Creative Staging: Top Ten Inexpensive Finds for Dramatic Results

In Uncategorizedby tfwm

One of the most immediately noticeable renovations you can make to your worship center is to the stage area. When people walk into an auditorium, the first thing they see is the platform. Any change to it grabs attention and creates expectation about what might happen next.

The best part is that making those changes doesn’t take a lot of money. Here are my top ten favorite staging resources from the theatrical world that can be used in worship.

My favorite trade secret when I was doing set design was tricot – and yes, I am talking about the lingerie fabric. It is inexpensive, comes in varying weights, it stretches and takes light beautifully, either from the back or the front. You can create soft form just by draping it. It can be hung in sails or stretched tight across a frame to create geometric shapes. You can also project pattern or video onto it. I recently saw an application where it was hung like a hammock with a crossbar at each end.

If you need more of a sheer look, try sparkle organza or iridescent crinkle organza. Both produce completely different results when lit and are also fairly affordable. You can purchase by the bolt from websites such as

Another incredibly inexpensive fabric is interfacing (also called fusing). It has a certain amount of structure to it and will reflect light.

There are tons of more expensive specialty fabrics such as mirror cloth, dot spandex and lame which are worth experimenting with. Around the holidays, you can find gold and silver lame tablecloths a potentially more affordable solution than purchasing by the yard. Check in your area for discount fabric outlets or mill outlets. They all carry inexpensive bolts of discontinued or flawed fabric that can be used in this way.

Sonotube is a brand of concrete form that can be purchased at Home Improvement (HI) stores like Lowe’s or Home Depot. Think of a giant paper towel roll but much more durable. It comes in sizes from 6″ diameter to 36″ diameter, and can be used to create columns or cut in rings to build a ring wall. It can also be special ordered in different shapes (ie. Squares, Hexagons) and lengths. Because it takes weight so well, you can actually use it to build structures as long as you secure it. Once I built a balcony and used Sonotube as the support.

It can be used for tree forms where the bark is created either by using a “paper mache” effect with 2″ strips of cloth dipped in a glue solution or bark “sprayed on”. (Foam insulation looks remarkably like bark when sprayed in lines then painted.)

Corrugated Metal
Corrugated metal is a great tool for achieving an “industrial” look. It can be hung in sheets, cut into shapes or bent into columns and it reflects light beautifully. It is also available as corrugated fiberglass and PVC. These materials come in a variety of colors, including clear. If you want a really edgy look, you can spray paint graffiti across it. At the very least, your creative team will have a great time tagging legally.

PVC Pipe
PVC pipe and fittings are like the adult version of tinker toys. You can build dramatic structures, then easily pull them apart so they take up little storage space. And whether you are a theatre or a worship space, storage is always an issue. These structures are not weight bearing but can be used to suspend fabrics, light weight materials (such as cardboard and foam core), and light weight lighting. Keep in mind that PVC pipe can be heated and bent which can give you a number of options for curved building structures. (Always wear a chemical cartridge respirator when heating and melting plastics)

Kee Klamp
The more expensive (but more structural) version of adult tinker toys is Kee Klamp. Kee Klamp manufactures a number of different fittings designed to connect steel pipe. You can create structures that are very strong, but easily disassembled and reconfigured. The fittings come in a variety of sizes to accommodate _” pipe all the way up to 2″ pipe. Plus, the steel pipe can be painted in virtually any color. (Kee Klamps come in varying colors, too.) Kee Klamp fittings are highly weight bearing so you can support scenery and even people on your structures.

This solution isn’t exactly inexpensive, but you can build your inventory project by project with a minimal investment. Check out their website at

Patio Umbrella Stands
Patio umbrella stands will hold 2″ conduit perfectly. They work very similar to lighting boom bases but are more readily obtainable and have a better look. It is a great quick effect for creating street signs or light poles, and they come in a number of designs so that you can get the look you want.

Styrofoam is a material that is used extensively in theatre and film to create carved items, stone, and concrete. It comes in two forms that are available locally at HI stores in a variety of thicknesses. White beadboard (similar to the foam that makes up Styrofoam coolers) can be glued together, gouged, carved and roughed up to resemble rock and stone. You can also carve statuary. High Density insulation foam (usually pink or blue in color) can be worked similar to wood. It is excellent for creating formed stone (such as brick), concrete, or lightweight oversized molding. What many people don’t realize is that you can sand Styrofoam and actually get a very smooth finish that takes paint (water based only) very well. You can also coat it with glue soaked fabric and create walkable surfaces (such as sandy beaches).

A word to the wise, don’t use solvent based glues or paints on foam. The foam melts, which creates really cool effects but releases noxious gases (such as chlorine and cyanide). Once again, always wear a chemical cartridge respirator when working with plastics.

Wire comes in a plethora of types and sizes. The greatest thing about wire is that it is easily shaped by hand. Take Romex for instance. Romex is a flat residential wiring product that comes in spools and is inexpensive. If you take chunks of Romex, bend them into filigree shapes, wire tie them together, put them in a PVC frame, and paint it gloss black you get what looks like a formal stair or balcony railing. If you draw out a template and have lots of volunteers you can turn out more railing than you need in hours.

Another wire that is readily available at your local HI store is bare copper. It comes in large gauges (size of wire), is purchased by the linear foot, and is easily cut and joined together using wire ties, solder, or just hot glue. It already has a great looking finish and can be used to create very durable specialty items such as artwork, wire sculptures, etc.

Drainage pipe
If you walk through the garden section of your HI store you will find corrugated drain pipe. It comes in black and has holes punched in it at regular intervals. It looks very ‘techno’ and comes in short lengths, long coils, and has joining pieces similar to PVC. While it has no structural properties, it can be used to create a very mechanical or deconstructed look to a room or set. If you place tubular fluorescent fixtures inside of it you can get some really neat lighting effects, especially if you have haze or fog in the air.

Plastic water pipe
In the plumbing section you will find plastic water pipe in clear and translucent white. Since it is flexible you can bend it into shapes and fasten it down to a frame or surface (I attached it to a piece of scenic netting and suspended it so that the shape looked like it was floating in space). If you throw black light onto it you get a fairly decent approximation of neon. Try adding some neon dye (available at hobby and craft shops) to water, fill your neon creation with the dyed water (don’t forget to close the ends) and THEN throw black light on it. Now you have colored neon. The effect is best in dim light but it looks fantastic. And when you are done you can empty it, coil it up and store it away for future use.

As you can see there are a variety of inexpensive yet very effective materials and techniques that can be used to alter a stage or space quickly. All it takes is imagination and elbow grease. I make a regular habit of walking through my local HI stores and just looking at different materials. Try to think about different ways to use those materials. Take notes. You never know what you can do with something until you try, and then your experiment spawns a whole new set of ideas for using the same material. The possibilities are endless.