Often in the theatre as designers we’re given challenges to create a scenic element that at first glance may appear to be too expensive, time consuming or unwieldy. In the summer of 2012, I designed Dirty Rotten Scoundrels for Papermill Theatre in New Hampshire. Kevin Hill directed the production and Erik Anderson was the technical director.
Kevin offered us a challenge. He specifically wanted a curved balustrade unit that could be moved about the stage by actors. This unit was not to be comprised of simple wooden spindles. That wasn’t the look or feel that was needed. The balustrade unit really had to be the type of big, cement balustrade that would be present at a ritzy hotel on the Mediterranean in France.
When it came to building scenery, this particular summer theatre season was short on time and money. This was the first season in a brand new facility. Options that would not work included lathing, Styrofoam and wood, and any kind of pre-made product that I found was cost prohibitive Then I realized that the curved balustrade unit could be made from soda bottles and water bottles.
This is the plate I drafted for the balustrade. Below is the detail of what I envisioned. I suggested to the technical director that we line up plastic soda bottles and water bottles using dowel rods or conduit, skin them, and then paint them to be balustrade.
This is a part of the process. The shop found the right numbers of bottles and built the initial spindle. To create a continuous skin, they covered the spindle with pantyhose. This worked well because it clung well to the contours of the spindle. It took some time to figure out how to make the first spindle but once it was built, the rest were created relatively quickly.
One problem we discovered was that the pantyhose was a bit too porous. In order to create a spindle with a good skin, several coats of paint were needed.
The final product was light-weight, inexpensive, and time-efficient. I can imagine making an assembly-line in a shop that turns out a lot of these in the course of a day.