Setting the scene for THE LIQUID PLAIN, a new play by Naomi Wallace
By Sandy Phillips, Scenic Artist
Over in the shop, we've been celebrating the opening of our outdoor season. With huge stumps and forest backdrops, it was a beautiful success. With only two shows left in our season, we were excited to get our hands on those sets. The Liquid Plain is the last to open of our Thomas Theatre shows, and while it is a work of fiction, much of it is based on historical events, including some events from a book called "Slave Ship," containing real accounts of travelling on such ships. The show takes place at an almost abandoned dock where two ex-slaves mend sails and ropes in hopes of earning enough money to gain passage back to Africa. Our task was to create a dock which looked old, gnarly, bleached and splintered, but be smooth to the touch because many of the actors in the show are barefoot. The task: make new wood into ugly old pylons and boards.
First, we actually started with large cardboard tubes—like the ones paper towels come on, but much larger and a bit more sturdy. Called "sonotubes," these tubes are usually used as forms for pouring concrete to create columns for buildings, entranceways, light posts and other structures. Then we put white bead foam in one end of the sonotube and carved it to look like the end of a wooden pylon that has been broken off and worn away.
Next we needed to make these smooth structures look cracked and splintered line a real wooden pillar. To create this depth of texture, we used our favorite—cheesecloth and glue. This time, we applied the cheesecloth in long strips the entire length of each pillar, but left cracks of different sizes between each strip thus giving the pillar depth. Next, we covered the cheesecloth and the carved foam with Jaxsan, our rubbery roofing material, and dragged a comb through to rough up the texture even more.
Now all we had to do was paint them! After a base coat that made the pillars look like wood, we used washes and drybrushes to bring out the texture and make the wood look old and worn. This process was repeated on each pillar and each board to create a dock on the ocean of the Thomas Theatre.
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