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Part 1 – Can you build this for us?
In mid-October, Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland’s Producer, Patrick Foran, approached GCTC looking for a group to construct a touring set piece for their upcoming co-production with the National Arts Centre, "The Colony of Unrequited Dreams”. The requirements were intriguing: a 24' long 'floating' cloud that needed to be erected, appear to float, dismantled, sometimes rigged and flown, and toured throughout three different venues all over the country.
For the original mounting of this show in 2015, set designer Shawn Kerwin had created a mountainous cloud backdrop specifically conceived to catch light and provide a natural landscape to serve as a backdrop for the story. In this inaugural iteration, Artistic Fraud had built the structure without considering the possibility of touring, thus imagined it with a plexiglass backing for a translucent effect (see below for a photo of the original construction). The conclusion from this experiment was that the original set piece would not survive the rigours of touring.
For the co-production running at the NAC until the end of this week, the GCTC crew were tasked with building a touring version of the cloud; one which could be used multiple times in modular configurations, withstand storage and shipping, and be a simple build process for any venue. Shawn provided us with drawings which allowed for the cloud plate and the mountain-scaped ground row to be built in pieces, and reconfigured to suit the requirements of the space.
Part 2 – How are we going to build this?
Stephanie Dahmer (Head of Props) and I were approached to take on the project. We were intrigued with the prospect of working together on a project, as we have a mutual respect for the skills we could learn from each other so closely. I have more carpentry experience, and Stephanie has an eye for detail and cleanliness, especially when working with paint and materials.
Our first hurdle was figuring out what we would use to attach the modular pieces which comprised the ground row and the cloud plate. I had the original thought that we could use metal plates to run the length of the seams and screw the pieces together, but this didn’t work out for a few reasons: the plates required to keep the structure together are nearly impossible to find, are extremely expensive, and since the structure was going to be suspended in one of the venues we would need to use bolts for strength, not screws. We came up with the idea of making our own large plywood brackets, which covered sufficient surface area to facilitate flying the structures without danger. We used 3/8 carriage bolts and nuts. We provided them with a socket with a driver attachment so that the install could be done as swiftly as possible for the festival builds wherein the tech time is limited.
We also encountered another challenge due to the need to suspend the cloud and base plate at one of the venues. We needed to find a way to raise the structure without creating a visual obstruction with aircraft cables. We knew that flying the cloud structure at a defined angle would be a challenge in and of itself, however the degree of difficulty was increased because we were attempting to use a single horizontal plane to hang from. That way the cloud could easily be raised and lowered by doing so with a single pipe. The solution was presented to us by a technician who we called in to consult on our rigging options. We created bridles, which consist of a triangular structure made of aircraft cable. The triangular structure is set with precise angles designed to not only equally distribute the weight, but keep a consistent pitch along the structure. By creating these predefined triangular bridles we allow Artistic Fraud, or whoever is installing the structure, to simply attach to them without having to fuss with creating the proper pitch.
In the original production, Shawn had affixed the metallic screen (mosquito netting) to the plate of the cloud. This technique would make it more difficult to assemble the structure in pieces, and would risk getting "smooshed" during transit, so we needed to come up with another solution. Also, in order to cut down on costs, we wanted to use the least amount of shipping containers possible. We decided to explore the option of shipping the netting separately. We would affix magnets to the netting and provide metallic hardware on the cloud so that the netting could be easily attached to it. Stephanie flagged that idea very quickly because the powerful magnets we would need to use could easily tear up the screen if it was shipped affixed to it. So, we affixed magnets to the rear side of the cloud and attached metal washers to 8 foot lengths of mosquito netting. This allowed us to easily ship the netting without snagging or warping the structure.
Part 3 - From Point A to Point B
We wanted to build as few boxes as possible, as simply as possible. We also knew that they would have to fit through standard doorways, and be solid enough to withstand cross country travel. We used 4 inch rubberized wheels along with a simple plywood framing and Masonite walls. The plywood allows for decent affordable structure, whilst the Masonite provides a smooth, sheen surface so that the pieces can easily be slid into place. Originally, we had planned to create a hinged lid and door, however all of the pieces were unique and would not conform to the standard profile without considerable time and expense. We solved this by creating custom braces which could be easily removed with a few screws. We created easy-to-follow picture-based packing instructions.
Its first stop, at the NAC a few weeks ago.
"A Colony of Unrequited Dreams" runs at the National Arts Centre until Febraury 11th, 2017. Visit https://nac-cna.ca/en/event/13618 for more information.