It is so rare in props that you end up making the same thing on 2 different shows. Sure, there are some old standards: knives that bleed so that it looks like someone is getting cut, wine, breakaway bottles etc, but in my experience each of these tends to have its own twist in each show such that you essentially re-learn how to make them. Its possible that with more experience, this changes, but for now I’m going with the same prop twice being a rarity. Well, this week said rarity happened for me.
Sometime last year, I spent a good week in the basement of my apartment making fake stacks of paper, and fake book spines for the Broadway production of 33 Variations. I have to say, I never saw the show or spent any time in the theater, and I kinda screwed up the project, but damn, did I figure out how to make fake stacks of paper.
Ryan and Barb, who helped me, referred to the whole experience as “making fake books out of real paper”.
Heres a progress shot:
So, as you can see, fake piles of paper are made basically by cutting paper into strips, and then piling them around stacks of insulation foam. On this project, where the shelves also had to fly in and out, so the dressing had to be super light, so the whole foam part was pretty essential.
During this process we learned that you need to cut your paper into 2″ wide strips (a paper cutter is your friend), then take small sections (say 15 or so pieces), crumple them, and then separate them, flipping every other strip so that the crumples are opposite to create volume. Then you staple the little sections together and glue them into stacks, using little wedges of foam to flatten them when they start to lean.
Time consuming, right? Particularly when there’s trial and error involved.
Anyways, I’m currently working on Shakespeare in the Park, and for Merchant of Venice there are lots and lots of bookshelves. Yesterday we were making dressing samples. Guess what they wanted???? Yes, matching ledger spines and stacks of paper. I was like “don’t worry dudes, I got this”.
Heres a shot of the sample shelf:
So, the green ledgers on the upper right, and the stacks of paper on the lower left are all fakes.
The ledgers are made of 3″ blue foam strips with file folder wrappings (I also attacked them with paint to give them a little more personality, and pieces of ribbon on the bottom). They’re only a few inches deep, though, except for the end one, which is full length:
Cute!! I love my job.
Then the paper stacks. Heres a close up:
So these are made the same way as the ones for 33, with the only difference being that I refined my flattening method, so theyre less tilty, and I coated all of the edges so that theyre both fire- and water- proof (important for outdoor theater).
Hooray for experience.