These Old Houses

These Old Houses

These Old Houses

Scenic Paint Crew
Picnic
James Madison University 2017 (Freshman year)

Sarah Philips, Scenic Designer
John Burgess, Technical Director


Scenic Paint Crew
Picnic
James Madison University 2017 (Freshman year)
Sarah Philips, Scenic Designer
John Burgess, Technical Director


Scenic Paint Crew
Picnic
James Madison University 2017 (Freshman year)
Sarah Philips, Scenic Designer
John Burgess, Technical Director


It was Labor Day, 1953. The town was rural, maybe somewhere in Kansas. The houses were in need of upkeep. That’s where I came in. My name is Addison; I’m part of a team of illusionists.

The play was Picnic. I worked on the stacked stone foundations, shingled walls of two houses, picket fence, house railings, window sashes, porch deck, and the porch posts of the houses. Our collective mission was to convince the the audience that they were right there with the players in the heat, the dust and the drama.


Photo courtesy of Richard Finkelstein

Foam and a Hot Knife are Foundational to Stagecraft!


The stacked stone foundations were made of 2” building foam panels. They aren’t very good at supporting weight, but transform convincingly into stone and are much less physically demanding than the real thing. Picnic is where I was taught how to use a hot knife, and I must say I became quite a fan of it. When using a hot knife, I first recommend gloves as to not burn your hand. Trust me when I tell you it gets hot! Another tip I learned throughout the process is to let the knife guide the cutting instead of forcing and pushing the knife to go faster. If you let the knife do its job properly, the foam should slice off and sizzle up at the touch. However, if the hot knife is being forced to go too fast, the foam does not get cut through properly all the way and can shred and chip off.

I used a charcoal stick to draw the rocks based on the rendering, then followed the lines with the hot knife. Because of the lack of uniformity of rocks, the scenic charge artist instructed me to make some of the crevasses deeper than others.


Stone in this part of town wasn’t flat and polished, so we used a sander to rake off some top layers of the foam to make indentations. The rough, uneven, and natural texture transformed the foam into a rock formation that didn’t require a jackhammer for strike.

The final step was to add color and even more natural, random texture.  Spray paint was the carving and coloring tool of choice. Instead of choosing craft paint that would sit on top of the foam without damaging it, we intentionally selected standard paint that would eat into the foam to create deeper and more realistic crevasses. We sprayed black from the bottom to create a shadow effect, while spraying highlighted tan colors across the top for realistic, natural, diversity in the rocks.


For the rustic, unmaintained effect of the house-left house, we completed a three-step process. Step One was the base coat which was a mid-grey color. After that dried, we applied a vast amount of Elmer’s Glue to the boards over the base grey. Immediately after the layer of glue, a coat of the desired prominent color was added on top. Thinner layers of glue allowed for not much movement in the top paint—this created thinner cracks in the paint that show the base color through. When there were thicker pockets of glue in one place, the top paint coat separated more easily to allow the base color to show through while the glue forced the top layer to appear as though it had weathered away.


The shingled facings of the house-right and upstage house-left houses were designed not from luan, like the downstage house-left house, but from cardboard. We painted the cardboard grey, followed by a drybrush of green over the grey once it dried. Creating curled and distorted cardboard added to my toolbox a new, realistic way of portraying another weathered building material.

Here, I am finishing wash coats on the porch deck for the house-left house. Though not visible in these photos, the porch had to be realistic for patrons in the balcony.

Here, I am finishing wash coats on the porch deck for the house-left house. Though not visible in these photos, the porch had to be realistic for patrons in the balcony.



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