So grab a glass of your favorite soda, a good snack, then sit back and relax as you read through the rest of this article. This article will be an interview between the owners of MULTI-TECH, (Janet and Don Beasley) and MULTI-TECH’s set design managers, Chuck & Nita.
MULTI-TECH: When we come to you with an idea or concept, what is your first thought?
Nita: Are you kidding?
Chuck: Why can’t you just pick something simple for a change?
MT: Hey, wait a minute; you mean it’s not that easy to make a rolling flat with a working, lighted aquarium inlaid? Then cover the flat with silk seaweed to give the audience the feeling they are under the water?
Chuck & Nita: That’s what we’re talkin about! Let’s try something simple, pleeeeease?
MT: OK. Let’s say we need four Christmas trees with gingerbread men on them to use in a Christmas scene. What are the first things you consider?
Chuck: How tall, how wide, how will they stand up, and most importantly how will we store them after the show?
MT: Let’s say we want them approximately 4 feet tall, 3 feet wide at the base, and the gingerbread men should be about 2 feet by 2 1/2 feet tall. Now that my job is done, tell us your procedure in creating this set piece.
Chuck: Well, first I start with a sketch on paper. This helps me create a scale “model” that I then have approved by the director. If there are any changes to be made, it goes back to the drawing board for amends. Once a final draft has been approved, I get to work enlarging the drawings of the Christmas trees and gingerbread men on wood. When I get one tree and one gingerbread man enlarged and drawn to my liking on the wood, I cut them out and use them as the patterns for the other three. On these set pieces, the gingerbread men are separate from the trees, and will be attached to the front of the trees for a 3D effect.
MT: This sounds great so far! How much time will it take from concept, to the sketch, to the first cut-outs? An hour?
Chuck: Oh, you’re hilarious!
Nita: (chokes and spits water out that she was trying to drink) An hour?!?!
MT: No- I’m serious!
Chuck: That process alone will take about 8-10 hours total; depending upon the changes, if any, from the director. Sometimes it can take days to create what the director wants, then we have to make them comply with the logistics of design and construction.
Nita: There’s nothing worse than a visionary that won’t take NO for an answer, Janet!
MT: Hey hey hey!! So, when we need a set built, you guys really are working several hours a day, and not just hanging out in the set shop having pizza delivered at the company’s expense and on company time?
Chuck: No, but if you know of such a place, let me know!
MT: Oh, now YOU’RE hilarious! Anyway, back to the interview. What’s next?
Chuck: I trace the first set of the wood cut-outs, then cut out the remaining set pieces, getting them ready for painting. I have decided to cut both the trees and the gingerbread men in halves, and hinge them in the center for easy storing. By hinging them, this will also allow for the set pieces to be free standing without any type support on the back. Now that all of the pieces are cut out, it’s time to paint the base color.
MT: So you do the base coating of paint, and Nita handles the “decorative” parts?
Chuck: You got it! Nita handles all of the finishing touches that create texture, and she makes the sets look realistic in some cases. My part is done when I get through with the base coat.
MT: Nita, how do you decide what finishing touches to add?
Nita: That’s a tough question. Let me start by saying that I first must know the director’s vision, just like Chuck. I need to know scene color schemes, the mood that is to be set, and costume colors.
MT: So it isn’t just your decision on what color, or how to paint the sets that’s an eye opener!
Nita: Believe it or not, there are several people involved when it comes to the decision making of colors, textures, and set dressings; directors, costume designers, and lighting designers just to name a few. What I think may look great in my mind, may not match the overall “theme” or “mood” the director wants. And it is very important for me to have a copy of the script as well. Even though there are no lines for me to memorize, by reading the script, I can then understand and begin to create the director’s vision in more detail.
MT: That is really cool! Let’s get back to the simple tree sets. Where do you begin?
Nita: I’ll start with the trees. I have chosen a base coat of Christmas tree green that Chuck has already applied. The setting for these pieces will be a Feliz Navidad Fiesta! As the producer, you wanted a bright and festive mood, therefore we are going to add some “glitz”! Once the green base coat is dry, I will come behind with green glitter glue and using a paintbrush, brush it on. I won’t coat the entire tree. I will just be making random brush strokes so the glitter catches the light from only certain angles. After the glitter glue is dry, Chuck is back on the scene attaching the gingerbread men. I will then apply a strand of beaded Christmas garland on the outside edge using a glue gun. The beads will be red, green, and silver.
MT: This seems to be shaping up to match exactly what I was thinking! How about the gingerbread men?
Nita: I requested a coat of flat brown latex. Chuck took care of that. When the gingerbread men were dry, he then attached them to the front of the trees. I then added the “icing”. However, I can’t take credit for the “icing” recipe!
MT: What do you mean?
Nita: Chuck came up with that one! He suggested I use plain white caulk to give it a “puffy” finished look, instead of a flat appearance of normal paint. I gotta tell ya, he was on it with that one! I used the caulk, and found it to actually resemble icing! As far as storing them folded, we used wax paper in between the two gingerbread halves so the caulk wouldn’t stick together.
MT: How brilliant you two are!
Chuck & Nita: We know!! We mean thank you!
MT: Well, don’t get too cocky as of yet, the tops of the trees look kind of dull. What can we do?
Chuck: How about a 3D star that simply clips to the top?
MT: Sounds great! Let’s do it! Where do we start Chuck?
Chuck: I’ll cut out one flat star, then another flat star cut in half. I will glue a half to each side of the flat star. They will need some kind of a clip on the bottom to attach to the tree tops. This will probably entail custom bending some small metal tabs to fit exactly on the tree top. I’ll paint them bright yellow, and Nita can “fix ’em up”!
MT: What will you do to enhance the stars?
Nita: I’ll use gold glitter glue, and coat the entire star.
MT: Well, what do you know? They turned out great! Once again you two have put up with us, understood just what we wanted, and made our vision a reality!
So, that ends the interview. Stay tuned, and as always, have fun! ·