Scenery Production at NTC

A hearty hello to all of you educators here on NTC’s Professional Educator Network.

My name is Nate and I’m the Technical Director at The National Theatre for Children. That means it’s my job to build all of the props, costumes and scenery for our productions. If you’ve seen one of our shows, then you’ve certainly seen some of my handy work.

Today, we focus on scenery. I would like to give you a behind-the-scenes look at how we at NTC design and build our sets for the shows. Each production gets a unique set. The design takes into consideration the topic we are teaching and the target audience. Our shows have unique demands. Not only do they have to look good and serve the story, but our sets must be durable enough to survive the rigors of touring life. They must be simple enough to set up in under 15 minutes, and most importantly, they must be compact enough to fit into one vehicle, along with all the props and costumes. Plus, let’s not forget the actors’ luggage and personal belongings as well.

So how do we do it? Sets are built on a series of plumbing pipes to which we attach elaborately painted canvas flats. The poles easily disassemble and fit into small bags, and have the bonus of being a standard plumbing size. Therefore, if poles break or bend on the road, the actors can go to any hardware store and buy replacements on the spot.

At times, the scenery becomes part of the show itself. For example, in Bee on the Team the show takes place in a beehive. The hive gets destroyed and it must be rebuilt. We devised a way for student volunteers to rebuild the hive in front of the audience, using honeycombs and strategically placed Velcro.

An advantage to using the system of three flats is its versatility. We play in a variety of performance spaces. Although we prefer an auditorium or gym, sometimes we find ourselves in a media center, a single classroom or even a hallway. These sets are designed to be flexible. If the space isn’t big enough for all three flats, we eliminate one or both side flats and use what fits.

This flexibility allows us to play in more schools and educate more kids, and get the messages home to more students and families and educators.

CLASSROOM ACTIVITY

  1. Give each student a blank sheet of paper
  2. Have them choose one of three play titles:
    • The Pirate Who Lost His Octopus
    • Princess Amara Learns the Guitar
    • The Soccer Field Mystery
  3. Instruct the students that they are in charge of designing the scenery for the play they selected. Ask them questions like:
    • Where does the play take place?
    • Who are the characters?
    • Are there any special effects in their play?

    Encourage them that there is no right or wrong answer to any of the questions.

  4. Have them draw and color their scenery
  5. Share the pictures with the class, and tell them they’re well on their way toward becoming scenic designers.
  6. Have them send me their resumes when they get out of design school and are looking for a job in the theatre industry. We have an opening. It’s cool. I’ll wait.