You Talk’n to Me?

By Charles T. Jackson

After a very busy year, I was sure that there would be a few weeks lull before I got started on the next Community Theatre show, but much to my surprise, I was asked to build for a local private high school!! Now, I wouldn’t be quitting my full time job with what the job paid, but honestly it was nice just to be asked!! The school was doing the one act plays and needed a few pieces for a one act called “Puberty the Game Show”. The director said she needed two podiums, one pink, one blue, and a dynamic “game show” sign. Feeling confident in my ability to get’r’done at this point, I say, “How bout if the male/female signs are back lit?” There I do again, suggesting something I had never done before.

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Of course, being a gentleman, I knocked out the ladies podium first. Which of course a neighborhood urchin was super delighted to give a test run.

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And then I did the “men’s” podium. There was a slight delay in the production of these due to the fact that I wasn’t sure which symbol meant male

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, and which meant female, but after a Facebook pole I felt confident that I would be getting it right.
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Next up was the “dynamic” sign. I had no problem coming up with the design, getting it drawn on the wood, and then cut out. Where I started to have a problem was with the painting and lettering. Up to this point my lettering had been pretty large and bold so it wasn’t to bad for an old ADHD’r like me with pretty distinct immediacy issues. This sign would really test my patience with all the taping and shading and lettering all done in the cramped confines of my little garage due to the coldish November weather.
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I was very pleased with the visual impact of the three pieces together

, sadly the only person I’d see at interact with them is that neighborhood urchin, seen here being very Presidential. Next up…dealing with stable levels in the form of platforms that don’t break the bank, set up and break down easily, and take up very little space when stored waiting for their next opportunity to shine. Thanks for stopping.

Phew…just Phew!!

By Charles T. Jackson

After nearly five straight months of working every day I had off in the yard building for shows, I was grateful for the months of August and September being “show free”, but by October, our Community Theatre was gearing up for “Oklahoma” and I was ready to get back into the game. Our director asked me to try a “barn raising” piece, and gave me a picture of a butter churn that would be ideal for the period. The barn frame was pretty simple, but very large. I had to build it, take it apart to transport and store it, and then rebuild it on the stage. While I know now that that is how most theatre companies handle sets, this was my first time assembling and disassembling, a reassembling a piece that I made.7 Oklahoma Barn Frame
At nearly the same time, our director decided to try staging some programs focused on children in the audience

, so she needed six 2′ x2′ x 2′ boxes with hinged lids and handles. The boxes would challenge me to make a semi-lightweight box

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, that required properly installed hinges, were sturdy enough to be stood on by an adult actor and rounded over handle holes so the actors didn’t hurt their hands while moving them. I would be incorporating almost everything I had learned so far into the construction of these boxes, and some!!
41 Mother Goose Boxes
The director of the kids show timidly asked, is there way we could get a see saw that appear in the proper scale of the adult actors. Of course I said, as I had gotten in the habit of saying, “I’ll give it a shot”. The below was the end result, and as you can imagine, there was quite a bit of quality assurance testing of this bad boy before it got to the stage.

42 Mother Goose Seesaw
Armed with only a picture of the ideal butter churn, I set out to make a prop that looked as much like the real thing as possible. With loads of scraps in and around my garage, the only thing I had to buy for this project was a medium sized concrete form tube and two antique/country looking strap hinges. I was very proud of the end result and presented it to the director with pride. It was with this particular prop that I discovered just how attached a guy can get to something he’s built with his own two hands. When I reported to rehearsal and found that someone other than me had painted on it to “age it” at the direction of the director, I was quite annoyed!! This would be something I would have to simply “get over” because it was going to happen, but as this was the first time someone else painted on something I made, it was an emotional milestone that sticks out in my mind.
7 Oklahoma Butter Churn
Having completed all the tasks assigned, my director gave me one last assignment as a long shot. Since our cast had broken one cheap retracting knife after another, she asked if I could possibly try and make one that was a bit more hardy. The below was the end result of me “giving it a shot” but as I’m no engineer, the actors involved in this beats were liable to get actually impaled on the wooden blade due to an overly efficient spring system.
7 Oklahoma Judd Knife
With the end of these shows, I thought 2009 would come to a nice quiet close, only to be pleasantly surprised by being offered a set building position for a local private high school!! That’s for my next post. Thanks for stopping by!!


That’s the fact, Jack!!

By Charles T Jackson

Having missed out on the standing of all of the Annie flats, I missed out on two important aspects of getting that job done. I missed out on how they attach

, and what they were attached to. The plan in my mind was that they would be attached to a set of what looked like flat frames that were uncovered and braced back to back. Turns out

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, as almost always, there’s a much easier approach. One of our Youth Theatre Dads had some early stage experience and used what he called “whalers and Jacks” to set up the flats on the “dollies”. He had the 2′ x 8′ wheeled platforms already set up, and threw together the whalers and jacks on the stage. The whalers were simply two pieces of 1″ x 3″ screwed together at a 90 degree angle, and are used to secure the flats together, and well as a screwing surface for the jacks. Whalers in use

Sticker placement

For additional stability, the dad added what he called “stickers” which were braces that were attached from whaler to whaler.


Initially, my thought was “bigger is better” so I built these behemoth jacks to stand the flats for Magic Time, but found that they wouldn’t fit on the dolly next time I tried them. I built smaller ones for use with the dollies in much the same way as the big ones. The worked really well, but I found myself, not a small person, locked out of the middle of the dolly when securing them to the flats. My answer to this was to send in my skinny 13 year old son to secure the middle.

Flats with larger jacks

This was a solution to the problem until my 13 year old became a larger 15 year old and couldn’t fit in the space much better that I did, so I built even smaller jacks as seen below.


I offset the the back brace on the left or right for two reasons. The primary reason was so that they could be clamped into place when setting up. The secondary reason, and if I’m being perfectly honest was an unplanned bonus, is that they nest inside of each other making carrying and storing them a pleasure. The middle jack jack above was constructed of re-purposed fence slats and has performed well over the last several years.

Flats with smaller jacks

Set up as pictured above, I have found that there is no loss of stability whatsoever. Thanks for reading.

The Foundation of our Name!!

By Charles T. Jackson

The whirlwind that was the summer of 2009, included our first re-use of sets from one production to another. After we had struck Annie from the Middle School stage, we stashed it in any place that we could fit it in our house and when we ran out of room there, we asked around our families and friends and stashed some of the flats where we could find room at their houses. I had to keep the stuff I had already built, out of the way to have room to build the stuff I needed to build. It was a mess. One of the summer shows being directed by a college aged member of our Community Theatre group needed a “static interior” set with two doors. I offered up the Annie set and said that since I hadn’t gotten to participate in the setting up of the set initially, I’d take care of setting up as well. Of course my big mouth had gotten me into a situation once again in that I still hadn’t done the standing of the flats so I wasn’t completely sure how I was going to do it. The “jacks” that were used to stand the Annie set were pretty hastily thrown together and did not appear fit for another use, so I decided to make a bunch of them in a way that would be both sturdy, but would possibly stand up to multiple uses, and store neatly. I’ll cover the details of that development in my next post!! But having figured out a possible solution

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, I decided to give it my best and see what happened. With the help of a couple of the more seasoned veterans of our theatre group, the set for the Summer production of “Magic Time” went up without a hitch. The show was a great success in the small venue chosen, and we were thrilled to have been a part of the process. Very shortly thereafter, at the seat of the County, “Magic Time Stage Craft” was all registered

, and official!! I was not able to get any pictures of that set in time for this post, but if any turn up I’ll add them when I get them. Thanks as always for reading.

Oops, my bad!!

By Charles T. Jackson

It was bound to happen sooner or later. While discussing the order of the shows that I had already posted about, my wife informed me that I had gotten “Annie” and “Pocahontas” backwards. Of course I was reticent

, Ohh yes, I was reticent. So I checked the dates on the photos and VIOLA!! She was right. As usual. With that all straightened out, and dates checked a little more thoroughly, having pulled off a couple of amazingly challenging shows for the youth theatre, the local community theatre director wondered if I could help them out with a couple of props for the summer production of “:Barnum”. She said that she needed a prop piano, and a “tippy House” for a dream sequence.

3 Barnum Rocking House

I spent the better part of two days building and painting the above tippy house, and being unfamiliar with the show, was surprised to find that it spent exactly 28 second per show on the stage involved in the scene it was in!! The prop Piano would be a different story. It spent a full two or three minutes on the stage, but represented my first recycling of materials from other shows.


In it’s pre painted form, you can see that the keyboard

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, and the level above the keyboard is wood that was re purposed rom the Oz Head background. It wasn’t an easy thing to do, cut up and reuse pieces from a set piece that I worked so hard on, but I needed the space in the garage.

3 Barnum Prop Piano

After adding a couple pieces of moulding, and some paint..VIOLA!! We have a piano!! Initially I left the back just a plain brown, but a later show would call for the usual rear details to be painted on. This piano is not as hard working as our stump, but it’s pretty close.

Possible Post Retirement Career?

By Charles T. Jackson

When the “Annie Jr”  set hit the stage, it was very well received. In fact almost everyone that knew me, and knew that I was in the latter years of may career, commented that I might have discovered what I could do with my retirement. With just four years left, and enjoying the process the way I had so far, I started to think that those folks might be right!! So it was a bit serendipitous that My wife and I had been funding all of the work that I had done

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, and in fact owned everything that I had made to date. It occurred to me early in the process that if I turned in all of my receipts for just the “materials” ownership of what those materials ultimately became would be with whomever could prove they’d paid, and as I was not documenting the hours I was putting in, I would not have a leg to stand on. My wife and I decided that in order to maintain proper care and control over set pieces that I make, we would fund the pieces, donate them to all of the programs that we support, store them and reuse them as we saw fit. With having made that decision though, the age old problem that cropped up was, where the heck are we going to store all of this stuff when we’re done with it. That would be a question that would have to be answered at a later date. We were excited at the prospect of starting a small business, but as is the case in a lot of entrepreneurial ventures initially, we didn’t have a clue how to proceed. Winging it seemed to be working so far, so we decided that we’d forge ahead, and see what happened. Two things were certain: I would be able to stay busy with local shows

, and I would be needing a larger work space as soon as possible. I suspect that my next submission will cover the strike of the Annie set, and where they went, but I really never know for sure so stay tuned!! Thanks for your interest, and attention!!

My First Door!!

By Charles T. Jackson

The next hurdle in our 2009 Summer Production of “Annie” was that I had never built, or installed a door before, so it was back to the drawing board for me.

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I knew enough about flats at this point that there were two types, Broadway flats that I had been building, and Hollywood flats, that were built in a more traditional framing style with the 1″ x 3″s on edge rather than flat. I felt that a Broadway style would likely offer a sturdier frame for a door, so I went with it. I framed out the door, attempted to recycle a door from another show, but found it a bit too dilapidated, so I went and got a similar new luan skinned door.
2 Full Function Door

I painted it up and awkwardly added a doorknob and VIOLA!!! Miss Hanigan’s door was done. We lovingly referred to it as just “Hannigan’s Door” which has also become the name of my band should I ever learn to play an instrument!!

The next  thing I painted were the matching walls for Ms. Hannigan’s Office. It was at this point I started to learn and appreciate the differences between painting on canvas flats as opposed to luan flats. The door panel and short wall are both luan and were an absolute pleasure to paint, as apposed to the canvas wall flat in between that seemed to fight being painted at every turn.


My yard turned into a crazy space on every day I had off as I laid all the drying flats on whatever surface I could lean them on.  The next set of flats that I painted were the orphanage dormitory wall flats.

IMG_1468These flats were all canvas.

2 Municipal Orphange InteriorI then painted these squeezed in the small garage space due to some pretty foul weather.

2 8' x 8' NBC Studio IntExterior

The NBC Studio flats were next, and then I knocked out the Brownstone building below!! Phew!! It’s crazy to even revisit this!! I was working a rotating shift, had all three of my kids, and was attending classes at Rutgers!! I honestly have no idea how I found the time.

2 4 x12 Brownstone

This was the first of the six 12 footers I had to do. I then set to the task of getting this drawing…


onto five 12′ x 4′ flats. I was Getting more and more frantic at this point, and wondered daily if I was going to be able to pull this all off. Weighing on my mind at this point as well was the fact that I had no idea how to stand all of the flats on the stage. One of the theatre Dads that had some stage experience had volunteered to make the dollies, whalers and jacks, but at that point I had no idea what those were!!

12 x20 Mansion Interior

I was able to get it done, but by the time I got these to the stage, I had really known that this amount of work for one guy in the workspace that I had was going to be impossible in the long term. The dads that set these flats on the stage had done so much to my disappointment without me due to my work schedule. In my next post

, I’ll discuss the many things we discovered after building so many things, in the size I built them, for a small stage at a Middle School. Thanks for stopping to read!!

Learning This, Learning That.

By Charles T. Jackson

With the the “Annie” set coming along for the Youth Theatre’s Summer production, and most of the flat frames already built with low grade 1″ x 3″ strapping, I began to notice some problems with the structural integrity of even these braced frames!! I was beginning to get quite frustrated.  Fortunately, The last full flat, and one half flat were still pending when I ran out of low grade 1 x 3 strapping, and headed out to Home Depot for more materials. As luck would have it, the #2 1 x 3s were closer to the front of the store, and being a guy that wants it NOW, I went ahead and got the wood that I came to first, even if it was a bit more expensive. When I got the wood cut and assembled, I was amazed with the stability of the flat frames with the better wood. The explanation was simple, squared wood joins way better than rounded wood. IMG_1877

When you look at the wood from the end, the strapping on the right is clearly  rounded on the edges, and the #2 wood is squared on the edge.

Kreg Jig Pocket Hole

When using pocket holes in the lower quality strapping, the screws would split the ends of the narrowed screwing surface and allow for movement in the joint. Even when the screws were fully secure, the rounded edge of the lower quality wood allowed for movement in the joint. While the same splitting occurs occasionally with the higher quality wood, in happens less frequently, and for the most part the joints hold very stably. With the braces, the difference in the stability of the frames is remarkable. The general quality of the wood would come into play after one of the flats was covered

, painted and then moved. When loading in one of the flats, I broke the bottom toggle at a knot in the middle. Fortunately I had not used any glue on the frame or the canvas, and I was able to unscrew the broken toggle and braces and replace it in minutes. All flats I would build after those last two, would be built with #2 quality 1″ x 3″ wood. The half flat that I mentioned earlier, I covered with luan, and noticed that there was very little difference in the weight. (It was one of things that made me go Hhhmmmmm) In my next post, I’ll post pictures of the “Annie” flats as the painting progressed. Thanks for stopping.

Super Overwhelmed!!

By Charles T. Jackson

Well…having become a victim of my own enthusiasm, I was again facing the reality of figuring out how the heck I was going to accomplish what I had designed and happily agreed to do. Since discovering the advantages of the using the Kreg Jig,  I was more comfortable with the process of making the frames for the flats so it wasn’t skills that I needed to figure out this time. It was how the heck I was going to fit in all the building and painting that I had committed to?!! I still believed at this point that canvas flats were the way to go, but was not happy with the weight of the drop cloth grade canvas. It was both actually heavy, and I thought, way to thick to be appropriate for theatre flats. I asked our Community Theatre director what she usually used ,and she said cotton duck cloth from a local fabric store, but thankfully added that she always waited for a good sale to buy it. Needing in the range of 150 yards, that was really sound advice.


Although I was happier with the joinery on the Pocahontas flats, there was still a bit of noticeable twist apparent with just the three toggles even when the luan was secured to the frame. I suspect that this was impart due to the fact that I stapled the luan without any glue, but discovering that I needed to get away from stapling anything to the frames would take a few more shows. I attempted to add to the stability of the frame by adding braces in the corners with great success. Also secured with Kreg Jig pocket holes, the profile of the flat didn’t change one bit.


Next I had to fasten the canvas to all the frames. I was not happy with the period of time

, and all the energy it took to secure the canvas on my first flats the traditional way. Placing a staple in the center of the each of the sides and then area by area, pulling the canvas taught, and stapling. I figured there had to be an easier, faster way, so I put om my “ADHD wanna get’r’done NOW” thinking cap and thought, if there was a way to get the whole canvas under tension at one time, stapling could happen way more efficiently. Off to Home Depot I went and I got a load of the above pictured $.99 clamps and bungee cords and combined them to make tension clamps for the canvas.

Canvas End Clamp Pattern

I first laid out the canvas and then centered the frame on the canvas leaving about 6 inches. I attached two clamps to the canvas, and stretched them to the center toggle. I did the same on the other end, made sure the canvas was unwrinkled, and proceeded to do the same on both sides.

Clamp Pattern Long Sides

Above is the side clamping pattern. After making sure there were no wrinkles in the canvas under the frame, I went to town with the staple gun and stapled all of the sides down. With the clamps still in place, I wrapped the corners in the traditional manner.


This really Expedited the process, but as always, there were still several ways to improve the process that I had yet to discover, and that’s what I will finally get to in my next post!! Thanks for stopping by!!

Drama in Theatre!!

By Charles T. Jackson

For the 2009s Summer production, I wanted to get ahead of the game, and with the knowledge that we’d be doing “Annie Jr” I threw together a design for the Youth Theatre directors to look at. They said that they liked it, and they liked the little model that I made as well. I was having quite a bit of fun with the process, and all that I was learning, but I had no idea that trouble was brewing on the horizon. In an early meeting of myself, the directors, and other parents interested in participating in the set building process, the problem reared it’s ugly head. Apparently being the guy that designs and builds the sets is not necessarily the guy who does the set coordination, and as I had relived a “Theatre Dad” that was thrilled to be replaced, I assumed taking on the task singled handedly would a welcomed prospect. NOT the case. There was a set of theatre parents that got very annoyed with being told what to do when they had ideas of their own, and it caused an amazing amount of disturbance in the local theatre force. They ultimately refused to involve themselves any further in the process, due to their perceived “snub” and left me holding the bag completely. Since in my mind I was holding the bag anyway, I was ok. The full ramifications of the set I had designed, and the idea that I had to do it all alone didn’t  really hit me until I started building the 15 flats I had designed into the set!! Six 4′ x 12′, Eight 4′ x 8′, and one 24″ x 8′. All of which I had to build, cover with canvas, prime and paint in my little 10′ x 20′ garage!!! I had officially bitten off more than I could chew. The good news in all of this is, that in the process of making these canvas flats, I figured out what exactly the problem was after trying a few things, and I’ll share them in my next submission!! Thanks for reading.


This is a picture of the flats drying in my neighbor’s yard, and a very worn out me.


Here they are loaded into my garage. They only take up about a foot of space, but I have to get them all out every time I start working, and according to the dates on these images, I’m working outside in March!!

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