Saturday, February 15, 2014

"Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" AND Stone


Always a relief when a show opens successfully.  Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is a script I really really like - given a terrific production by Uptown Players with an amazing cast.  Well worth seeing.  So get your ticket fast.

I kinda like the set.  (I might be partial, of course.)  So, the highlight of the show for me?  The coolo fake stone!

Well , what did you expect?  Would the set designer quote the witty lines of the clever script by Christopher Durang, point out the superior thespian-osity (this is a great cast), or marvel at the (well-directed) slick physical comedy?  No, no, no, be realistic.  The set designer would applaud the lovely faux stone carving by Dennis Canright - using acetone on expanded polystyrene sheets!

(That and give thanks for the much-appreciated set dressing by Kevin Brown and the lovely lighting by Jason Foster.  Thanks to the whole set crew for all their hard work.  What troopers!)

Back to the star of the show, that coolo stone...  Here's how you too can have faux stone on your own set.

Photo courtesy of Uptown Players' production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike 

Step one: carve the stone.

Dennis (and many other carpenters) prefer to paint acetone on expanded polystyrene.  Wherever the paintbrush applies acetone, the foam is eaten away - deeper if applied horizontally, shallower if applied vertically.  Either way you get a wonderful roughness and random quality that feels like natural stone. You paint on the mortar lines and spatter random stone pits.  Works great!  But I personally prefer to carve the mortar joint lines with a snap-blade knife because I hate the acetone fumes... a technique that gives a more "chiseled" looking stone, which can be nice.  Combining the techniques would be aces.

Step two:  Base paint.  Dennis and/or his carpenters sprayed the foam panels with a medium-light, cool gray.  I followed after and gently rolled the stone with a warmer putty-gray, in a deliberately blotchy way.

(At this point, naturally, the rest of the production team worried that this ugliness would be the final "look," but "Take heart!" I told them (or something like that)  "Lo!  There are many paint steps yet to come!")

Faux stone photo by me - given to public domain.  This is taken under work-lights 
not the more flattering theatrical lighting, so make allowances please!

Step three:  At this point the fake stone sheets were attached to the frame of the on-stage "house," so I spent a whole day bobbing up and down in the lift detailing individual stones.  For this show I used four colors of latex paint: black, a chocolaty brown, a rust, and a pale gray/almost white, arranged in that order - dark to light - at my feet in the lift's bucket, plus a bucket of water.  With a sash brush (I like the angled edge) I mostly dry-brushed on remarkably little color. 

Close-up detail of faux stone, given to public domain.

You can see how nicely the rough texture of the foam takes the dry color.

Now here's a photo of the non-acetone, knife-cut style of fake stone to give you an idea of its more chiseled look.  Muuuuch slower though.

Close-up of stone on The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Kitchen Dog Theater, 
also public domain photo

The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Kitchen Dog Theater

If you're curious, you can read more about the Beauty Queen stone (and the show) on my "Set Questions Answered" Squidoo page  HERE.

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