For someone who has always enjoyed painting, getting to move to larger projects via theatrical sets has been a great challenge over the past few years. Here are my top five favorite projects I have worked on thus far!
Honorable Mention- “21 Chump Street”- I was not on the official design/construction team for “Short and Sweet,” which is a collection of short plays and films that my college puts on once a year. However, a friend of mine was directing Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 15 minute musical, “21 Chump Street,” and for her set, she was using the chalkboard from our scene shop. I was asked if I could add some graffiti to the chalkboard, which resulted in me spending an hour in the theater blasting Taylor Swift and going to town on the board. It was a nice way to spend the afternoon.
5) “Schoolhouse Rock Live!”-This one doesn’t technically count as I really only painted one part of the set. “Schoolhouse” was the first show I ever did in college, and is still one of my favorites. While I was an actor in the production, I found myself wandering into the scene shop a few times to help on set construction. The first time I went in, I was told to finish putting together a set of stairs. After a few visits, I ended up painting most of the Lolly House, which ended up as the homebase for the band that was playing for the show. It was during this project I learned how to mimic the look of cinder block via sawdust and a hudson sprayer. Not gonna lie, it was pretty cool to be on stage every night with a set I had helped to create.
4) “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged” –This is another one that I only did part of the painting process for, but it was because of “Schoolhouse Rock Live” that I was able to teach others some helpful techniques. Over the winter break of 2017, I was home in KC while my paint shoes were safe in their locker in St. Joe. “Surely I won’t need to take these home over break!” (Famous Last Words) Some of my dear friends were in a production of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged” at the time through the theatre program I grew up participating in. I offered to come in and help gather costumes and assist in painting the set. Due to the limited amount of rehearsal time though, cast members filtered in and out of their rehearsal space and the warehouse where the brick walls were being painted. Since I had just worked on a brick project a few months beforehand, I was able to guide the process with students who hadn’t put a hand on scenic painting before. I came back into town a month later to see the show, and let me tell you, those brick walls looked super spiffy. Side bar: my purple converse ended up becoming my secondary set of paint shoes.
3) “Blithe Spirit” –Ah, the biggest love/hate/mostly hate experience I have had thus far with a painting project. Let me preface this with the fact that “Blithe Spirit” is my favorite play that I have gotten to perform in thus far. British humor cracks me up, y’all. The whole play takes place in the living room of the Condomine house, so since there was only one location, we had a lovely, elaborate box set. God bless our Technical Director, Scroggs; his carpentry skills were off the charts for this project. There was so much math involved in creating the staggered walls of the set, and I am forever envious of those who have a natural knack for drafting. Those gorgeous walls needed a pattern though, which is where I came in. I spent about ten hours going up and down a ladder stenciling the massive set. The little paint roller I was using had a wonderfully frustrating habit of falling off the handle every five minutes, and I looked like I had leprosy every time I finished a painting session. Proud to say though, there was only one part of the wall that I messed up math-wise while painting. My stage husband enjoyed pointing it out to me every other day. It helped fuel our arguments during the show.
2) “Spring Awakening”-I live in the Midwest, and in the Midwest, there’s this thing called snow that likes to throw off everyone’s lives. The winter of 2018, we didn’t have as much snow, but goodness sakes, we had a ton of ice. We had so much ice that our campus closed for three days. Oh, did I mention that those three days were right in the middle of tech for “Spring Awakening?” Yeeeeeeeeah not the greatest timing. However, the show must go on, and the set must be finished. I had the pleasure of collaborating with Brett Carlson on creating 128 square feet of our “Song of Purple Summer” mural. Learning how to make canned paint look like watercolor was a fantastic skill to learn and led to a gorgeous end result. Replicating the process for KCACTF51 was terrifying because I wasn’t sure if I could measure up to what was made the year before, but I surprised myself by my recreation. (Fun fact: this show was one of the main reasons that Sweet Ben and I became good friends. It was a long process, but it was good to have a partner for the project.)
1) “Antigone”-Woohoo for my current project! This design was a collaboration with Ben and our professor Jeff for our set design independent study. There was an afternoon where Ben and I were cleaning out the paint kitchen, and stumbled upon these banners that had been used for a show years beforehand. We were in the midst of brainstorming what we wanted the set to look like, and he had the idea to have some form of banners as part of the design. Ben’s got a knack for creating symbols, so together, we created runes for not only each character in the play, but also runes for characters that were part of the other plays in Sophocles’ trilogy about the line of Oedipus. From there, we ended up creating 14×5 foot banners that hang on either side of the stage. After Ben did the math, we drew out the symbols in a what we lovingly refer to as the “Death Tree.” I then spent a few hours filling them in with black paint (shout out to Ted Dekker for writing spooky books that are fun to listen to while painting for a Greek tragedy).
The next day, I tea-stained the giant banners to tone down the brightness of the muslin we had painted on. We attached them to one of our batons so we could fly them out to dry. While looking at them, I was so anxious about the next step. Our idea was to make blood stains on the banners, but I loved how nice they looked up to this point. I didn’t wanna screw up the hours of work we had already put in! I spent about an hour mixing and testing different washes of paint to try and great the right color for the job. I ended up soaking the ends of the banners in a gallon bucket of the wash mixture I landed on. My hands were stained red and I looked like I had just committed a horrible crime. Following this, I went a little nuts with splatter painting, creating some pretty sick looking “blood splatters.” This technique only added to me looking like a psycho murderer, but dang, did those banners look awesome. It was a fun adventure to wander around the building while covered in the paint; I’ve never heard our costuming professor laugh as loudly as she did that afternoon.
While there have been moments of frustration and self-doubt while working on each of these projects, all of them led to really gratifying end results. Overall lesson from these experiences: don’t doubt yourself. Even if you make mistakes, you’ll always end up learning something new from each assignment you take on. Don’t be afraid to make a mess; the messy projects are usually the most fun!
Until Next Time,