Better Castles and Villages

Better Castles and Villages

Better Castles and Villages

Scenic Charge (summer job between JMU Freshman and Sophomore years)
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Jr.
Blake High School Summer Musical Theatre Institute 2017

Michel D. D’Anna, Producer
Matthew J. Bowerman, Director


Scenic Charge (summer job between JMU Freshman and Sophomore years)
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Jr.
Blake High School Summer Musical Theatre Institute 2017
Michael D. D’Anna, Producer
Matthew J. Bowerman, Director


Scenic Charge (summer job between JMU Freshman and Sophomore years)
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Jr.
Blake High School Summer Musical Theatre Institute 2017
Michael D. D’Anna, Producer
Matthew J. Bowerman, Director

Addison Cole emerging scenic designer castle beauty and the beast consulting theatre theater set

Alright — Who didn’t get the memo about the trend? …the one where people want to live in miniature houses with their downsized belongings and nothing fancy but a few shrubs (for a two-level effect, with a little path running down the middle).

The boss ordered a castle on this one, though; a stacked-stone model with a throne room, west wing and a tower. And a ballroom. And not too colorful so that the lighting designer could control the mood. Oh, and a hill where the entire village could mass up for the ol’ “Kill the Beast!” pep talk — with each face visible to its parents who spent not-insignificant money for a month-long musical theatre camp that would culminate in a grand show. And strike the train trestle from the high school show that ran the week before; it seems that neither trains nor trestles had yet been invented.



Addison Cole emerging scenic designer castle beauty and the beast theatre theater set

Stage reset between Footloose and Beauty and the Beast Jr. wasn’t as quick as Elle’s dress shop quick-change in Legally Blonde: The Musical, but there were similarities. Scenic work isn’t just go and do; it’s deliberate collaboration with inspiration and what-if..?, give and take, and do and adjust that culminates in a beautiful set that meets most of the Director’s vision of WOW, and most of the Scenic Designer and Charge Artist’s realities of schedule, budget and labor.

Notice any similarities between the Footloose set below and Beast set above? We overlapped two month-long musical theatre camps, with the Beast middle high show running the weekend after Footloose. That meant pre-planning for maximum reuse — trestle down, tower up and new facade treatments, but no bulldozer strike until it was all in the can.

Addison Cole emerging scenic designer castle beauty and the beast consulting theatre theater set

Addison Cole emerging scenic designer castle beauty and the beast theatre theater set

Straight-edge Improvisation works just as well as the real deal.


Addison Cole emerging scenic designer castle beauty and the beast theatre theater set

Thicker lines, in my opinion, work best to illustrate cartoon characteristics.


Addison Cole emerging scenic designer castle beauty and the beast theatre theater set

Being an old castle, it is not going to be new and shiny, so to add a rustic effect, I added sponge marks to enhance the aging of the castle. It looks exaggerated here, but viewing from the house under lighting similar to the show helped me judge the effect.


Addison Cole emerging scenic designer castle beauty and the beast consulting theatre theater set

Frequent, quick meetings with the Director and the Scenic Designer are important to make sure projects are getting completed efficiently and meeting expectations.



Addison Cole emerging scenic designer castle beauty and the beast training theatre theater set

The most effective process I came up with for the stone texture started with a base scumble and a rag roll on top. Stone contours were based on the Designer’s rendering. Once they were set, highlight and shadow came next. I placed the highlight where the light would hit the top of the rock, which then allowed for the creation of the shadow in the crevasses. Finally, a bit of sponge work was a quick and efficient way to create growing moss while giving the basic grey set some life.



Addison Cole emerging scenic designer castle beauty and the beast training theatre theater set

Leading and teaching have been such a joy for me, and I’m not sure who benefits more from it — my charges or myself! Mentoring younger artists not only helps them become more proficient in the stagecraft they’re starting to love, but my words come back into my head to remind me of things I can do differently next time, a puzzled look leads me to reframe my instructions to make them easier to understand, and I take new ideas away from their questions and suggestions.

Of the three girls I’m working with here, Rachel, a Senior, is applying to college theatre programs; Ally, a Junior, acted in Footloose and will go back to her sound board for Little Mermaid in the fall as she looks for schools to study Graphic Arts; and Grace, a Sophomore, will be Scenic Charge for Mermaid! I’m so proud of my stagecrafters, and they don’t stop at painting. They’re everywhere from backstage to onstage to back-of-house!


Addison Cole emerging scenic designer castle beauty and the beast faux wall damage 3d theatre theater set

While it is a stone castle, there started to be too much stonework and too few features. To solve this issue and create more texture in the set, the designer and I decided to create a crack in the wall as if the Beast had punched it. This not only adds interest to the set, but also reinforces the story. The darker wash helped to create the rocks to appear as if they were behind a plaster wall, shattered by the crushing blow.


Addison Cole emerging scenic designer castle beauty and the beast faux stone 3d theatre theater set

This vine and crack detail added more 3D detail to the set. I created the vine using a 1″ angled sash brush, one of my favorites, loaded with both black for shadow and white for highlight at the same time, making sure the highlight was on the top. John E. Ovington, my former Scenic Director, taught me the technique during my Blake High School scenic career.

TIP: Use Great Brushes!

Are you starting out in scenic painting in school? Do the old brushes hanging on the wall in the scene shop have lots of bristles pointing in directions that aren’t those of your work piece? What do you think those ragged brushes will do to your enthusiasm for your new craft? How likely is it that your school will have the theatre budget (not football, but theatre) to buy new new ones because careless cleaning ruined the ones they just bought? Read on if your answers are Yes, Yes, Destroy it, and Highly unlikely.

Start with great brushes, write your name on both sides in large letters, learn to clean and condition them, and they’ll be your friends for years. Keep them in your personal kit and don’t lend them out unless you want them to look like those on the wall. Really nice brushes don’t have to cost a ridiculous amount, either. I enjoy Purdy brushes; they come in angled and flat sizes from 1″ wide and are available in hardware stores for $10-15. They cost a few dollars more than cheap no-name brushes, but you’re worth the tiny extra investment in yourself! Try the 1″ angled Purdy XL on your next project and let me know how you like it.


Addison Cole emerging scenic designer castle beauty and the beast theatre theater set

And so we go from bare set…

Addison Cole emerging scenic designer castle beauty and the beast theatre theater set

to a rehearsal day in the life of one particularly pompous Gaston!


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