Theatre and Recycling: Soda Bottle Balustrade Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

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.

frontKevin 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.

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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.

cokeThis 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.

Wooden dowels run the length of each spindle inside the soda bottles. Panty hose covers the entire spindle, creating a continuous skin.

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.

Tights might have served better, but I am not convinced that they would have clung as well to the shape.
Tights might have served better, but I am not convinced that they would have clung as well to the shape.
A listing for ready-made balustrade online selling for over $200. per four feet.
Too expensive: a listing for ready-made balustrade online which cost over $200. per four feet.
What we buiit, in use in performance.
The bottle balustrade in use in performance.