Guest Author: Melanie Rentschler
When the Denver Center for the Performing Arts produced the world premiere of “The Book of Will”, Jana Mitchel, the Scenic Charge Artist, and me, her Lead Scenic Artist, were tasked with creating a reusable and durable paper prop.
The Scene Designer, Sandra Goldmark, was very interested in using recycled or reused materials. We looked at something that we could use over and over for the run of the show, since real paper was obviously not going to hold up for such a long period of time.
In the beginning we were told the sheets of paper were going to be dropped from a height, so we starched many different types of fabric and dropped them to test how they fell as compared to real paper (sometimes research can be great fun). The winning fabric that acted the most like paper was a poly muslin!
Polyester muslin has the look and texture of a cotton muslin, but a much softer hand. It is most often used in high humidity areas, and for temporary outdoor applications. This particular product sews up very nicely and is inherently NFR. The nice thing about poly muslin is that it can be bought in extra wide, and extra long lengths from many of the same suppliers one can purchase muslin from.
We needed over 30 sheets of 3′ x 2′ “paper” so we treated the poly muslin like a drop, and laid out all the ‘pieces’ on that, to be cut apart at the end.
We tinted and starched both sides of the goods, and I also sprayed the front with a couple passes of flat acrylic to help keep the paint from bleeding; the stiffer we were able to get the fabric, the more papery it became.
To save time, the text was printed out full scale by our design department, which we then perforated and pounced onto the fabric. After painting, we cut the sheets out, and used fray check on the edges to make them last as long as possible.
Along with sheets of printed text, we also needed to recreate the famous etching of Shakespeare. Once again I had a full scale print out that I worked from, using pencils, copic markers and paint to fabricate it. To save time I used a check roller and washes of paint to get the right values of all the many parallel lines in the background and Shakespeare’s doublet.
Unfortunately, they decided not to drop the “paper” after all, however it did get a lot of handling during the show and the poly-muslin held up great; a definite trick to keep in our back pocket for next time we need to help solve a ‘prop-lem’.
Melanie Rentschler has been with The Denver Center for 15 years. Some of her work can be found at http://melanierentschler.com