Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Category: Stage Design (Page 3 of 4)

Good Friday Set & Lighting

At Coast Hills, we’ve been doing a no-spoken-word Good Friday service for about seven years now. It’s grown and morphed a bit since the original, but the service still consists of three basic movements that walk the congregation through the events of that fateful day in a very powerful manner. It’s one of our most creative services of the year, and a great time to be on the tech team. Though it will be impossible to convey the true power of the service through pictures alone, I wanted to show you a little bit of what we did. 

First, we’ll take a look at the set with just work lights. It doesn’t look like much under this light, but it shows you what we did. The big white piece of fabric hanging upstage is a white scrim. I say “white” but we joked all week that it kind of looks like it may have been white at one time, but like white curtains hung in an apartment of a guy who smokes 3 packs a day, it’s a little more beige now. In this first photo, if you look closely, you can see the outlines of a steel-framed cross in the middle. That comes into play later in the service.

The swagged fabric is a very lightweight chiffon-like material. Each piece is something like 60′ long, so we just hang it everywhere. There is also a white fishnet piece running back down to the drum riser. The caution tape is not part of the set; we just painted the decks just in front of the stage.

As you can see, we had lots of chiffon. The look we’re going for is ancient, and when the lights go up, it actually works. We use the scrim as both a projection surface, and a tool for selectively hiding and revealing the cross behind. A scrim is cool that way; when you light it from the front, it appears to be opaque. But if you light something behind it (with no front light on the scrim), it almost disappears. 

The scrim was heavily lit from the front with a series of ColorBlast 12s. Also on deck were six Mac 700s (two more hung in the truss), and we also had our six Martin 518’s in the truss. The guys scattered another dozen or so ColorBlasts around the stage to light the rest of the fabric. One of the key features of this service is that there is no front light on anyone. The singers on the platform are backlit only, as are all the musicians who are on stage left and right platforms. More than any other service of the year, we want to convey that this is not about the band. 

Also on the floor, you can see two sets of six pinspots clamped to a pipe. I was a little dubious of those when the guys put them out, but once they had them focued (in a cool fan pattern) and the haze was on, they looked very cool, as you’ll see in a moment. They functioned almost like blinders, though we have a very specific mandate to not shine lights in the eyes of the audience. Since the beam angle is so small on those fixtures, they set them up to hit the front of the balcony wall, and used them to create powerful beam effects.

This is the start of the service (which is close to walk-in look). All you see are silhouettes, and of course, the text on the screen. Note too, that you don’t really see the cross behind the scrim at all. 

I mentioned the beam effects by the little pin spots, and now you can see them. We ran the DF-50 hazer pretty much continually that day to make sure we had an even and dense amount of haze in the entire room. We rarely get to do that, so it’s fun to have beam effects running all the way to the back of the house. One of the things we love about the oil-based DF-50 is that when the lights aren’t going through it, you don’t see haze. But turn on some focused beams, and you see shafts of light everywhere. 

Now you can see how the scrim works. We remove the front light, and light the objects behind and suddenly, the cross is revealed. Our communications director, Ken, cut out a life-sized representation of Jesus from black foamcore. Our pastor has a crown of thorns that we set on top of the cutout’s head. When lit with a Parnell fitted with a color scroller and a single pin-spot focused on the thorns, it’s a very powerful effect.

The cool thing is, even with some front light, when backlit, the cross still becomes visible. In this way, we were able to both reveal it and project in front of it.

We have a team of high-school girls who have been dancing at the services for several years now. I’m normally not a huge fan of dance during a service, but in this moving rendition of Lead Me To The Cross it works. In addition to the oil-based haze that filled the room, we also set up our water-based Unique 2 under the vocal platforms upstage. The guys rigged up a piece of 4″ PVC pipe that ran out to a Y-fitting that dumped the haze under the circular Steeldeck platform. We left the skirting off the platform this year, so in the moments before the dance started, the guys fired up the Unique. Because it’s significantly more dense than oil-based haze, it created a smokey effect, that poured out from around the platform. 

I have to say, the guys doing the lighting, Thomas and Daniel (high school students, both) did a great job. Isaiah, my ATD, also did amazing work leading them and working heavily on the set build and lighting look. This was perfect as it freed me up to be the audio director and focus pretty much exlusively on the sound of the day. It’s good to have a solid team.

How’d They Do That? Set Construction

Another in a continuation of posts (Silent Film Effect, Kabuki Drop) detailing some of the behind the scenes elements from our Gunch! production, today we’ll talk about how we build the set. We had four major set elements, from house left to right; Trash Mountain (another post), a 8’ wide x 12’ high wall, a 22’ wide x 18’ screen and a 36’ wide x 12 high wall with a set of 4’ doors in it. The two walls were shaped with gentle curves to create the rolling hills of U-Ville. The screen was also cut out in a shape to match the projection shape. This shape was designed by our Communications Director, Ken Hammond, and added another whimsical element to the set. Here’s how we did it.

Last year, we build two side “walls” out of a 1×4 frame and stretched fabric over it. It worked OK, but didn’t really give us the effect we were looking for. We had a number of challenges creating the gently rolling curves on top, and if anyone leaned against the back of the fabric (we hid a lot of props back there) during the show, you could clearly see it. They were also not terribly sturdy and made a huge mess when we had to size the fabric. I know it’s the way of making things in the theater, but we’re not a theater and I don’t have a theatrical background. I have a background in residential and commercial construction. So this year, I build the set pieces out of what I know; studs and drywall.

Short Wall The framing was stepped to accomodate the ultimate shapeof the top of the wall.
Long Wall Again, we knew the wall would curve down at the end, so we build the framing to match. At it’s highest point, the framing is 10′. We then stood 12′ sheets of drywall up on end to give us the ability to shape the top without hitting framing.
The Screen Because it needed to be 18′ high, we joined studs with 2′ mending plates. The cutout in the center is for access to the center stage structure.That may sound like heresy, but track with me for a moment. Last year, the fabric alone cost us more than $500. This year, all the studs and drywall for the three pieces (which is more square footage than last year by an additional 50%) cost us $543. Plus $20 for the Home Depot truck we rented. Last year, it took us a full 4 days to build both walls. This year, we had the framing done in about 6 hours–for all three pieces. On day two, we hung all the drywall in about another 5 hours, and then I spent about 4 hours (total) taping the seams. I happen to have a lot of experience taping drywall, so I was able to move quickly and get the seams taped in a way that required very little sanding. That little bit of sanding generated surprisingly little dust since we used Sheetrock’s new dust control joint compound followed by some painting and we were done.

To create the shape on the top (and sides of the screen), we employed a few methods. The long wall was cut with a spiral cutting tool (AKA RotoZip). I had one of my helpers track with me using a shop vac to control the dust. This worked OK, but controlling the tool was a bit challenging and we had some minor imperfections on the line. It was fine, but we figured we could do better. The short wall was cut by hand with a drywall saw. Isaiah cut that one, and it looked great, though it took him a little time.

Side Wall Finished We uplit the two side walls with ColorBlasts (disguised with “snow”).

The Long Wall Finished Same lighting as the short wall. This wall has a 4′ wide door in themiddle to create the silent film stage.
The Screen Finished All cut out and finished, the screen was cut exactly to match projection.We started cutting the screen by hand (after projecting the video on the wall with the mask in place–thank you Renewed Vision for the Mask Layer!), but quickly realized it would take a long time. We considered the spiral tool, but were concerned that it would take off and create divots where we didn’t want them. Ken suggested using a jig saw. We put some packing tape on the sole to help it slide and avoid scuffing the drywall and went to work. And did it work! Todd, our Pastor of Weekends (and my boss) cut the entire screen out in about 30 minutes. And that includes the time moving SteelDeck around that was in the way of the lift.

To finish it off, we painted the bottom of the screen (below the video) black and when the lights and video came up, it appeared to float in mid-air. It looked brilliant! All the walls were painted with drywall primer and Behr Ceiling Paint (flat).

Each of the walls were anchored differently, depending on what was near them. The small wall was strapped to a nearby pipe holding up our lighting storage world, and braced back to lighting storage with a 1x. Being small, that was enough. The long wall had a angled brace on far stage left (where no one ever walked) that was anchored by sandbags and a concrete block. In the middle, I screwed a 1×8 to the building wall (behind the stage wall) and braced out using a 2×4. At the other end, we used a piece of 1 1/2” pipe anchored to the set wall with a floor flange and cheeseboroughed the other end to the pipe holding up the area formerly known as monitor world. Again, it was rock solid.

Bracing for the big wall Once this pipe went in, the wall wasn’t moving.The big screen originally had angle braces on it, but we didn’t like how it impeded traffic flow behind the wall (we used it for a lot of entrances and exits). So we again anchored some 1×8 to the back wall of the stage and braced out to the wall with 2x4s. Large L-brackets secure the 2×4 to the back wall, and they’re toe-screwed in for good measure. We also used floor flanges, pipes and cheeseborooughs to anchor the top of the screen to the truss. It’s rock-solid and not moving at all.

Screen with Video The video appears to float mid-air.
Walk In Look All three set pieces looked great.In the end, I think we created better looking set pieces in less time for less money than last year. Best of all, when the set came down, we unscrewed all the 2x4s (we screwed rather than nailed them together) and will use all the lumber to build shelving up in a storage room. The two walls came down in under 30 minutes and after some vacuuming and mopping, you can’t tell they were there. We’ll definitely do this again next year.

How’d They Do That? Kabuki Drop

Today I’m continuing our series of posts describing some of the more fun elements from our recent Christmas production, Gunch!. Last time we looked at how we created a silent film effect. This time, we’re going to reveal and drop a 10’x24′ “flat.”

Another favorite element from the show was our Kabuki drop of Toy Tower. During the show, Toy Tower is the result of the greed and selfishness of the U’s, instigated by Gunch himself. However, after Gunch encounters Jesus, he tries to undo what he’s done. In the climax of the show, he sacrifices himself to save the heroine, Lindy. Toy Tower collapses on him, which in turn, spurs the town to change as well.

Last year, we created Toy Tower out of boxes that were shock-corded together and tipped over by my toy tipper contraption. It worked reasonably well, except it wasn’t big enough. This year, we created Toy Tower out of a 10’x24’ sheet of muslin that our artists painted. All the other flats and props were painted in a similar style so it looked right in place.

The fabric was dropped between scenes during a blackout, so it looked like it simply appeared from nowhere. At the right moment, we fired the second drop which caused the entire “flat” to collapse on top of Gunch. Here’s how we did it.

How’d They Do That? Kabuki Drop from Mike Sessler on Vimeo.

The Kabuki’s were rented from our drapery supplier, Rent What? in LA. For the week, 10 Kabukis, a dual channel controller and a bunch of extension cord cost us $350. That may sound like a lot, but it was totally worth it. I did a bunch of research and checking to see if I could build my own, and every solution would have cost at least that much, and taken hours to design, build and install. As you can see from the video, the Kabukis came with pipe clamps on them, so it took us about 20 minutes to build the rigging and hang them. They also worked every single time, without any issue. We liked them so much, next year we want to do a 70′ wide drop…

Gunch! In Pictures

Last week Coast Hills put on a large, original production called Gunch! It was a huge undertaking, with a cast of 80+, a full pit band & chorus, an original set, costumes; the whole works. I’m working on a few behind the scenes posts to show how we did some of the more interesting elements of the show, but for now (and while I’m recovering), here is a pictorial journey through the show. More details will follow…

The main screen

This was the main screen/backdrop for the show. It was custom cut for the mask shape that we projected with, and served as the backdrop to nearly every scene. We had planned on hanging our white cyc behind this and lighting the cyc with color blasts. But after we build the screen, we all thought it stood out better with the black drape. It was a good call; it looked fantastic.

Trash Mountain

Stage right was home to Gunch’s lair, known as trash mountain. The supporting structure was built from Steeldeck platforms, and we overlaid white sheets of EPS foam (polystyrene insulation board) and covered it with toys. All the toys were donated (many of them brand new) and were donated to a local children’s hospital and the nearby Marine base after the show.

House Cast

One of the creative elements the directors came up with was the House Cast. We had 30-40 kids who acted in the house during the show, and greeted people before. The idea was to extend the town of U-Ville into the lobby and beyond and set the tone for what was to come. It was a huge hit.

Walk In Look

This shot gives you an idea of the entire set. Trash Mountain dominated stage right, while the rolling hills of U-Ville were on stage left. We also used that long wall as a stage for the silent film elements. I love the way the center screen appears to float in mid-air.

Silent Film

The silent film scenes were one of the more fun technical challenges we had to solve. The idea was to tell the back story of Gunch through these films, but we didn’t want to actually film them. The director really wanted to run them live every time , but we wanted them projected on the big screen to look like an old, silent film. In the end, we pulled it off, and I thought it looked even better than I imagined it would.

Trash Mountain

We created looks for each of the characters when they were on stage; for the Gunch it was green. Trash Mountain takes on an entirely different and dramatic flair when uplight with ColorBlasts and just a few moving lights. One of my favorite pieces of the set was the slide…though it proved tricky to keep the sliding speed down.


The first act ended with the big dance number, the G-Rap. This was a lot of fun for the lighting guys as they got to break out the haze and send all six of the Mac 700s into animation mode. The rap was written and recorded in house and gave me a chance to blow the dust out of the subs. It was a pretty rockin’ number.

Wrapping Presents

Yeah, that’s my daughter in the center. This was a really fun scene called Wrapping Presents. We had everything from a wrapped hippopotamus on stage to a giant box that we had three little girls bust out of at the end. It was a winner every time. And a proud daddy moment…

Drive in Scene

I remember sitting in an early planning meeting with the director as he said, “And we’re going to need to build cars that the cast can drive on to stage for the drive-in scene.” We scratched our heads on that one for a while, but finally came up with a way to make them out of luan plywood and some simple strapping. The effect was great, and perfectly Uvillian.

Ending Scene

The final scene, where it all comes together. The entire story was one of redemption, and in these last few moments, the narrator clearly explained the Gospel story. It was a powerful moment that got me every time.

There were many more great moments during the 90 minute show, and I’ll be going into detail on some of these elements soon. But for now, the final words are her words to cast, “Jesus was born for everyone. Even those with a Gunchy pasty past, past….past.” Merry Christmas!

Christmas at Coast Hills

As a church, Coast Hills has a long tradition of putting together fabulous Christmas Productions. Last year, an amazing team of people dreamed up, wrote and directed a broadway style show called Gunch. It’s a loose adaptation of the Grinch story that was inspired by the fact that when Grinch was written, it was designed to present the Gospel. The publishing company didn’t think it would sell, however, so the story was changed. Our team decided to pick up that torch and write a new story that did tell the Gospel in a clear, compelling yet entertaining manner.

This year, Gunch is back. I wanted to call it Gunch: Reloaded, but I was outvoted. Still, that’s what it is. The overall story arc is the same, but we’ve filled in some of the gaps. We’re telling a little more of the backstory this year, primarily through a character called Baxstori. It’s going to be a great show; but more importantly, it’s a great opportunity for our congregation to invite friends and share the story of redemption with them.

From a production standpoint it’s a big deal. Most of the burden falls on set design/build, lighting and audio. Let’s look at our input list, shall we?

Gunch Input List Click on the image for a PDF versionSorry it’s so small, click it to open a PDF Version. With my two foldback channels, I have 40 inputs of band & vocals. That’s a fair amount to manage and you can bet there will be snapshots involved. The green block near the end is wireless; 16 channels in all. I actually have 21 people who will be on headset or hair mics and we’ll be swapping packs (along with input gain, EQ and dynamics using snapshots) among them. Primaries get their own set for the entire show, while secondary and tertiary characters will share. Managing all that will be our wireless mic wrangler—we’ve created a position just for that.

Because we’ll be using backing tracks, played back from ProPresenter with a click, I actually have two click channels. The drummer will control one of them using a small click generator, and I’ll be feeding the other one back to them on the click channel in the M-48s.

We have a 8-member pit chorus of vocals that will all be on wired mics and will hear using wedges. The rest of the band will be on the M-48s. I think this is going to improve our sound immensely by eliminating at least 8-10 wedges on stage. And since the band will be on the floor in front of the stage, this is a big win.

Speaking of stage, below is a preliminary design for the show. The model was built in SketchUp and will serve as a decent guide for actually building the real set. I love using SketchUp because it allows me to spot problems before they occur. The giant chef’s hat looking thing will A: not actually look like that and B: be a screen we project on. One of the reasons it won’t look like that is because the supports would be visible. We have a new design in process that will be incorporated soon. We also determined that it will not likely stand up on it’s own, so we’ll be beefing up the bracing. Again, it’s nice to think about that in 3D and not when you’re scrambling to build it in a week.

Lighting is going to be a lot of fun this year as we will be renting in 36 ColorBlasts (in addition to the 12 we already own) and 6 VL2500s. The large structure on stage right is known as Trash Mountain, the home of Gunch. We’ll be covering that in white foam, strapping all manner of toys to it and uplighting with the ColorBlasts. The two walls, long and short will also be lit with ColorBlasts. We’ll hang 4 VLs over the stage and 2 in the house. As the show is almost 2 hours long, contains 14 scenes and an intermission, there will be a lot of programming.

Gunch Set Drawing Being able to pre-viz in SketchUp is a great feature.We’ve already been cutting out and painting the dozens of flats that will be required for the show and this weekend the construction crew will be starting work on a set of stairs we need, a giant present to be used as a prop in one of the songs and a set of six pews. The weekend following Thanksgiving, we’ll strike the entire stage and get it ready for the build. We take one whole week to build the set and the rest of the props. The following week, we’ll set lighting, program, build out audio, run a band rehearsal, a tech rehearsal, a cue to cue rehearsal and finally a dress rehearsal. On Friday it’s lights up for the opening night, followed by 4 performances on the weekend.

We’ve sold over 2500 tickets to date, putting us on track to sell over 4,500. The next few weeks are going to be a ton of work, but I can’t wait to see how it all comes together, and more importantly, what God does with it!

Unwrapping Toy Mountain

I’ve been in a series talking about our Christmas production this year. You can read the first two here and here. Today I want to talk about the most complicated 5 seconds of the show. The script called for the people of U (the village the show was set in) to gather in the town center around a giant pile of toys that were no longer good enough for the children. At a critical point, the heroine, Lindy would be saved from calamity by the villain, Gunch, as the pile of toys collapsed on top of him instead of her.

As I mentioned in the previous post, this gave us many challenges. How do you build a pile that would fall predictably and be easily reset? Next, how do you transport that pile from backstage to center stage? How do you tip it over, at the right time? And how can we employ some misdirection so the audience doesn’t see the mechanics? Oh, and how do you do it with a budget of about $50?

The answer was a cool story of accidental collaboration. My boss, Todd, who was acting as the producer of the show and I had been talking about it in various forms for a few weeks. One night, unbeknownst to the other, neither of us could fall asleep. He had an idea for the packages, I had an idea for the “toy tipper” as it became called. When we met the next day, we knew it would work.

First the toys. Todd reasoned that he could use a combination of zip ties and shock cord to create a connected tower of boxes (that would eventually be wrapped). Those boxes would have some give and look like they were loosely stacked; however, they would re-stack the same every time and stick together.

What I saw was a wheeled platform with a hinged back. The back would serve as a support for the toys as they were wheeled out, then push them over all at once in one direction. When I arrived at the office the morning after I designed it in my head, I launched SketchUp, Google’s free 3-D design software. Here’s what I came up with.

The original design The original designThe base is a simple 1×4 frame with 1/4″ luan glued and stapled to it. The upright is 1/2″ plywood with a gusset/stiffener made from 3/4″ MDF. We could have used plywood for that, but I had MDF left over from the proscenium, so I saved a sheet. Under the deck, I placed some pieces of 1×8 cut on 45 degree angles. These served as the mounts for wheels. Todd had a good idea to tip the base slightly back to add more stability to the tower. To do that, I put the 1×8 at the bottom of the 1×4 frame in front, and at the top in the back. That gave it a slight tilt.

The hinge was the only tricky part. I originally planned the back to be removable, thinking that after it tipped over, the stage hands would carry the back off stage. It ended up being easier to just roll the whole thing away, so we modified it later.

A basic hinge. A basic hinge.The hinge is just two pieces of 2×4. One has a hole drilled in the corner to accept a 1 3/8″ dowel (because that’s what we had in stock), while the other part has a slot of the same size. I glued, stapled and screwed the dowel block to the back of the 1/2″ plywood back. I set the slotted part so that it held the back 1/2″ off the deck so it wouldn’t scrape. By the time we got to performance night, I had cut another small piece of dowel to fit in the top of the slot, and held that in place with some metal strapping. Here’s how it worked.

The tower is going to fall! Gunch saves Lindy The tower is going to fall! Gunch saves LindyAs the narrator re-told the story, we had some sound effects of a great creaking and groaning to set up the impending collapse. As Gunch ran to save Lindy (the only one who gave him a second chance), we triggered a strobe effect with the Mac 2Ks we rented.

The mountain starts to fall The mountain starts to fallThe strobes continue. On cue, the two guys behind the mountain start to push the back forward, which dumps the toys. Gunch starts his fall backward.

The fall continues. The fall continues.You can see some of the modifications to the back. I originally “Swiss cheesed” it to cut down on weight. We also cut the back to fit the shape of the packages. In the end, I didn’t need to cut it down, as it just rolled away, base and all.

The finished fall. The finished fall.Well, almost. It looks like it still has a small ways to go to cover Gunch. As you can see, the packages all stick together, but look like they fall at random. The best part is, it all stacked right back up the same way every time.

A little "mis-direction." A little “mis-direction.”Finally, to complete the effect, we fired two aero-technics on either side of the stage, and played a giant crash sound effect from ProPresenter (it was a tree crashing on a house). The entire fall took less than a second (great work to whichever of our photo team shot this!). The cuing was very tight–and required that we had sound effects, the tip, aero and lighting all firing at just the right time. I cued sound fx and lighting visually with hand cues and cued the aero over wireless ClearCom.

The areo worked great and was fired with a handheld remote launcher that I designed and built with the help of one of our lighting volunteers (who also served as launch commander). But that’s another post. I guess you could say this effect worked because Sunday afternoon, as the tower fell and the aero flew, a child cried. I actually cut my blackout shorter than normal so she’d know everything was actually OK. I know, I’m a softie…

Coast Hills Christmas Production Pt. 2

As promised, here are some more shots from the Christmas Production. If you missed the earlier ones, you can find them here.

Lindy was a main character in the show; this is her room. Lindy was a main character in the show; this is her room.One of the things we tried to do was create depth on the stage using basically flat objects. Her “bed” for example, is two pieces of 1/4″ luan with simple brace stands. The flower on the table is also luan. This scene plays in front of the proscenium, adding another layer. In the opening, we put a “dresser” (also luan). Behind the dresser, we projected a window on our cyc. It was all very simple, inexpensive and very effective.

The Mayor's Office The Mayor’s OfficeAgain, the use of luan for flats. In the foreground is a simple shape that depicts an old stage footlight. It’s one of seven, there to conceal the stage monitors. The “desk” is a simple table we bought from Ikea and zip-tied two pieces of luan to. The “window” is held up by two cast members when it’s needed as a window. We weren’t afraid to show people moving things around the stage, even during “blackouts.” Sometimes, cast members would carry out a prop or flat, set it down, then carry on with the scene. It worked quite well.

The band area. The band area.We even brought some whimsy to the band. We had some flats made up to dress up the music stands, and zip-tied them to the real music stands. It was just one more layer to sell the visual concept. Behind the band, we built a wall of flats and foam cut with a hot knife. The entire corner was up-lit with more Color Blasts. Putting the band in a corner was great for the stage, but it made things tough acoustically. We ended up with a lot of monitor spill, which occasionally made it tough to hear dialog. To fix that, we had to drop instrumentation out of underscores, which we hated to do, but had to. If we do something similar next year, we’ll address this earlier and better.

Toy Mountian Toy MountainAh, Toy Mountain. This was an interesting challenge. The script called for a scene in which the whole town came together in the town center near a pile of toys that the kids no longer liked. The pile needed to collapse on Gunch at a certain point. This posed a whole series of challenges. First, how to you put together a pile that will fall, but be easily reset? Next, how do you transport that pile? How do you tip it and how do you control the fall? The end result worked great, and was a collaboration between Todd (my boss and overall producer of the show) and me. And I think I’ll save the answers to those questions for another post.

Stay tuned!

Coast Hills Christmas Production

Coast Hills has a rich tradition of putting together a great Christmas concert. There is typically a theme, top musicians are brought in, and a wonderful concert ensues. This year, we decided to do something different. We felt God was calling us to tell a compelling story that clearly conveyed the Gospel. After much brainstorming, an idea was birthed. The result was an original production called Gunch: This Christmas Hope is Reaching Out to U! The concept is very loosely based on the Grinch, but is really a story of redemption. All the dialog was original, and we had several original musical numbers written in-house as well. Did I mention I get to work with a great team? At the end of the weekend, over 4,400 people had seen the show, which is roughly three times our average weekend attendance.

I could (and may) write quite a few posts to cover this amazing show, but I thought I’d start off with some pictures. Over the next week or so, I’ll try to write some more detailed posts on how we did a few key things. Along the way, I’ll also share with you why I thought it was the most amazing Christmas production I’ve ever been part of (and I’ve done a few of them…). Without further adieu, here are some pics.

Trash Mountain Trash MountainTrash Mountain is where Bobby Gunch lives. He used to be a happy U-Villian before he was thrown out. Now he lives on the piles of trash created by old cast-off toys. Our Assoc. TD, Gary, designed this and many other set pieces. We built the form out of SteelDeck, using 6 foot high legs. We tied 1 1/2″ foam to it with bailing wire then cut the foam with a hot knife to create the shapes. We’ve been collecting toys for weeks, and we tied a bunch of them to the foam with more bailing wire. We left a good pile at the base, on the floor and beside the mountain. It’s up-lit with a bunch of rented ColorBlast 12s. Because it’s all SteelDeck, it’s structural. As such, Bobby is able to walk out on top, climb down a set of steps and move down to different levels. At over 18′ high, it was a rather imposing structure.

Opening Number; Put the Lights on the Tree Opening Number; Put the Lights on the TreeWe created a lot of flats for this show using 1/4″ luan with simple 1x and 2x bracing. Rather than try to paint things to look photo-realistic, we chose a more cartoony black and white effect. A volunteer designed all the elements and we cut them out with a jigsaw. She drew them with a sharpie, and we had a small army of people painting over the outlines with black paint. At the end of the day, the flats were light enough to be carried by one person

One other bit of inspiration: The red ribbon on the wreath (upstage, just stage-right of center) was put on during the number by the small girl downstage right. We needed a way that she could quickly stick it on there, but it also had to be removable. Our producer,  Todd, came up with a simple magnetic solution. He glued a piece of sheet metal to the wreath and painted it white. A flat piece of magnetic strip was glued to the wreath and with that, it worked perfectly. Clever thinking, Todd!

Opening Number, Put the Lights on the Tree.
Musical Number, Toy Packaging

The tall, curvy flats (prosceniums) were made the theater way; 1×4 frames, and muslin stretched, sized and painted over them. The top curves were cut from MDF and fastened to the 1×4 structure. It was a big job to build them that way, and we hated to break them up at the end. Next year, if I have my way, we’ll build them out of 2x4s and drywall. Faster and cheaper. The tubes are 36″ SonoTubes, the kind used for making concrete columns. We wrapped them in white Spandex and up-lit them all with ColorBlast 12s. We also had a row of ColorBlasts above and below the cyc in the back. We projected various stills and videos on the cyc to create another layer of the set. All the costumes were done in-house by our amazing costume crew.

The most complicated costume--Bobby Gunch The most complicated costume–Bobby GunchHere’s another costume. The suit was purchased, then cut up and re-done for the character. The level of detail is rich. We had a trick mic’ing Gunch (played skillfully by our Jr. High Director Adam Brown). He changed coats 3 times during the show, and had a beard 3″ long. We ended up clipping a lav to the sprig costuming clipped to his hair right in front. I taped it to the back of his neck (after weaving it through his hair) to keep it in place. I was honestly surprised at how well it worked. The only issue we had was wind noise when he ran across the stage.

As I said, I’ve got lots more to share. Stay tuned for more!

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