Having A Model On Hand

By Charles T. Jackson

As I have done in the past, just once, I’m going to take a quick step back and cover something that I think is quite important. When I was in the process of designing the “Urinetown” set for our October 2010 show, I was having quite a bit of difficulty getting the director on the same page visually. I was thinking that were were almost on the same page, but with so many twists and turns in the set design it was hard to describe. So I decided to handle the situation the same way I handled a similar situation I was having with our youth theatre director, I made her a model. 008
This was the initial formation of the set pieces that she was talking about, and once it was set up I totally got why we were having problems getting on the same page. We decided that it would be simplified to a straight 16′ upstage platform, but the discussion was so much easier and faster when we had visuals to manipulate. 003
It was also nice to be able to take some pictures that gave her an idea of what the set would look like in it’s basic  form from different angles.
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I have flipped these images due to the fact that I had originally interpreted the directors staging backwards and set the model up backwards as well.
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Having realized the value of these basic models, I have made a model of each piece that I have available in my collection of foundation set pieces so that when discussing set design with whoever I happen to be with, I can set it up and show them rather than waste time trying to describe it. An incredibly valuable tool that fits into two plastic storage bins. In my next few posts, I will be covering the new design of the Pharaoh head, how I built it, how I transferred the image to such a massive face, and how I painted it. I will probably do a post regarding how we rigged it to hang as well, but we’ll have to see. Hey…if you have read this, can you drop me a line? I’m starting to feel like I’m talking into an empty room. Thanks for stopping by.

Big, Bigger, Biggest!!

By Charles T. Jackson

With some downtime after the Fall 2010 production of “Urinetown” and our Winter production of “Joseph and his Technicolor Dreamcoat” looming on the horizon, I was itching to get some new stuff started. As usual, I had HUGE design ideas for this production. I just can’t seem to help myself when I sit down and think about what I think would raise the production value of a show, and inspire people to not only enjoy the show we’re doing, but to come back to see others. Inspired by the Joesph movie with Donnie Osmond, in October 2010 I sat down and designed a Pharaoh head piece for our production. 001
As usual, I did the drawing, and then did the math. After calculating the height and width on this initial design, I realized that it was going to be 21 feet tall, and about the same wide at it’s widest point. Was this design impossible? Nope it sure wasn’t, but it was certainly going to be a bit unwieldy to stand. The director and I were on the same page with the eyes though, we both wanted them to move. Feeling pretty comfortable with this initial design, I moved on to the levels that I would be needing. My design called for, once again, a set of steps that we did not have, and I had no idea how to make. But that has not deterred me in the past,. So in November I set out to build a set of steps that were pointed. Sounds pretty easy right? Add in a third stringer in the middle and Viola? Nope. This design and build was way more complicated than I had anticipated, but once I got started the sailing was smooth.
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Now, keep in mind I haven’t done anything more than mention ideas to our director at this point!! There was no guarantee that these or anything that I had drawn up was going to get used in the show. But I was losing quite a lot of sleep with how this set of steps was going to work, so I just had to actually build them because drawing them wasn’t working for me. This design called for a standard set of six step stringers, and a custom center stringer. I used 2″ x 12″ for the treads and center stringer, and when assembled was amazingly stable. Now that I had them built though, I had to start concentrating on getting them approved for use in the show. In my next post, I will continue to discuss the platforms and stairs that I used in the design of this show, and will probably get started on how I re-designed the Pharaoh head and how I built it. Thanks for stopping by.

Un-Limiting Your Stage Design Options

By Charles T. Jackson

In my last post I introduced my answer to a less than stable 8 foot level option. In that process I discovered that standard six tread stairs are the perfect height for access to a four foot platform, and as such, the perfect height for the eight foot platform as well. The question was, how to get the stairs to the platform. Having done ”Curtains” back in 2009, I was prepared to answer that question.
Stairs base options
I just built a base for the stairs the similar to the way we had for Curtains, but with some minor changes. It’s a simple base that just extends the frame of the stairs and raises them up four feet and attached on the inside by several corner tabs. They are very stable even while standing alone, but when in place between the platforms are downright rock solid. For “Urinetown”, the director wanted the stairs access at one end of the 8 foot platform, and then at the end of the associated four foot platform. As in the drawn image on the top of the below image. She tried the formation in the bottom image, but found that it cut in on space needed for several scenes, so went back to her original position.
Stairs base options with landing
In this process, the enormity of possibilities really started to hit me. With the eight foot platform option now modular, and simplified stairs options to both, I thought…”Imagine how much faster and easier it would be to have set up that bridge scene when we did Oliver in 2008″. Stairs base options bridge
In a period of an hour or so we could have set that bridge up in a safe and stable format anywhere on the stage.
Stairs base options escape
The stairs options with 4x4x8 platforms are only limited by ones ability to imagine, but having a vivid imagination, I imagined other options that involved a 4x4x4 platform as drawn above, or even a straight escape run of standard stairs that actresses in heels would feel safer on as pictured below.
Stairs base options straight escape
This is possible with the addition of a four foot tread addition. Having experienced all the discovery I did in this particular show, my creative juices were really flowing, and I wanted to do something big. The call would come in the form of our 2011 Community Theatre production of “Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat”. In my next post I will be discussing how I challenged my own skills and abilities with an ambitious design, and how I adapted to make the design happen. Thanks for stopping in!!

Eight Foot Platforms

By Charles T. Jackson

In your mind, how high is really “High”. In our production of “Oliver” in the fall of 2008, I realized that 8 feet up, is way up there. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Yep, that’s me crossing over our 24′L x 4′W x 8′H “bridge” in the opening scene of our production of Oliver. I never realized until this show just how high 8 feet is. This was my first lead role, and I was scared by the acting and singing that was required of the “Bumble”, but when I considered the fact that these platforms were standing atop some 4×4 lumber screwed in the corners, it was downright terrifying. I have to say that I never really gave this set up a true “test” by trying to dance on top of it, but I was pretty sure that there was stability problem that could be addressed. Oliver pic 2
One of our regular builders, a guy I have dubbed the standard “build for the run” guy, used what I would imagine are industry standards that get the job done safely on most occasions. Assisting him was an actual construction oriented member who often called the first guy on his use of “sky hooks” to attach supports and stairs to platforms. Usually watching them is pretty funny, but knowing that I (not a small man) was going to be crossing the platforms, and the descending the stairs, I was a pretty in tune with the words “sky hooks” in this build!! The good news in this building style is that there’s very little wasted material at strike. The bad news is that “most of the time” safety is a standard that wanted to improve upon. I wanted the design to be modular so that it would stack neatly when stored, but be easy to assemble, and sturdy “all of the time” when in use. 8 foot platform The above is the napkin design that I threw together. I wanted to be sure that I accounted for the platform height so that the deck of the platform was a true 8′. Not being very mathematically inclined, it was only at this point that I realized that six tread stairs are the perfect match for a four foot platform, and that another set of six tread stairs are the perfect match for the eight foot platform. I know that should have been easier to know by now with all of the experience that I had, but I needed to build the set below, and slide it all together to see it, and believe it. IMG_0423 IMG_0425 IMG_0420 I was very pleased with the outcome of this set, and truly felt that these would be a valuable asset to our collection. Has this already been done far and wide, probably, but it was new to me, and between the new four foot platforms that we call our “7th step platforms” and our newest 8 foot option, I really felt our collection of foundation set pieces was coming together really well!! In my next post, I’m going to continue discussing this set up, but I’ll be focussing on how we set up the stairs. Thanks for stopping by.

Crazy Summer

By Charles T. Jackson

By the middle of the Summer of 2010, there were three shows staged at separate venues in our little community, and my collection of flats and jacks was almost completely tapped out. As a result, one of the sets had to get a little eclectic. Fortunately our two actor production of the zany “Greater Tuna” called for just that, so the Annie flats were called back into service.
Greater Tuna 3
Ms. Hannigan’s office was the stage right radio station part of the set, and the orphanage dormitory was the stage left part of the set, separated by an simple arch.
Greater Tuna 2
The director wanted some crazy stuff to decorate the “walls” and “rooms” with so my contribution to that was a stuffed bear cub. Yep I said a stuffed bear cub. I have no idea of the origins of this actual bit of taxidermy, but we’re pretty sure that it’s not particularly ethical in this day and age to even ask about stuffing a bear cub, let alone actually doing it. I came into possession of this little wonder that can be partially seen in the background of the picture below the same way I come into possession of most things I have, it was trash picked. Greater Tuna 1
I was very fortunate to have been in a position to see this bear standing on the hood of a guys truck throughout a day in early July, and when I asked about it he said that he’d just trash picked it. Yes, some rotten person had the nerve to kill and stuff a little bear, and as if that wasn’t enough, they just put him out to the curb!! I made an offer on the poor little guy, and have properly cared for him since. Another little gem that I came into possession of this summer was a beautiful pine coffin. This was actually pretty easy to come by as my family has been in the funeral business for 80 years and literally had this “transportation case” as I believe they are called stored away in a crawl space, and was actually quite glad to be rid of it. You can actually see a small part of it in the above picture. This production, for the set cost almost nothing due to our collection flats and weird props and all of the associated support materials, and as a result was a smashing success financially for our Community Theatre. In my next post I’ll be covering what inspired me to design a safe and stable 8′ level, and the show I first used it in. Thanks for stopping by.

A Dozen Angry Fellas

By Charles T. Jackson

In the Summer of 2010, I was quite busy with the building of flats. I had already built 10 flats for our Youth Theatre production of “Beauty and the Beast” so when another show popped up that needed quite a few flats as well, and all my good luan flats were tied up in a show already, well…the collection expanded!! Not only did I build new flats, I added  two new double hung window flats as well. I got very lucky in this set for our Community Theatre’s production of “12 Angry Men”. I was on my way to the bank one day when I saw a contractor headed for the curb with a window that I assumed he would placing on the curb. I stopped to talk with him and asked about the windows. He said they were Anderson windows that were only two years old that he had installed himself, but his client had changed the design in her kitchen and wanted them changed. He said that he would be selling them on Craigslist. I offered him $10 each for the two, and for $20 I got two nearly new Anderson windows that fit motif wise into the “12 Angry Men” set perfectly. The second stroke of luck, or blessing from the theatre Gods was that someone felt the need to discard a 6′ mahogany dining room table with a 20 inch extension!! One of the legs appeared to have a bit of mold on it, but otherwise the table, that would otherwise cost $600, was right there on the curb in great condition. As it turned out however, even the nearly 8 foot table was going to be quite short for the cast of 12 to face the audience, so I adapted, and overcame the obstacle. I made a 12′ long pine table, and used the legs from the mahogany table. This set represented my first “real” window flats and my first fabrication of a table top!! This is the only picture I have of the set, but I was very happy with the outcome. The director had initially known that most of my flats were in use at the youth show, so she said that the venue back wall would be fine for the play, but I always want the actors to have the full “show” experience, I built this set in my spare time!! (He said with a worn out laugh.) In my next post I’ll either be discussing a pine coffin and little bear, or how I tackled the 8′ platform challenge. Stay tuned and thanks for stopping by.

12 angry men pic

So the Collection Grows

By Charles T. Jackson

Now that I finally had some room to move to build, it became easier, and possible to design sets that were a bit bigger. In the Summer of 2010 our Youth Theatre was doing “Beauty and the Beast”. The directors gave a set wish list and I enthusiastically sat down and designed the largest set I had considered building yet. Having built one fourth step platform and two sets of three tread stairs, I decided that doubling that for a bigger set wouldn’t be too hard. I was also was pretty confident that whatever I designed that I would be able to get it to the stage, and working without much trouble. The trouble with this type of thinking is that you only realize after you start working how much you have planned, and how little time you have.
Castle Interior
At this point in my development as a scenery guy, I was way more comfortable with the handling and storage of luan flats rather than canvas, so I had to build 10 new flats for this set that needed 12 since I recycled the Inn from our production of “Pied Piper”. I also needed two marble columns, stone railings, two realistic gargoyles, and as I said before two new sets of steps and another fourth step platform. WOW!! Right!!? Was I crazy?
Castle Fireplace
Fireplace for interior of Beast’s castle.
Beauty and the Beast BookcaseCurtained library also for the interior of the Beast’s castle.
Village Stores
Bakery and Library for exterior village scene.
8 Village Inn
And the second appearance of the Hamelin Inn. This set did represent A LOT of work, but represented a great scenic foundation for many productions to come. The building of these particular flats, platforms and stairs would save hundreds of man hours and dollars fro not only productions of the youth theatre, but production on our Community Thetatre’s main stage as well. Since my wife and I had once again funded this entire set, we were able to maintain control of all of these pieces, and as a result store and use them where we saw fit. However, the flats that I painted for the stone castle, I knew would stay stone walls as I would never have the heart to paint over flats that were so much work to paint, and turned out so cool. The result of this “hoarding” nature of mine, our collection of foundation set pieces was growing to quite impressive proportions, and was guaranteed to expand as new productions came along. If you haven’t already guessed, the bakery/library flats are back to back on the same 24″ x 8′ rolling dolly as the Curtained library, and the fireplace flats are back to back with the Hamelin Inn flats. I had to build new rolling dollies for these due to the fact that the one built for “Annie” that weren’t mine, were missing and had likely been thrown away by building maintenance at the school. In my next post, I’ll get started on some of the other productions that happened in the Summer of 2010. Thanks for stopping by.

Approach the Bench

By Charles T. Jackson

It really was a pleasure to have a new garage. As you can imagine, I spent a lot of the following few weeks organizing and arranging the new space. One aspect of the old garage however persisted through the next show I did. The old work bench that I fashioned from two end to end 6′ flats from our 2009 production Pocahontas on a plastic folding table was starting to wear me thin. (NOTE: Those two six foot flats are about to get some additional stage time in our Spring 2013 production of “Jack and the Beanstalk”!!) The surface was light material that couldn’t be hammered on effectively, and the overall stability of the set up was terrible. I decided it was time to build a bench that would be a great surface for building anything, but would be most helpful when building flats.
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I had already set up a lot of the other elements of the shop that I wanted and was ecstatic to finally have an extremely stable surface to build on. Like everything in my shop, it’s on wheels to make cleaning easier. Anticipating a need for storing heavy tools that I only use occasionally, I made the base a sturdy platform that proved a great foundation for the 4′ x 8′ work surface. Being a “multi-purpose” nerd that I am, I went ahead and got a clamp on Ping Pong set for what I like to refer to as “afternoon shenanigans”!! While it’s 6″ shy on all sides, it still works great for an afternoon break.
Current Bench
After nearly three years of faithful service the bench surface has developed some interesting ping pong obstacles which makes it a unique, and “funner” experience. I’m quite lucky to have such an awesome workspace, and kids that are silly enough to play with me in it! In my next post, I suspect I’ll be moving on to the set of our Summer 2010 Youth Theatre production of “Beauty and the Beast”, but I might just post about the awesome shelves I built in the back corner of the garage. Thanks for stopping by.

Ahhhhhh…Room To Move

By Charles T. Jackson

Having worked for two years now when the weather permitted it, in a garage so small that our bicycles had to be ejected, we decided that It was time to look into a new and significantly bigger garage.
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I got really tired of putting out the work tables, taking everything I had built out of the garage, building what I needed to do that day, and then putting it all back it was just time.
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The fact that the “Black Tarp Annex” of the garage had left all of bicycles rusty was another contributing factor in the my cause. So I looked into garages, found an affordable option, presented it to our zoning people, and they balked cause the structure didn’t mesh visually with the neighborhood. A concern I agreed with completely, but I wanted the space to be affordable. One of my co-workers said “Try Sheds.net, it’s where I got mine at a great price.” I looked into it and found that the beautifully built timber garage was easily affordable, and so much nicer than the non-conventional steel type. So we…IMG_2270
…tore down the old garage…
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…had a concrete pad poured, and then remembered to ask the Borough what they thought!! Just kidding!! Our local zoning people were awesome and super helpful throughout the whole process, and we couldn’t have gotten it done without their guidance!! When the pad was all set, we released our Amish friends on it and they, IN ONE DAY, built the most wonderful addition to our property EVER!!
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I then proceeded to fill it up with our crap and my tools, but was so grateful to have a place to work regardless of the weather I nearly cried. But I didn’t, I built some shelving!! Now that I had all of this great space, I had room to get started on our Youth Theatre’s Summer production of “Beauty and the Beast”. I’ll be covering some of the new stuff I did for that show in my next post. Thanks for stopping by.

 

Giving Them Props

By Charles T. Jackson

Having finished the big stuff for our Youth Theatre’s Spring production of “Pied Piper”, I had to move on to the smaller stuff.
8 12 x 24 tree mountain backdrop

The Girls (The Youth Theatre Directors) wanted a “Welcome to Hamelin” sign, but when it was done generally refered to it as the Gallows.

8 Treasure chest
The “Prop Ladies” were having a hard time finding a chest of gold and asked if could possibly help. With an old Duplo building blocks box that I had trashed picked for just such an occasion, a piece of canvas, some newspaper, and some dollar store poker chips painted gold, viola! We had us a chest of GOLD!! Thanks for stopping by.