Friday, July 29, 2016

Scenic Painting - Backdrops

The traditional painted backdrop doesn't happen much when I set design... In part because I  just don't design for many proscenium theaters, but mostly because I don't lean toward the picture-postcard-backdrop school of thought - for me, sets are more environment than picture.

But Trinity Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale seemed to demand a backdrop.

Besides, for once, I had a real, bonafide, not-me! talented scenic painter on board.

So here's the process:


Schematic design sketch for Trinity Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale
Yellow tracing paper, ink, and colored pencil

First came the rough sketch, showing the theater seating (thrust, with seats and balconies around three sides).  This was mainly to explain to the director what I was proposing.  The idea was to create a "tapestry" appropriate to the court scenes with which the play begins (and that reappear in Act II), but one that would also fit as the environment for the outdoor scenes.  A bleak winter woods.  Prowled by bears.


Design development sketch for Trinity Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale
Yellow tracing paper, ink, watercolor pencil, colored pencil, and CAD

Here's the next sketch, just the backdrop itself because the frame is in another downstage plane.  The center part of the view will also be in another plane, back about a foot from the rest, and attached to a huge sliding door that opens for the final "statue" scene.


Color rendering for Trinity Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale 
Vellum, watercolor, watercolor pencil, and some colored pencil

Above is the final rendering that the scenic painters would work from.


 Progress photos of the backdrop for Trinity Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale

Here are progress photos.  Unfortunately, the backdrop was too tall to fit on the scene shop's painting frame.  (This is a sort of elevator-easel that moves up and down so the painter doesn't need ladders.  Very cool!  I desperately wanted to see it in action... but it's only 20' tall.  This drop was 28'.)  So it was painted in the Opera Dept.'s rehearsal hall.  (Thanks Opera!)


Progress photo of Trinity Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale
onstage scenic painting - backdrop, frame, and floor.  Notice how that tree stump has developed!

Then the not-quite-finished drop was transferred to the theater.  You can see how the center section has been cut out at that sliding door.  We tried to attached that portion of the view - painted on muslin -  TO the door, but in the end it had to be painted ON the door itself.  Notice the progress of the painted "stone" floor.


The Winter's Tale, at Leontes' court
Photo by Amy Peterson, courtesy of Trinity Shakespeare Festival

Here is the backdrop in backdrop/tapestry mode for Leontes' court.


The Winter's Tale, at Leontes' court
Photo by Amy Peterson, courtesy of Trinity Shakespeare Festival

And in the "chapel" scene.  Note the gorgeous floor.

The Winter's Tale
Photo by Amy Peterson, courtesy of Trinity Shakespeare Festival

Stage daylight lets you see the beautifully painted stump and other details.  Like, below, the distant view of a fortified city.

The Winter's Tale
Photo by Amy Peterson, courtesy of Trinity Shakespeare Festival

A big shout-out to scenic painter Kaitlyn Donovan and her assistants!  Thanks.  Gratitude also for the beautifully detailed build.  (There was some coolo laser cutting technology involved in those oval corner plaques on the frame.)  Props worked hard on great faux wool bales for the final "shepherd" scenes.

Trinity Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale
The shepherds throw a party... complete with wool bales and piano.
Photo by Amy Peterson

And thanks for the lovely lighting!  Nice costumes too, huh?  This was just a beautiful show and an accomplished one all round, I thought.  Directing, acting, dance, song...  Critics seemed to agree - always nice.

Back to the drawing board... a little battered and coffee stained.

Oh, remember that rendering?  Here it is back home to my studio... having clearly worked for its living at the scene shop.  

Lessons learned?  (There are always lessons to learn.)

1)  Get better and faster at watercolor.  So I'm now taking a watercolor class.
2)  I really like this pro-scenic painter thing - get more of 'em! more often!
3)  Encase the rendering in plastic next time.

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