Fifty shades of Yellow.

Well, I've been painting like a madman...



I've just about finished the main painting of the unit set.  This may be a little boring for you folks that are already theatre 'gypsies', so I won't be offended if you just look at the pretty pictures :)

Basically to make something look like one color on stage - but to still feel 'real' it has to be a whole lot more than a one color.  At first. I was struggling to find what overall tone the unit set (which will be ever-present through the whole show) should be.  Then I realized that the real Nonnberg Abbey where Maria was a postulant, (or rather it's courtyard), is a surprising yellow color:  

Andddddd the actual Von Trapp mansion in Austria looks like this:

Now of course none of this matters to most of the audience who couldn't give a hoot what color both places really are... but it gave me something to grab onto as an aesthetic choice.  And, I would be totally lying if I said that I have since discovered that other set designers have, in the past, made a similar choice.  But, especially with a show like this, you find yourself constantly reinventing the wheel no matter how clever you might be.  

So I'm going with this sort of decayed yellow tone, trimmed with grey stone for the set.   But - like I said - set painting is different than real-life painting.  If you were painting the same building outside, the way the sunlight falls through trees, bounces off the grass, is broken up by clouds etc would give you enormous color variation.  (Don't believe me, look at that pic above and see how many different shades of yellow are in that picture).  But with stage lighting - it's much more prone to look flat and fake without those external factors refracting the light.  So you create the same effect - with paint.  

Which then leads to one of Joel's least favorite tasks... making paint decisions.  Because every wrong choice means your pouring money down the drain.  So I freak out about it for weeks, and then sit in the paint store staring at fifteen different samples (which look exactly the same to any normal human) and final make the decision like it's Sophie's Choice NOT sunrise glow vs. daffodil cream.  Mustard yellows, gray yellows, orange yellows.... arghghgggh.

But that's actually the SECOND stage - first it has to have texture - again to break up the light.  So we start with this:


I wanted the whole thing to have a kind of Venetian Plaster look (or, to the layman, inside of Olive Garden lol).  So that involves skimming on thick coats of joint compound and using a trowel to create peaks and valleys.  BUT because it's for theatrical purposes you have to mix it with some white glue.  Weird, right?  It's because a set moves a lot more than your average house... things will bang into it, there will be some give when people walk, and on it's own the joint compound will be brittle and crack.  The glue helps give it a little elasticity.  With my ribs newly healing - trying to layer this stuff on HURT.   Bad.  Janice tried - but she likes structure and order... that's why she's an ace at tiling.  She does NOT cope well with random swiping of goo to create an amorphous effect.  So she resigned.  Tried teaching Cindy how to do it and she was great.  It makes a huge difference to the way light will sculpt the walls.  And it was REALLY important to me that the set have HEFT.... It's a (largely) true story... and it deals with heavy themes (I'll do a whole blog about that later)... but it shouldn't feel like a cheesy cute musical comedy.  The scenery needs to feel real.  The walls are cut out (with a jig saw) to feel like the silhouette of mountains... but I also wanted them to feel like real walls... like the world around them was crumbling.  So it couldn't just look like a flat old scenery cut-out.


This entire rib thing is forcing me to learn to teach things I never thought I'd be able too... so it's been a great exercise.  And, once someone has learned the skill, it's a huge help for every show in the future.  

After the plaster the walls had to get thickness... so a second layer of ply was placed behind them and then I used 2 inch pink insulating foam sheets sandwiched between them.  With a hot wire (I can't wait to show you this little thing sometime)... I cut the countour to match.  And then I taught Cindy to joint compound those walls kind of like you ice the side of a cake so it hides that it's three materials making up one wall:

Then we base coated the whole thing:


I'll probably tell you all about the molding on the doorways another time... So - see how flat that looks?  Borrring....  So it needed glazed.  First it got an undercoat (which was the thing I was the most stressed about.  I started painting the undercoat at around 11:00pm the other night and Rich was like "um why don't you just test an area first to see if you like it".  And I was like "MUST  MAKE SET... MUST MAKE SET" and just glazed the whole damn thing.  I'll let you guess who that turned out.  Yup... shoulda done a test area.  I was glazing the entire unit in dark brown, terra-cotta red and a very bright yellow... all of which would would be covered over in the second step.  


Well, I used too much of the terracotta and the entire set looked like Chef Boyardee had projectile vomited all over the stage.  So I went back with the original base coat, toned it back and added a taupe color and more of the dark brown.  So there were ended up being four underglazes.  Here's the loveliness of it:


The wipe off board is for me... With so many different treatments, and mixtures, I am going to rapidly forget what I used for each step.  And, when a piece of scenery crashes into something and I need to retouch - I need a dossier.  This involves me STOPPING and taking notes... which is NOT easy for me.  But so far I'm pretty proud of myself.  These glazes for instance are 1 part latex paint, 4 parts water-based polyurethane (or clear-coat as theatre folk call it) which acts as a translucent binding agent, and 1 part water.  Then you add a couple drops of fabric softener (which prolongs the drying time (I learned that just recently) as well as a dollop of floetrol which (so I understand) gives the paint more 'grab' so the glazes kind of stick better to your wall and don't just drip off.  So far it's working well.  I've never painted so much stuff vertically before - normally I've always had stuff laying on the floor so I wasn't fighting gravity... but we don't have time to work like that - Rich needs to get stuff built as quickly as possible, rather than work in stages.   Anyhoo.... those are the glazes.

Then on TOP of that I did a thicker glaze of the yellows in cow patches blended together by dabbing with newspaper. Cindy and Janice took shifts holding paint pots for me, because the bending over is what really, really hurts me right now.  I layered on a cream yellow, a sort of sunshine yellow and a darker mustard tone (still letting a few spots of the undercoat show through).

Here's a little video of me doing the overglaze...  

By the way - those little paint pots with the disposable cups are FABULOUS.  They feel a little extravagant when I bough them (they are like six bucks each) - but you can wash out the inserts for reuse.  The best part about them though is that they have a magnet which grabs your brush - so especially when you are rapidly alternating between colors - it really keeps things in order and helps your sanity and mess.  And I have a PHD in mess.

 It took some experimentation but everybody thinks the overcoat ooks pretty good...


Now it needs a watered down coat of satin polyurethane to give it pop and a little sheen and then I can do the contouring and shading on it that will really give depth.  The clear coat goes on first so that you can soften the edges of the shading etc. without it sucking into the layer beneath immediately.

You can see how big the set is from the scale of Adam up there on the steps.  Another problem with the injury is sort of broken rib PTSD.  There is no way to paint some of these areas without being in ridiculous positions... especially up there by where the round window will be and the top of of the back wall... I was basically hanging off the set like a monkey.  

It's one of those things where Cindy is watching me do it, and Janice is watching me do it... they both know i shouldn't be DOING it in my condition, but they also know it's gotta get done and nobody else is gonna be any better off.  The very sides of the set were scary - and they wouldn't be if I was in top shape - but I was doing it the safest way possible.  I'll be glad when everything that requires a ladder is Jo-Jo complete, I have to say.  

In OTHER fun news, we learned that apparently there is currently a risk of contamination of fecal-matter in the city's water.  So, um... yay.  So until we get the all clear, even the dogs are drinking bottled water!  We actually had a very last catering event tonight before Sound of Music opens... and Rich had spent the entire day yesterday washing all the dishes and silverware right BEFORE the city announced the boil water order.  So the lovely catered dinner was cooked in bottled water and is being served on the finest paper plates Wedgewood can offer.  

All right folks.... I'm gonna go try and scrub off seven layers of yellow paint.  With poop water.  Oh well, my body already went to shit a while ago :)