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'Stop Kiss' - Set Design and final by MelissaFindley 'Stop Kiss' - Set Design and final by MelissaFindley
Name of play: Stop Kiss 
My job: Scenic Designer/Scenic Artist
Number of audience members: Space seats approximately 80 people
School or professional production: Community theatre production (Theatre Tallahassee)

Interesting materials used: 
I do most of my modeling using Sketchup. It's free, easy to use, and I was never trained in CAD so it's the closest I can get. I've prebuilt standard flat sizes within the program, as well as scale models of the stages I work on most. This allows me to literally erect a set with standard flats within the virtual space. In the end, this saves work time since most of my sets are built using flat sizes and pieces that I know are already in storage and not much needs to be custom built. And it's faster and easier than building a scale model by hand.

Most interesting materials used on set: hand carved foam for the brickwork. I carved large sheets of foam into bricks and hand painted them. First with a mixture of paint mixed with saw dust to add texture and prime, then with multiple shades and finishes of paint to achieve the rough brick look.

This was a borrow/create set in that most of the furniture was borrowed (only the chairs were in our furniture storage), and the coffee table, hospital bed (not pictured in final -- it's behind the curtained area), book case, and artwork were all made specifically for the show.

This small black-box stage is very long (32') and narrow (only about 8' deep in some places, about 12' at the widest point). There is no backstage area and actors must either enter through the house constantly, or remain on stage for the duration of each act. With 6 actors in the show and only two on stage at a time, that presented an interesting challenge. 

Additionally the script called for 27 scenes, alternating between the main character's apartment and other locations (a hospital room, a cafe, a police station, a park outside a bar), and nearly all of the scenes required set dressing, costume changes and multiple props. Quite a lot to cram into a small space with no backstage. 

Our volunteer pool was very limited, and my carpenter decided to just "slap the walls up" without checking measurements, which meant having to readjust them later and also cut back on the amount of brickwork I was able to do. 

And one of the more amusing issues: the actor who had to dress the table out in each scene, including laying out the tablecloths used to denote locations? He's blind. 

Did I mention that our budget for this show, including lighting, costumes, props, and set, was only $600? 

Despite all those limitations up there, I overall love the final results for this set.

It is beautifully efficient for the small space it's in. The area behind the flats is only about 3 1/2' wide, but it's enough for the actors to wait in between scenes. And the wall projections allowed us to give more stability to the flats and also provide areas for prop shelving. The support poles that anchor the set to the rear wall double as clothes racks for the 4000 costume changes. Nearly every piece of furniture on stage doubles as something else: the coffee table becomes the park bench at the end of the play. The kitchen table becomes the cafe. The bookcase even turns around to become the nurse's desk, etc. 

One of my favorite problems/successes involves the mirror that was meant to be on set. No matter where we put it, the elevation of the stage and the low hang of the lights meant that a light was always reflecting into the audience's eyes. The director ended up cutting it and asked that I replace the mirror with artwork of some kind. Since the frame for the mirror fit perfectly in the space over the bookcase, I repurposed the frame and threw together an abstract painting of a stoplight. Since the set colors were red, yellow, green and black, and the character the apartment belongs to is a traffic reporter, it ended up tying a lot of things together.

Another happy accident was the color scheme. I used only paint that we had in stock to save on money. We borrowed the futon, and it luckily came in the reverse of the colors I'd originally imagined for it. The table we borrowed matched the chairs, and magically I found a doorway curtain that matched the color of the curtains I purchased to hang around the hospital area hiding up in our prop loft. 

Finally, one not entirely successful thing. I mentioned that the actor who was in charge of set dressing the table between scenes was blind? Our solution, in the end, was to make him a braille tablecloth. Safety pins were placed in position so that he could hold the cloth by the pins, flip it out and line the pins up on the back corners of the table by touch. In the end the director opted to cut the tablecloth to speed up scene changes, but I think the solution in itself was sound. 

More views of this set:
'Stop Kiss' - Set Design by MelissaFindley
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Captain-Savvy Featured By Owner Aug 5, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Beautiful! And that stage pulled on my heart strings... I was the set painter / costume designer/ make up artist for a community theatre in a local town. It was really a laid back sort of place and everyone who worked there was strictly volunteer. There was no sponsorship or anything... just a bunch of people who wanted to make something awesome. As a result we did everything on a small budget, but we still managed to have some pretty great sets. This set reminds me of one of our plays, "Bell, Book and Candle" Sadly the theatre was forced to close a couple years ago when they couldn't make ends meet. There just wasn't enough interest in live theatre. So yeah... that was my random paragraph for the night ^^;
GwynConawayArt Featured By Owner May 28, 2014  Professional
Nice work! I have to say that you took the practical challenges head on and adjusted the design to real-world application without losing its integrity. I do see a lot of discrepancies, though, in scale and detail. For example, the brick wall is at a much larger scale than your rendering. The carpet, one of the strongest living space indicators, was also lost. Losing these little details pulls the space out of believability. 

Overall, I think you did a wonderful job, considering the play is too large for the space available, and the budget laughable. This is a director issue, and I hope they learned something from this. It's a consistent problem in contemporary low-budget theatre. I urge you (and every other designer out there) to fight the good fight and force directors and producers to consider quality over quantity. 

Best, Gwyneth (contest judge)
MelissaFindley Featured By Owner May 30, 2014  Professional General Artist
The carpet was a sad loss -- but a necessary one. The futon needed to be moved out from the wall during a single scene and it was easier for the two actresses to slide it on the floor without having to worry about it catching on the carpet. 

As for the brick -- it did turn out a little larger than planned. That was my fault. My template brick was bigger than I realized when I started carving it and it's difficult to adjust back. 

With non-profit theater budget is always a struggle. Our MainStage shows are usually decently funded, but the shows in this smaller space run on a shoestring. Typically the shows for this space tend to be black box style (I directed "Love, Loss, & What I Wore" on this same stage last November and the budget was more than adequate). "Stop Kiss" was simply a poor choice to put in this limited space. I'm still pleased with the final result of the set, and that we came in under our limited budget.
GwynConawayArt Featured By Owner May 30, 2014  Professional
Excellent response!

To tack on to coming in under budget: Professionally, taking on small budget work can be a detriment, not only to yourself, but to other theatre artists out there. If your budget is a shoestring, it means your entitling someone else to make your wages a shoestring as well, and by default those of your colleagues. I often find that in a professional theatre setting, it is best to be honest about your value and the price of quality. Not to say that every theater is interested in quality visual properties. There are many companies that focus on the performer and the philosophy of an experience with an audience. If that's the case, and you plan to create a space that requires focus of funds and a lot of labor, it's not worth your time and doesn't -actually- support the company's goals. If the company -does- want to support visual design as an imaginative experience, then they should tackle smaller shows that allow for costume and scenic designers to focus their efforts into pieces of quality, not quantity. 

Non-profit is an amazing community. I have many dear friends that work this ring, and did so myself for several years. It can be experimental, close to the vest, daring, relevant to the social proximity. But that doesn't mean there aren't battles to fight in terms of budgetary abuse. 

There's an article circulating right now that illustrates some of these points:… It's a good read that everyone in our profession should chew on. : ) 
monkeydoodles Featured By Owner Apr 10, 2014
The set looks great and the process is fascinating to read about.  Theater sounds like a very challenging profession.
keight Featured By Owner Apr 9, 2014
Oh, very well done, Mel! Love the set, particularly the brick wall. The bricks read beautifully!
MelissaFindley Featured By Owner Apr 9, 2014  Professional General Artist
Hard to believe they're just styrofoam. :) Even up close they look very real. If you touch them, however, it gives it away. I have some in progress shots I should post, of the process. 
keight Featured By Owner Apr 9, 2014
That is so cool!! I have seen that type of faux stonework done before and was properly appreciative. The hospital where my husband worked, before he retired, was often a film shoot site. One of the set painters had to match the section of the hospital's pebbled stone facade in order to mask the name of the facility. I had to walk within three feet of the completed panels to dodge the cables and equipment at the entrance. The gentleman who had done the work was starting another section, and I took a moment to tell him what a beautiful job he had done, The painted panels were totally smooth, and read as a perfect match with the actual wall, at arm's length!
jademacalla Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2014
Wonderful work! I wish we would see more of this aspect of creativity and design on dA.
MelissaFindley Featured By Owner Apr 9, 2014  Professional General Artist
Thank you. :) It's nice to be able to share it. I miss having time to illustrate, but there's something really wonderful about seeing your work come to life in three dimensions. You can walk around in it, touch it, practically live in it. It makes it alive in a way that I have a hard time reproducing on paper. 

I have more set designs that I can't wait to share. The last few years I've been really busy doing a lot of theatrical work. It just didn't occur to me until recently that I should put it up on dA. 
LocationCreator Featured By Owner Apr 7, 2014  Professional Interface Designer
MelissaFindley Featured By Owner Apr 7, 2014  Professional General Artist
Thanks. Do I need to mention that I'd like to submit this for the challenge? Or was that obvious? :) 
LocationCreator Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2014  Professional Interface Designer
Hahah. It is in both the scene design and the challenge gallery.  Thanks for submitting!
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April 7, 2014
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