As Art teachers, many of us are involved with the annual school play. In all of the schools I have worked out, I have been in charge of the set paintings for the school play. I usually design the backdrops and some of the props, and sometimes design the poster and program, if there's no IT teacher. As anyone who has been involved in this knows, it is a huge undertaking, especially if you're the only Art teacher in the school! For that reason, I've always had a "Set Design Club". I try to get at least a couple of talented high schoolers to help out, and then kids in the younger grades can join as well. Depending on how organized the whole production is, I either get to start early in the process or scramble at the last minute! (usually involving evenings and weekends- ugh).
I took a few photos this year of how I go about designing a backdrop for a school play. I worked very closely with the Drama teacher- they are like kindred spirits to us Art teachers; I've never met a Drama teacher I didn't like! They are so energetic and enthusiastic!
So, after meeting with the Drama teacher on what their vision is for the play, I make some watercolour sketches of what the backgrounds might look like. Then I meet again with the Drama teacher and we discuss them and I make any needed changes or adjustments.
|preliminary watercolour sketch for the mountain scene|
This year, the play was "The Hobbit". I had to do some research (aka: Wikipedia, heh, heh) on it as I have never read the book. The school didn't have any existing backdrops, so the Drama teacher had these huge flats built by a carpenter friend, then she and I spent a Saturday stretching canvas on them. It was a two-person job for sure: one to stretch the fabric and the other to staple.
These are about 4 ' x 9'. They were HUGE!!! The first ones were even bigger, but after stetching one of them in the basement of the Drama room and then trying to move it upstairs, we realized they didn't fit through the doors! The poor carpenter had to disassemble all 9 flats and re-do them.
Lesson learned: make sure the backdrops fit through doorways!
So the Drama teacher had this brilliant idea of having three scene changes. To do this, we had three panels for each scene. I numbered the backs of these 1,2 and 3. All the # 1 panels were hinged together and put on heavy duty caster wheels. Same with the #2 and #3 panels. So essentially, each panel had three different scene changes on it. For the scene change, stagehands in the back of the stage would swivel/turn the panels around so the next scene (ie: #2) would line up. It worked surprisingly well.
Back to the process. Once the canvas was stretched, I had my Grade 6 class prime all the panels during class one day. We used cheap latex house paint (mis-tints at the hardware store) for this step. Using house paint is always messy because it's so liquidy and drippy. We put drop-cloths under everything, but inevitably paint seems to get everywhere and I was running around like a madwoman
with a bucket and sponge trying to stay on top of all the drips.
Ok- let these dry flat, otherwise the stretchers could warp.
Once dry, I projected my sketch with an opaque projecter onto the canvas and students
traced the drawing, using charcoal, directly onto the canvas.
Then let the painting begin. I post my watercolour sketch for students to refer to. I save loads of plastic containers with lids to use for mixing colours. Have lots of buckets with water to clean the brushes in. This painting process takes a surprising amount of time due to the amount of surface area being covered. The paint was surprisingly inexpensive as we just bought mis-tints at the hardware store. You simply need a few basic colours and from there you can mix so many additional colours.
Phew! Finished! Here is the completed scene #1 panels in the gym ready for the first scene.
Here's the Dwarves with our #2 mountain scene backdrop.
Here's scene #3 with Smaug the dragon. Check out the cool papier mache dragon head!
A student dressed in black is manipulating the head.
End of the play. ALOT of work, time and effort goes into any school production, but it's worth it once you see the play and the reactions of the students, staff and parents. As well, the kids who help out painting get a sense of pride and accomplishment in seeing their hard work on stage. They also get a 'real life' experience through working on a collective project outside of school time; the whole process is so valuable on many different levels.
Please share any of your school production experiences/tips/suggestions in the comments section!