Developing Stage Designs

31 05 2010

So this week I had the task of starting a new stage design.  I started the process of visualizing, designing and pricing things out to create a budget.  I have had a few people recently ask about my design process and I have considered writing about it, but frankly this design has not gone at all according to my original concept and really they only do half the time.  My designs frequently change from my first thoughts, so I sit here now realizing that if I’m going to try to design a new set for a stage with limited materials, numerous obstacles, and a yet to be determined budget, there’s little chance it will go exactly according to plan and I of course have to write about it because this is normal.

My task is straight forward; create a dynamic back drop on a 90’wide by 50’ deep stage that creates a dynamic worship space and looks great both live and on video.  My philosophy is generally to introduce some complimentary elements that include a variety of dimensions to it so that the lighting can really accentuate the multiple dimensions.  I’ve done designs that include flatter surfaces and I’ve found them to be much less fun and impacting to light than surfaces that have curves or bends in them.  Think about it, a surface that is relatively flat will pretty much look like a color white wash when lit.  Not bad, just not excellent.  Now a surface that is three-dimensional, adding different depths to the width and height is great to light because you get shadows or can aim different colored light from different angles to really accentuate the multiple dimensions.  A 3D backdrop is much more fun and visually impacting.

There were two elements for this design that I was looking at mixing.  The first was creating a fake version of an element I have missed having and using, truss.  Now I don’t have the budget to buy a lot of 20” truss so I started looking at PVC to build a 3’ by 3’ box truss, nearly twice as big as the larger 20” metal trussing I’d love to have.  Now my truss wasn’t to hang lights from, but as a design element to be lit so I thought PVC might do it.  Close…  As I was looking at PVC in the aisles at Lowes and starting piecing together a “truss stick” right there in the aisle using whatever they had available, I realized that standard PVC was going to be too flimsy to build a 3’ box truss that was 18-21’ tall.  So onto the next material, ABS.  1 ½” ABS is a thicker version of PVC and has much more rigidity.  As I stood there in the aisle building a small piece of my faux truss I realized I could easily build a 3’ box truss, 18’ tall with this stuff and the pricing was good too, about $4 per 10’ piece.  If I cut each 10’ piece into 3’ pieces (six 3’ cubes stacked on each other was the plan), the number came out to about $110.  Then I start looking at the connectors I need, and I would need a lot.  Unfortunately the connectors would more than double the cost of the ABS itself.  Still $300 for an 18’ tall 3’ box truss isn’t bad.  Covering a12’ circumference can easily be done with a 10’wide piece of Spandex or Tendo fabric from Rosebrand with the amount of stretch it provides, stick an LED in the bottom and mount one to the top shooting down and it would look great.  What’s great with this is that I can customize the height and size of the truss to match whatever situation, stage or design.  This is something I will stash in my bag of tricks.  Even just building boxes out of the ABS and covering it with fabric would look great, especially if you build a variety of sizes for some visual interest and can light it effectively.

Element two didn’t go nearly as smooth.  First, the truss was already more expensive than I had hoped because of the connectors which means I was feeling budget conscious. The second issue I was running into was based on the support that this idea would need.  I had decided that I wanted to try to adopt some of the idea presented by Andrew Hunt on because I liked the dimension and depth it provided.  Unfortunately I can’t mount the coroplast to our back wall like he was able to.  I would have to create a faux-wall to mount it to and rig that wall from the lighting bars or ceiling above which has very strict, low weight limits.  A lot of work and not a very good rigging situation have put me at a cross roads.  I can be stubborn and make this happen somehow, I can give up on using this, or I can adapt the concept in a way that fits the stage and rigging ability that we have.

This design is still in process and while I have some ideas of where this will go, the point that I want to get across with this writing is that often times my designs start with a concept that I’ve seen somewhere and then take on a life of their own until it becomes our design.  If you are new in creating scenic design the best thing you can do for yourself is to find as many stage designs, materials and trendy locations as possible and see what other people are creating.  Being creative does not necessarily mean coming up with a 100% original idea.  In fact the Bible tells us there is nothing new under the sun.  It’s about seeing the beautiful things that God has put into our lives and finding ways to incorporate those into the design of a visually stimulating worship space.  Maybe it’s a specific texture, a specific material or even someone else’s design that I just plain like and want to adapt fully or partially for my space.  As I write this while sitting in an auto body shop, Ellen just came on in the corner of the room and her backdrop has some type of translucent material with dark lines on it to make it look like marble.  Light it from behind with some LED’s as they have and you’ve got a pretty sweet looking backdrop.  That is a look I will file away for a future design.

The point is that great designs and elements are all around us and they can spark an idea, which then needs to be developed for your space, needs and limitations.  As a design develops that element or concept may need significant tweaking to work for your space.  While I have had plenty of designs that went completely according to plan, I’ve had far more times when a concept ended up going back into my folder because the original concept sparked and developed into something totally different, and dare I say better?  It doesn’t mean I didn’t like the original concept or don’t want to use it someday, it just means right now it developed into something else that was right for now.  The creative design process needs inspiration first, then room and grace to grow and adapt into the design that is right for you.  Seek inspiration everywhere, be open to change and adaptation, don’t be afraid to try things.  You never know what brilliance you may end up with.




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