This winter I directed The Wizard of Oz with our show choir director. While not abandoning the traditional elements, we added a Victorian/Steampunk influence. The Tinman dressed as a nineteenth century woodsman, the Lion wore a sash instead of a medieval robe for "King of the Forest" and the Emerald City was filled with corsets, tailcoats, and top-hats.
We moved our annual musical to an earlier date so we could build set over Christmas Break (I did so with walking pneumonia, by the way) and so we would be done a month before the show choir (read: half our cast) started competition season.
We have a BIG stage. Our proscenium is 18' tall and 40' wide. With a musical that has constantly changing sets, it can get very expensive to fill the space. With old incandescent lights and gels, we have limited options for breaking up the space with light. While we managed to use a lot of recycled set pieces from our attic storage, getting the pieces out on stage with a skeleton crew is a challenge. The biggest issue I found was filling the vertical space. Most of our set pieces sat in the lower third. And our budget did not have money to rent backdrops.
I ran through a bunch of grand ideas for filling the space. At one point I was determined to build a big spiral with LED strip lights and either plastic panels or bubble wrap to diffuse the light. The math on this rarely worked out, and our local Home Depot did not carry the corrugated plastic sheets in the 4'x8' size. It was an engineering nightmare, and I was stuck on what to do until I had a spark of inspiration while waiting for a workshop to start at Trumbauer State theater competition.
The project was cheap but took a lot of hands. I purchased a 25-pack of white poster board, some dowel rods, black spray-paint, and gaffer's tape. I also grabbed four 1"x8' pieces of wood at the hardware store. Using my classroom projector, I chose gear shapes from Google Images and projected them onto poster-board for my students to trace and cut.
After we had a dozen gears of varying sizes cut and assembled (the largest ones took two or three pieces of poster board) we spray-painted them black. We did this instead of purchasing black poster to save money and because the edges of cut poster tend to get white and ugly anyway. I recommend the cheapest Home Depot generic and NOT the Wal-Mart brand. The Wal-Mart cheap black is very translucent and looks terrible.
The lights from our cyc row cast shadows that swayed with the ripples in the fabric and made a slowly-shifting, almost-animated backdrop.
This can be done with all sorts of designs and shapes. It worked well for us to have the batten as part of our machine design, but you can easily use fishing line to suspend shapes if the bar must be flown out of sight. This is a nice, cheap way to fill some space and reinforce a motif in your show's design. Just remember not to use Wal-Mart spray-paint!
If you try this, send me your pictures. You can find me @iamthatmerrywanderer on Instagram.
Amy is a drama teacher with an M.Ed. in Secondary Education, ELA, teaching in the suburbs of Birmingham, AL.