By Jon West, Master Carpenter / Assistant Technical Director
This may help those who want to learn how a play goes from script to stage at the Arden:
How a play gets made:
- Play is chosen by Artistic Department
- Director is decided upon by Artistic Deptartment
- Production budget is agreed upon by Production Deptartment and Business Deptartment
- Scenic, Lighting, Costume, Sound, and or Video Designers are chosen
- Design concepts are discussed by Director and Designers
- Preliminary designs are worked up in collaboration with Director
- Design Meetings are held with Production Deptartment and Director
- Designs are turned over to Production Deptartment
- Technical Director reviews drawings
- Assistant Technical Director and T.D. build scenic elements in scene shop
- Built scenic elements are loaded into the space and assembled on stage
- Set construction continues on stage
- Set is painted by Scenic Charge
- Set is completed and readied for rehearsal
- Properties Master dresses the set with required props and furnishings
Thinking about building the set for a play is a very different process than that of a designer. As the Assistant Technical Director/Master Carpenter here, my job is not a design position; it is a production position in the most denotative of ways. I do not dream of what could be, I produce the actual scenic product which has already been designed; it is my job to take the designer’s plan and make it a reality on stage. This is my skill, to take an idea and make it possible.
The tangible set elements start out as raw materials: lumber, steel, fabric, etc. These materials are manipulated to create the set in the Scene Shop. Here is a photo of the Arden Scene Shop full of scenery ready to be installed and painted.
When building a set we require: time, space, and materials. The prep time for a show is the time spent building scenery in the shop before loading it into the theatre. As far as space goes, you can see the shop we use can get very full at times, like in the picture. The materials we use vary greatly, but are primarily steel and lumber, as they are materials that are common in scenery construction. Here are most (not all) of the materials that were used to create the set for Cinderella:
- 2×4 Pine
- 1×6 Pine
- 2×3 Pine
- 1×4 Pine
- ¾” Birch Plywood
- 3/16” Lauan
- 2×6 Pine
- Raw Natural Muslin Fabric
- 18 ga. Steel Box Tube
- Many different types of fasteners, adhesives, and hardware
All of these materials that are to be turned into scenery need to be measured, cut, and assembled into their appropriate pieces. It is very hard to build a puzzle if you do not know how it goes together. This is where the Designer’s technical drawings come into to play. These drawings show the set in scale (ex. ½” = 1’-0”) that we use to measure and make sure that what is built matches what was designed.
This photo (below) shows various pieces of the set getting prepared for assembly and install. The front of the stage deck (foreground) was made full-scale with strings (to draw the radii) and straightedges on plywood as per the designer’s drawing.
This photo (below) was taken shortly after the floor was finished, just days before actors started rehearsing on stage.
Using the steps that were laid out as to how a play is made, the construction of the set only takes 4 of the 15 steps. It is an odd feeling to distill weeks of work into 4 concise steps. What those steps require of the production department is varied, however, the goal is the same: make the set so the play can happen.
Cinderella by the numbers:
- 450+ working hours (ATD, TD combined)
- 300 cubic feet of compressed air (required to use pneumatic tools)
- 10,000 fasteners
- ½ gallon glue
- 1,000 cuts of wood (approximately)