||TIPS for Directors
Harmony's Call (WIP)
Aunt Polly's Demise
A Christmas Calamity
Building a Cheap Set
If your group has resources to build an elaborate set, this section won't be of much interest. But if you'd like ideas on how to build a cheap set quickly, I have a few. In my experience, the small school and those who are fundraising, need a cheap, functional set--and one that's easy to disassemble. In most schools I've worked with, the set needs to be taken down quickly for Sunday services or for another event.
I must reiterate my belief that my time and efforts are best placed in the actors. I value the art and discipline of building great actors far above a magnificent set. A stage can help draw me into the story, but it doesn't have to cost a fortune or take an overwhelming amount of time. I've watched plays where the big money went into sets and costumes, but the acting was weak, leaving the story weak. As directors, our time should go into our actors. Hopefully, volunteers will carry out the task of set construction.
How can you make a stage work on a small budget?
You can build simple stands with a rod at the top where long pieces of black fabric (or another color) can be draped over. You will need several of these stands to cover the width of a stage. Unless the fabric is donated, the original purchase of the fabric can get expensive, but it is something you can reuse over and over for years to come. Also, if you have a way of securing a length of rope across the back of the stage, you could drape the fabric over that. The center part of the rope would need to be secured to the ceiling so the backdrop doesn't sag in the middle. A black backdrop is simple and makes the colorful costumes and characters stand out.
In one of my recent plays, I gathered king-sized colorful sheets from thrift stores. During one particular scene, we draped them over the main-stage backdrop and it worked perfectly for an interior scene. And cheap!
If you have a long wall somewhere in your building, you can put up plastic, and then staple solid-colored sheets to the wall. You'll want to sew the sheets together first--and decide how you plan to secure them. If you're going to run rope or a small pole through the top of the sheets, fold the top edge of the sheets over and sew a three-inch hem in it, leaving the sides open for the pole to pass through. Light blue is a great color for outdoor scenes, pastels for walls, for more elaborate paintings use white sheets. Draw a backdrop scene on the sheets--mountains, a city, a throne room, etc. Then it will be ready for your volunteers to have a painting party.
A couple of times now, I've painted a stage-wide scene on canvas drop-cloths. I nailed them to my shed and painted in the summer sun. The canvas can be purchased in the paint section of any hardware store. Mine cost $20.00 for a 9' X 12'. For my hill country painting, I used 4, 4 ft. wide flats and three chunks of canvas, for a total 50' width. We stapled/nailed the canvas to the wall, and in one section we made a simple frame that cost $5.00 in materials. This might be something you'd like to experiment with. Canvas is readily available, stores easily, and can be reused.
We built 4' X 8' flats and reuse them year after year. You can build these to attach together, making them as long as you want. Or you can make them double-sided and freestanding--although I must say, this poses a risk of toppling over during a live performance--I speak from experience. I use the freestanding ones for smaller sets and eight that can be attached together, making a 32' wall for a wide scene.
you make the type of flats that fit together, you have the luxury of a
big background scene, but for most plays you'll need a secondary
scene also. For this, you could use black fabric. I've sewn
shower-curtain hooks (circles) to
the top of the long fabric and then we drove small nails into the
the flats. This way, you can slip the shower-curtain
hooks over the nails in the dark during a scene change. Also, with my
colorful-sheet scene I described before,
I sewed small, sock-like shapes and filled them with a handful of
sand/small stones and sewed them to the top of the sheets. It then
became easy to toss the weighted pieces over the backdrop. Just warn
techs to be careful if one comes down too fast. I got hit in the mouth
when I was experimenting!
If you use the freestanding type of backdrop, you can make it reversible; then you can have two scenes painted and flip them during scene changes. This method requires a back wall to lean the flats against. I have set them against curtains on a church stage, but they tend to be a bit precarious.
Click here for more details on FLATS.
The first year's production will carry the initial cost of materials for backdrops. Sheets would be the least expensive--and can be purchased at thrift stores--but probably couldn't be used in the future--unless you did a similar time period. Black fabric and/or flats will both be more expensive in the first year, with little costs in the years to come. I prefer flats that can be joined together with screws and braces. We have painted amazing scenes on these flats. The following year, I paint them white and start all over again. After the initial expense, the only cost for flats is paint. And hopefully, you can get that donated through parents and friends.
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