Paint Shop

Out of the Spotlight #8

Our scenic artists are the people who put the finishing touches to our scenery. In the last stage of production, just before it leaves the workshops for the stage, it’s assembled and finished in Paint Shop.

Scenic Artists Colleen and Dan make sure the scenery matches the designer’s image of how they want it to look, by adding textures and surfaces. The designer creates a scale model of the set and scenery, and provides the workshop with reference images to show the styles and textures they want in the design.

Colleen says: “We interpret what we think they are trying to say in the design, then create samples and show them to the designer to see if we are going down the right road with it.

“As soon as we get the information from the designer we experiment to get the right effect. We don’t typically know how we are going to do it until we have had a bit of a play.”

They work with whatever materials are required, but most often this is water-based paints, Latex or idenden, a rubber-based textured coating which they use to create concrete, wood or metal effects.

Dan is painting onto the scenic wall for The Taming of the Shrew and Colleen creates a stencil to form some of the decoration on a harpischord for the play.

Carved wooden wall

The ornate wall of The Taming of the Shrew looks like it is made from carved wood. If the team actually built it like this, it would take weeks of carving to complete it. They are always looking for ways to create the same effects but to make things lighter and quicker.

To create the effect, Dan had to source the carving designs and adapt them so they’d work on the wall. Instead of hours of carving they cut out a pattern and then created a texture.   

The set for The Taming of the Shrew, showing the back wall and the harpsichord, designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis.

The wall was built in Scenic Workshop and moved next door into Paint Shop to be completed as a whole and finished. Then it was loaded onto a lorry and transported through Stratford to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

Golden beachball

Dan has worked at the RSC for five years. He did a degree in Set Design but then saw an opportunity to do a work experience placement in Scenic Workshop: “I decided I didn’t like designing, I liked being more physical and making things."

A golden sphere suspended from the Swan Theatre roof
The golden sphere from the Imperium plays, designed by Anthony Ward.
Photo by Ikin Yum © RSC Browse and license our images

One of the strangest things he has made so far was the sphere suspended from above throughout the Imperium plays. They explored lots of different ideas about what to use to make it work effectively, and be lightweight without appearing to be.

He says: “What appears to be the simplest thing can be the hardest. In the end we bought a giant inflatable ball then painted it the different colours, textures and gold leaf – it was like a giant gold and silver beachball!”

Giant jigsaw

Colleen studied theatre design and worked for four years at the Welsh National Opera before coming to the RSC.

In 18 months with the company, her most memorable piece of work so far was completing a giant jigsaw for the set of The Merry Wives of Windsor.

She says: “The house was a steel structure with lights inside, covered with a huge number of textured polycarbon sheets – each sheet was very different and they had to be fitted together like a giant jigsaw.”

Man standing on a stage gesticulating between two frames of wooden houses
The wooden houses in The Merry Wives of Windsor, designed by Lez Brotherston.
Photo by Manuel Harlan © RSC Browse and license our images
hands in a workshop making a crown

Out of the spotlight

Out of the Spotlight gives a voice to the people who work behind the scenes to make our onstage magic happen. From costumiers to carpenters our skilled teams of people are working in our Stratford-upon-Avon workshops to create and build costumes, props and sets that help bring our shows to life. We share the challenges and triumphs that take place away from the spotlight.

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