Season: 2013

Making' a Scene: Growing a Forest

Posted on Apr 26th, 2013 in Artists & Company
scenic artist image

Creating a forest on the Elizabethan Stage

Finally the time has come to begin our outdoor season. With the recent opening of A Streetcar Named Desire, our early season indoor shows for both the Bowmer, as well as the Thomas have been finished.

This year, the Elizabethan Stage shows were given a different approach. Usually, there are three shows with three different scenic designers. This year, however, Michael Ganio is designing all three shows for the Elizabethan. Artistic Director Bill Rauch had an idea that it would be a great idea to share the scenic design of the three shows because they each have an "into-the-woods" theme. Each show will share certain aspects of the other two sets, while having a few of their own unique elements. Mr. Ganio has created a beautiful world, not unlike how we might imagine that a copse of trees from Lithia Park would be transplanted on the stage.

The downstage portion and main playing area of the stage will be textured planked wood with tons of ramps and level changes (There will even be some climbing and swinging from ropes!). Upstage, the doors of the inner above and inner below will be drawn back to reveal a forest just behind the Elizabethan stage. How will this effect be achieved, you ask? With paint, of course!

Everything behind those doors will be painted to look like a realistic forest; the floor, the ceiling, every surface of the walls, the pillars, etc. We have our work cut out for us!

Some of the original architecture has been removed and trucked out to our paint warehouse to begin this long process of painting foliage. Meanwhile, the carpenters have set about creating new pieces that are in the style of the Elizabethan and look like they have been original pieces, but are actually brand new. These pieces are highly detailed and include many curves and circles, and it is only with the fantastic skill of our carpentry department that this can be achieved. These pieces create the additional layers needed and must also be painted in the realistic foliage style. Each section was designed to connect visually with the other pieces. In theory, an audience member can peer into this forest and trace each branch from it's origin to it's pinnacle on the ceiling. Great design work.

So here we are with a huge order to fill. Where do we start?

scenic artist imageFirst, we have to paint all of the pieces to look like the Elizabethan Stage. We have a very specific color called “Tudor Brown” that we use on all of the Elizabethan surfaces. Then we start with the darkest colors, and move out to the lightest. We cover the tudor brown with an all-over layer of leaves in a combination of super dark brown and green. Next, Amanda, our stick master, finds where all of the trucks and branches go and lay them in (as seen in the thumbnail picture). Then we start using some greener leaves to make the shapes around the branches and to fill in some of the thicker areas. Highlights are added in spring greens and blues. Each leaf gets attention and each flat has many layers.

Interestingly, the areas where the sky shines through are some of the last to be added to keep their brightness as the sun punches through the trees. Our lead scenic artist, Thayne, adds sprays and detail to differentiate each section from the next. This can be very difficult, because it will be seen from farther away than we can get as we paint it, so some of this has to be painted on faith. One of the reasons we paint standing up with a paintbrush on the end of a stick is to get back away from what we are painting, so it is easier to see the big picture. We also get up on a huge ladder and try to see what it will look like a little farther away. So far, we have been extremely successful!

As I'm sure you can imagine this process can be extremely time consuming—painting each leaf individually for each layer. But, we have reduced it to a sort of leaf assembly line. Base, then brown leaves, then sticks, then green shapes, then filler and highlight and then final detailing. One piece at a time, this show will grow together.


To read more about Sandy, go to her blog on her website.

And if you want to read Sandy's weekly blog on the OSF site, click the RSS feed button over in the red box on the right (the little tiny icon to the far right) to get the alerts.