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...STAGE SET
(click image for picture)



 

 

    (The following is a revamped letter I sent someone describing my experience with theatrical backdrops. After three months solid working on this handyman section of the website I don't really feel that enthusiastic about writing this over again, Besides, I'm not even sure I should post this since it adds nothing to the social value of this page.)

   This article is about a set I designed, actually about the only scenery I had painted up to that time. 

 

 


     The producer of a stage play came to me about painting a backdrop for a play he was putting on called "The Diary of Adam And Eve." He asked me if I had ever painted scenery, and if he could see my work. I told him I never painted any scenery, and I didn't know anything about stage props. He asked me a few more questions, then I said "But you'll be pleased with what I do."
    I expected to never see him again. About a week later he came back, we signed the contract, and handed me a thousand dollars, the first third of what I was supposed to make. I asked him why he chose me considering that city was an art community (artist studios everywhere) and there was an art college in the next town with people far more qualified than I am to do the job, and itching for the chance. He said he liked my confidence.
    I then went to the college where the show was to be put on. I took measurements and pictures of the stage, and made the model pictured above:

    The producer sat a while quietly looking hard at the model. I said "don't you like it?" He said "how did you do all this in just two days?"
    As it turned out the stage set ended up exactly like the model. The initial attempt, which was just for starters expecting to have to change it, became the final product. I have that happen a lot. People quit telling me how they wanted something like a painting or framing, and would tell me to use my own imagination
 


 


The room  (warehouse) I painted this set in was only 12 feet wide by 60 feet long. Though it was long enough, it wasn't nearly wide enough for that 24 foot roll of canvas I had to paint. So I had to do one half at a time, constantly rotating the canvas as I drew the picture, then painted each part.
    I made a special cart that held the paints and the brushes that I tied to a bamboo pole.
    The kids (actors from an actors college across the country) thought I was a professional because of the setup I had. They said as part of their training they had to make backdrops (sets). They said it took them 4 people to do a set less than a forth the size of the one I was making, and twice the time. I had to do all this in a week and a half. I finished the ground row that very day the set had to be at the college for setting up.
   
 
   One of the perks that came my way because of this set was having a 2/3 spread on the front page of the local section of the newspaper. I thought for sure I'd get some commissions from this, but even my friends and family said they didn't see the blurb.
    The producer asked me to paint a sign advertising the play for their window front. In lieu of pay I bought out the entire 5th row front center of the auditorium. That was 12 seats. I invited my father and some other people to the grand opening (actually the preview, there never was an opening night) of the play. The play was thrilling in its production, the way they did the effects. But my set stole the show. It was exciting to see how it looked with the lights, the fog and the other effects. It looked very real and dramatic. Until that moment I hadn't seen it other than as bland pieces of canvas hanging from rails. It was impressive then, but nothing like this.
    My father was very proud to be there. I don't know as how he was proud of me (he never had been that I could tell), but you could see he was proud at this moment.
    An interesting thing happened at this time. I was talking to a pretty young girl (I guess in her late 20's, I was in my mid 40's) about this show. She said she'd really like to go see it (she was taking dramatics as I recall). She had just recently broken up with her boy friend so she was available. I asked her to be my guest at this grand affair. She was delighted to accept. Then came the night of the event. She called me and said she was back with her boy friend and if she could bring him. My being the kind-hearted, generous slob I am, I consented. So that night, my big moment, here I am sitting next to an empty seat while my "date" is sitting in the row behind me smooching with her boy friend. You can see why I'm still single.

 

 


 


    This is a closeup view of some of the roses. Normally a set like this is painted rather rough with only hints of detail since it will be seen from a far distance. It's not my nature to do rough in that manner, so my set looked rather realistic even at close quarters.

 


 

 

   You can see what a grand place this is. Those are balcony seats high on the wall. The ceiling also was covered with paintings like the wall, It held 2,500 people. What's interesting is that many years earlier I attended High School in this very building, which at one time was a well known college with no attachment to the high school. When I attended the High School was located. on one half of the campus and the other half was the college. Now the entire campus is High School, and the college is in another town, and all ground level, boring buildings 
    The play was a flop. I knew it had to flop because it was way over produced and poorly advertised. I got a great experience out of it, but the poor kids who were playing the parts lost out completely. They had come all the way from Oklahoma where they were learning dramatics, and spent the entire summer working their heart out practicing for this play. Where I painted the set is where they rehearsed so I know all the work they put into it.
    I received my money, at least part of it as called for by the contract I drew up (after doing a lot of research on how deals like this are made). But as far as I know the poor kids got nothing because their pay would have come from the sale of tickets, which there was none sold.
   
 



 

 

    In this picture you can see how big and detailed the roses are. I used three different rose templates I drew up, and turned them different ways so they didn't look all the same. I think they were a foot across if I recall correctly. It was 30 years ago I painted this so a lot has slipped my memory.
 
 







 
   This is a closer look at the falls. You can see the detail of the water.
   The fog in front of the falls is just that, fog. They used a fog machine to create the mist Eve was to rise from when she was "born."
   Here's also a closer look at the ground row. It's 8 feet high and 40 feet long. I had to make a frame for it that was light but could support the canvas the picture is painted on. Where I painted this was quite some distance, in another town in fact, from where it would be placed. Therefore I had to make it so it could be carried to the stage. I did this by making two frames and hinging them in the middle. The hinge is right behind the falls. The truck that carried this row was 16 feet long (a moving van) so the ground row stuck out 4 feet even though the painting was folded in half. I was really concerned about that move because I didn't know if the frail frame and the canvas and the paint would be able to stand up to being folded like that. I think I had to do some touch up later, but nothing serious.
    This was all painted on canvas. Notice the branches of the trees in the middle how they're cut so you can actually see through them. They're supported by pieces of wood so they don't flop around. Behind the one on your right there's a ladder that Adam climbs and speaks to Eve through the branches. That part, besides the ground row was probably the hardest to figure out how to do.
     The entire stage set is 54 feet by 24 feet. That's almost twice the length of my trailer and twice the height of a house.

 

 

   The scene as seen from the audience.
    Because of the lighting much detail is lost in the photos I took (they being taken the day before the stage play), some parts like in front are washed out, and the part behind the top curtains are in shadow.
 
    As you can see, what I do, I do in a big way. This inclination might be seen by most people as an asset, as a good quality to possess. And normally I would agree. However with me this is not necessarily so. I'm an extremist, and an obsessive-compulsive person. What I begin to do I through everything into. This nature is ok when it's directed as it should be, but when misdirected, it can cause great problems, for me and for others
     We look on some people as "naturals" in their chosen field. When something comes easy for a person, the challenge is gone, and the rewards for achievement are of non-effect. For instance an eight foot tall basketball player making every basket would mean nothing, while the same record held by a four foot person would be applauded. In my case I have to work hard for whatever level of achievement I attain to. For me what I do is a great accomplishment because I know what I had to do to reach that point. Others see me as being a "natural" at whatever I do, so they miss the achievement I worked so hard for. Perhaps you're the same way, seen as a natural and unappreciated for what you've learned to do. I think this is part of the Handyman syndrome, and something we just have to learn to live with.
.
 
 
 

 


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