This week’s Scenic Route Story starts with an apology and correction. In March 2017, we helped publish a really great story with Rosco about how to Transform Plexi-Glass into Stained Glass. It was full of great tips and tricks from Rachel Reynolds from the show “Napoli Brookyln” at Long Wharf Theatre.
It was however not the full story.
While writing the story with Rachel, we learned of the exciting conclusion of the “Napoli Window,” but had decided to focus on the original techniques, hoping to come back and share more some day. That day is here, and so we present to you:
The Great Napoli Window Redo
Guest Author: Allison Backhaus
As the Charge Artist of Long Wharf Theatre, I work with the designer to create our samples, testing out products, techniques and colors before we start on the finished scenery. Designer Eugene Lee, gave us a very pretty design to work with for our production of Napoli, Brooklyn.
I threw the images into Adobe Illustrator to turn them into vector files. This allowed me to print the layout at various scales for sampling, and ultimately at full scale using the scene shop’s plotter. That’s what we taped to the plexi when we started doing the layout.
Rachel did a lot of the processes on separate pieces of plexi so that we could easily layer them to get an idea of what the final product would look like with each option, which turned out to be a very smart choice.
After seeing the first samples the designer decided the tiny mosaic line work wasn’t necessary and that we should fade into a “bottle green” around the perimeter, rather than the blue instead.
So then Rachel did the awesome full scale piece.
On day 3 of tech I got a call from the TD (play ominous music here). Our director felt that the window didn’t fit within the world of the play- it was too joyful for the tone of the show and it needed to be fixed, so what are the options at that point?
The constraints we had to consider were:
–We would only have one day on stage for notes. That also happened to be the next day.
–There wasn’t time to take the window down and then re-rig after repainting it, so I’d have to work in the air.
– I’d have to use the Genie, because there was a printed backdrop just upstage of the window, so the scaffolding wouldn’t fit. (meaning whatever I had to do would take much longer)
– We’d done our best to make the treatment scratch proof and thus really really hard to remove.
The first idea we discussed was removing just the bright green- which was the most problematic part- and picking a color less saturated to add back in. I wasn’t sure how well I could artistically remove sections. And since the original treatment was sprayed- definitely more difficult to do in the air- I couldn’t predict how well I’d be able to blend it all together again.
The other idea was to strip all of the color, which fortunately was only on the back of the window, and repaint the whole thing. This would be a bummer (to put it mildly), but the end result would be much more predictable. The assistant designer worked up an elevation for the director and I did a quick sample to figure out what I could easily do on a vertical surface.
I tinted the Crystal Gel with Rosco Super-Saturated paint and added just enough Plastic Varnish Gloss to help it move. So it was similar to our first recipes but much thicker. I applied it with a tiny trim roller from Home Depot. This gave the treatment a subtle pebbled textured which diffused the light nicely, and had the added benefit of hiding scratches in the plexi that I would inevitably make while removing the original paint.
I decided to use Denatured Alcohol to remove the original paint/ Crystal Gel treatment. It’s an effective solvent but has less of an odor than most chemicals. It also evaporates quickly- meaning less chance of creating a mess up in the air.
I put the alcohol in a very small spray bottle to avoid spills. I used a box knife (retractable) to slice into the paint around the perimeter of the window, and then along some of the thicker leading lines. I could then spray the alcohol- with the nozzle on stream to minimize dispersing the mist/ vapor- on the back of the window along the slices. My hope was that this would allow the alcohol to seep between the plexi and the paint, and I could then scrape the paint with a putty knife, and a retractable single edge razor for the really stubborn spots. It sort of worked… but it ended up taking way longer than I thought it would- about 6 hours to strip the whole window. Not gonna lie, it was pretty awful.
Fortunately the new treatment was really simple. Because it had taken me so long to remove everything, I simplified it even further, opting to not do a gradient. There were really only two colors, and the pattern on the front would visually break up that gradient anyway. I did the clear Crystal Gel on the center rosette and the light blue everywhere else.
The whole project was a serious exercise in problem solving and adapting.
I think as a Scenic it can be hard not to take it personally when something the crew worked on for so long has to be re-done. But ultimately it’s about creating what’s best for the production, when you can, with the resources that you have available. And don’t forget to take process photos! (In case, you know, you have to repaint.)
Allison Backhaus received a B.F.A in studio Art from Florida State University, and transitioned into theatre after completing the Scenic Art Internship program at the Yale School of Drama. Allison has been working as a scenic in Connecticut and the greater New York Area since 2011. She is currently the Scenic Charge for Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut. You can see examples of her scenic work as well as studio work at www.allisonbackhaus.com.
Rachel Reynolds studied Scenic Design at SUNY Purchase. She is currently the Staff Scenic Artist at Long Wharf Theatre. Rachel has worked as a freelance scenic artist at a variety of theatres, commercial shops, and Connecticut high schools. She also designed several shows for Ivoryton Playhouse. To get in touch with Rachel you can email her at email@example.com. You can also follow her on instagram at @rachelrey1027.