Alchemist’s trick of turning foam board into quarried stone

If you’re doing Robin Hood, then you know there’s going to be a castle. I’ve been criticized in past performances for set pieces being “too flat” so I needed something with more dimension. After searching through Pinterest, I came across this pin from a VBS.

My first thought was, “Those folks take their VBS pretty seriously.” My second thought was I could do something like that. From that inspiration came this design.

Around the same time as we began designing the set, the school year started. The PTO has a bulletin board that they change seasonally. For the fall they did this.

The stone wall “wallpaper” really caught our attention as a possibility for the castle of Nottingham. We had initial concerns of the material being too shiny or flat under the stage lights.

Luckily the PTO had some left over material and was nice enough to share it with us so we could test it. Surprisingly the material looked good from the auditorium seats.

We ordered 10 rolls in a different pattern from the same company. When it arrived, it looked great! The art teacher, Scott Cantrell, and I attached some to a flat. It was surprisingly difficult to work with. The material was very thin, like a cheap plastic tablecloth. It took a lot of work to stretch the material so there weren’t any wrinkles. Even more difficult was matching up the seams.

The part that concerned me the most was how fragile the covering was. The material was so delicate in this application that it kept me up at night with concerns of it ripping in the middle of the show during a scene change.

It wasn’t worth the worries. We needed a plan B.

While searching the web for ideas on how to make stage trees I came across these images.

Definitely the lightest load I’ve gotten from G.R. Mitchell.

I designed two castle walls with irregular placed rectangular shaped stones that would mesh at each end.

I transferred the designs to transparency sheets for use with an overhead projector. Next a traced the line into the foam board. With the lines drawn, I used the soldering iron to burn the grooves. Finally I went over the grooves with a heat gun which helped to smooth and round the faux mortared grooves. I also used the heat gun to texture the stone slabs.

With the first foam board completed Scott Cantrell painted a section to give us overall impression of how it might look.

The test section looked good. Now it was just a matter applying the technique to the remaining 18 boards. It’s not hard work. Just time consuming.

The set build team spent a Friday afternoon drawing, cutting, and melting foam board in preparations for the paint crew that was coming in two days later on Sunday.

When you have ten to 14 students show up for set build, you run out of soldering irons and heat guns before you do help.

There’s still more foam board to cut, texturize, and paint but the vision is becoming a reality.

You can read more about building the Iron Throne here.

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