Rocket Scenery – work placement Summer 2017

This term I undertook a 2 week placement at Rocket Scenery Ltd. based in Nottingham from the 2nd of May until 12th May 2017. As I have had previous experience in Scenic Arts before I started University I was intrigued to find out how other companies worked and to gain more experience in Scenic painting.

Whist working at Rocket I was able to attend a model box meeting to discuss the two main on-going projects that I would be working on. Sweet Bird of Youth by Tennessee Williams for Chichester Festival Theatre and Annie The Musical for Piccadilly Theatre, London. As I am not sure what career I would like to pursue in the future it was interesting to see professional designer’s work first hand and attend a meeting discussing the schedule and integration between all departments, metal, wood and paint.

Sweet Bird of Youth Model box, designer Antony Ward.IMG_0719.JPG

Annie the Musical Model box, designer Colin Richmond.IMG_0716.JPG

My first job was to paint slats white and black that would become the shutters for Sweet Bird of Youth that would automatically turn and change colour. This meant we had to paint the white side and the black side and edges precisely so that no colour bled through. We had to solve this problem and so started using a jig that the woodshed made for us in order to paint multiple edges at once. Unfortunately this seemed to take just as long, setting it up and so we resorted to paint with small rollers as we were doing with the face of the slats. This was quite a long job as there were over 900 pieces of wood. We had to paint, sand, clean with meths, glaze and repaint. Glazing the white sides of wood was very important so that if we got any black paint on the white side we could easy rub it off.IMG_0726.JPG


I particularly enjoyed working on Annie towards the end of my first week. Colin Richmond’s design was 100’s of jigsaw puzzle pieces with map and address information on them from all over New York. I had to copy a small image from the model box of a jigsaw puzzle piece and blow it up to fit the scale of the set. I began by drawing out in charcoal. I had to pay particular attention to the type of text on the jigsaw piece to try and match the calligraphy as best I could. I used a dark blue roscoe paint to actually paint the text and shapes on. There was some artistic licence to this work when we had to figure out what certain words said and shapes were. This meant my name does appear somewhere on the stage at Piccadilly Theatre!IMG_0729.JPG


Slab Pottery

My dad is a potter and for years he has shown me how to make pottery on a wheel using traditional techniques as well as interesting methods such as Raku pottery where the process and glazes applied before firing can make or break a pot (quite literally!) I really enjoy Raku as it can produce incredible colours. The pots are heated under a very intense heat and then submerged in sawdust which smokes and then you scrub of the tacky, black substance it creates with a scourer to reveal the colours.

Over the Easter holidays I decided to try something new. As my Dad has been busy making pots to exhibit this summer access to the wheel wasn’t the easiest! He therefore suggested I make a pot out of “slabs” as you would when creating a tile. I was excited by this as we recently went to the COCA (Centre of Ceramic Arts) in York to have a look at their collection and I was really inspired. In particular, Alison Britton’s ceramics caught my eye. The ones on display were large and angular, very artsy rather than a traditional pot made for practicality alone. The one I was drawn to looked like a face, a pointy nose of a snooty woman or something. And so I decided to create my own style of pottery.

I rolled out clay to a desired thickness using the tools my Dad uses to create tiles to ensure the thickness throughout. Unlike a tile I rolled it out bigger so that the slabs were varying sizes and shapes (rectangle, oblong etc.) I then allowed these to dry out a little, coming back to them the next day to start decorating and assembling my pot design.


Rolling out the clay

I used all sorts of things to create patterns such as shells, flowers, an old rail card cut up into a zigzag shape etc. Once I was ready I began putting the slabs together using “slip” which is basically a watered down clay that is slippery. I had to crosshatch the sections I was joining with a knife and then add slip and push the two joins together. I started to envisage a maze shape thinking of people walking through it, the theatre designer in me talking!

This is the pot at the moment, it is soon to be glazed and fired.


Mask Week

As I enjoy the practical side of this course I valued being able to spend a whole week designing and making a mask. We had a workshop where we made and wore basic paper bag masks that immediately made me feel invincible and express myself with my body rather than through facial expression. I was particularly interested in Mike Chase’s work at the mask symposium last year as I believe mask workshops can be used to support people as in his psychotherapy work.

Although I was used to using clay as I do pottery, I wasn’t used to moulding it around a model head and using it to create a face. I found the clay easy to manipulate which was an advantage as I attempted to figure out how to convey the shy facial expression I wanted for my character, an otter. At this stage we were advised by the practitioner Stephen Jon not to think too much about intricate detail as it wouldn’t show up later in the process. I therefore focused on making a large, bulbous nose and accentuated the cheeks, referring to otter photographs, as well as shaping the eyebrows to create a shy expression. We covered the design in foil and began the process of layering brown paper scraps on using a papier-mâché technique and a mixture of wallpaper paste and pva glue. I found the second layer, J-cloth scraps applied using wallpaper paste and filler, the easiest material to use. I did find the process laborious at times as we had to wait for each layer to dry however it gave me an idea of patience and time efficiency needed in this industry.

I found painting the masks the most satisfying experience because I was able to see my work come together. Stephen gave us a demonstration, painting his mask with subtle, natural tones such as raw umber and then highlighting areas with white. I tried applying his techniques to my own mask and enjoyed the contrasting effects a wet brush and dry brush created. We were able to showcase our mask at the end of the day, taking on the characteristics through our body to support the fixed mask expression. I liked that the half mask meant the actor’s mouth was showing to allow them to talk. Although I enjoyed the skills week, I would have liked to have had time to devise further with the masks in order to understand how they could be beneficial in a Forum theatre or drama therapy situation.