For the Glory of Stagecraft: Broadway Flats

Stagecraft. It’s an art form without limits in many ways because the artistry of stage craft can achieve stupendous monumental artistic heights. Most theatre productions, however, are not quite so grandiose in reach – including my own productions. My artistic abilities certainly have their limitations. I depend greatly upon actual artist to draw and paint and create much of the visual magic which takes place on stage.

I am, however, interested in stage craft, and I’ve been learning the different methods of creating backdrops and visual textures on stage. One indispensable part of building a set, in my opinion, is the Broadway flat. Essentially, Broadway flats are wooden frames with taut muslin fabric stretched across them. Here, let’s look:

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This is the backstage view of the flats we made for our show “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” I decided I wanted a static background which represents the entire show. So we built the frames, stretched the muslin over it, and treated the fabric with diluted white glue which helped to tighten it so would be good for painting. You’ll notice that Broadway flats (ours were 8 ft  x 4 ft) need wooden jacks which support the flats. The jacks were attached to the flats with metal l-brackets and then attached to the stage floor with small screws. Weights or sandbags would also work if you aren’t allowed to screw into the flooring.

Here’s what the front looked like:

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These cloth flats have the illusion of being solid wood. Even my tech person didn’t know they were made out of cloth. What’s great about them is that they are very light to move in case you need to strike the set during the show, and very cost effective because when the show is finished, you can paint over them for the next show.

I also love to use them for colored textured on stage. When painted white, they can be splashed with color or the pattern from a gobos to create great visual backdrops for drama, dance, or music.

Creating Broadway flats was one of the first things I wanted to do at my new school since they didn’t have any. In my opinion, they are an essential element of theatre production, and a really enjoyable project to make with students.

This particular backdrop added a lot of color and life to our production.

So, do you love Broadway flats as much as I do?

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Make Your Tools Sing

I’m teaching a Theatre Production class and our first project was to make some sawhorses in order to be able to make other items.

Sawhorses aren’t the most glamorous things to make. They are utilitarian, not praiseworthy pieces of art.

But who says you can’t combine both? That’s what we did. We made sawhorses which commemorate famous musicals, so you can say cool things like:

“Hey, bring me Mary Poppins!”   “I need Phantom of the Opera over here right now.”

Here’s a few shots of how they turned out.

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