One of my on-going jobs here at The Hideout is to paint the stage backdrop at the theater every 2 months. Perhaps it would be better to phrase that “re-paint”, because that’s what I do. I paint over the current backdrop over and over again.
I got started painting the back walls when we did our first season of Improvised Shakespeare in 2008. Andy Crouch (our Director of Education) was directing the production and he wanted to do a faux rock look. I was an undergrad at St. Edward’s University studying scenic design and art at the time, and he asked for my assistance in creating the look. I ended up enjoying the work and especially enjoyed the final product. I was a cast member in the production and it was so nice to have a specific new look on the stage for the show.
It was soon after that when other directors and producers began contacting me about painting backdrops for their sets. I did work for the Out of Bounds Comedy Festival, Asaf Ronen’s KABAAM!, and Improv For Evil’s Cochise. In early 2009, The Hideout decided that I would be in charge of painting the sets for the theater and have final say on what the stage backdrop would look like. When we finalized a rotating schedule of what we now call Mainstage Shows (the Saturday 8pm shows), we decided each production would get its own unique set painting, designed to fit that show. It was also important that the design not be too disruptive for the shows during the rest of the week – hence the reason why our sets rarely utilize extra furniture or 3D elements.
Because we don’t have a lot of storage or building/construction space at the theater, it made economical sense to just paint over each design when the show run was over. So that’s what I do. People often ask me, “Does it make you sad to have to paint over the sets?” At first, it did feel somewhat strange. I always spend several hours (anywhere between 10-30 hours) working on the sets, and some of them are for shows we might bring back (Like Charles Dickens Unleashed). But it doesn’t really make sense to keep them, and just like the improv we present, the sets have become temporary. A huge bonus of this is that it keeps me from being lazy in my designs. We don’t leave any backdrop up for longer than just a few months. I get to re-imagine the same space a hundred different ways. Making a very complicated and detailed set makes me want to turn around and try a more minimalist set. Or painting a colorful set makes me want to try out a monochromatic approach. Each piece feeds the next. So these days, I mostly enjoy creating each new design, and painting over the old is bitter-sweet.
I always work with the director of the current Mainstage production to come up with the design. Sometimes they already have something in mind, sometimes we come up with the design together, and sometimes they give me completely free reign. I’ve also approached painting them in many different ways. Sometimes I’ve improvised the entire design while I was painting it, sometimes I work off a sketch or plan I’ve made, and sometimes I change what I’ve planned after I’ve started working.
We have shows here pretty much every single weekend, all year long. We also teach classes on all the nights when we don’t have shows. Because of this, I can only re-paint the set during the day (when we don’t have kids classes or renters) and more often, at night after 10pm. We only have one week in-between the closing of one show and the opening of the next, so the time-frame for re-painting is tiny. Believe it or not, my improv training has helped me immensely in the way that I work.
I have to trust myself and keep pushing forward toward the end. I often feel pressure and fear when I’m working (is this going to look right? are people going to like it?), but I know that the only way to get out of those feelings is to push through them and keep working.
Now that we’ve premiered our 2012 Season, I’m starting to get pretty excited about all the upcoming opportunities for new designs! But enough of this boring chit-chat…Do you want to actually see what I’ve been talking about? Watch this video!
And for reference, this is the current set that is up:
And here is the Charles Dickens Unleashed set from season 1 in 2009:
Only a couple weeks left to see the current set before it is gone forever. But stay tuned for what should be a very interesting and challenging Start Trekkin’ and Twilight Zoned set for the Sci-Fi Comedy Double Feature, premiering in January!
Kaci Beeler, Director of Design
Like the sets? Want something like them for yourself? Kaci is a freelance artist that also takes commissions for murals and artwork for businesses and homes! Just visit her at KaciBeeler.com to find out more.