A Tree in the Round

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Guest Author Carole Payette

The Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre is a small and intimate ‘In The Round’ performance space here at The Old Globe Theatre in San Diego.  Details matter and everything can be seen from all angles.  For our performance of  Native Gardens,  designer Collette Pollard gave us a beautiful realistic tree to create and build. While dimensional trees can be quite an undertaking for a shop, they offer a grand sense of place and provide a unique texture to otherwise flat scenery.

The work started with the carpenters making a plywood frame for the stump. I had them put plywood on edge through the center of the roots so that roots could be walked on as the designer requested.

The stump and roots are built up with layers of white bead foam.

Foam is carved into its rough shape.

Starting with a column from a previous show we applied some spray foam in places and carved down other areas to give it a more natural shape. This view also shows the steel framing that fits snuggly into the root structure for ample stability.

We applied linen scenic gauze and a glue/paint mixture to create the initial crinkled texture of the bark.

Next, we applied a mixture of flex glue and EPK (powdered clay). We used a mix of water and EPK, and then slowly added the glue.  When applied in a thick layer it cracks as it dries.

We left a skirt of gauze at the top and bottom to help aid with blending the sections together during installation. One of the challenges were the sight-lines for the tree.  This tree was positioned center stage, and in the round, and was therefore seen from every angle.

In the video below you can see the three main components of the tree: the root structure, the trunk, and the top branches.

Leaving an irregular edge at the root base ensures a smoother and less obvious jointed seam when it joins the trunk.

Most of the work on the tree was done by Scenic Artists W. Adam Bernard and Jessica Amador.

Final paint treatment is applied.

The yoke was used to attach branches to the top of the tree. This piece was also layered with foam and fabric and textured just like the trunk.

Adding lichen and color variation to the leaves help create a more realistic finish to fake leaves.

For more photos of this tree in action please look here.

Native Gardens is a hot show on the regional theatre circuit these days, and one of many types of shows that require realistic landscaping on stage.  Racheal Claxton shares her tips for creating a realistic grass in this Scenic Route Article, “Who Wants Green Grass Anyway” .


Carole Payette has been a Scenic artist in regional theatre on the West coast for 4 decades. Currently the Scenic Charge Artist at The Old Globe Theatre in San Diego since 2004 she has also been Charge Scenic at The Berkeley Repertory Theatre, and the Seattle Repertory Theatre. Her freelance work at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Seattle Opera, Pacific Northwest Ballet, San Diego Opera and the San Francisco Opera has filled in the spaces between seasons and led her to a number of projects in film and television as well. Carole has been proud to help bring several new works to the stage including The Full Monty, Inspecting Carol, London Suite, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and Bright Star.

Carole Payette

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