A few ideas to improve stage scenery
From the age of 8, I was fascinated with the design and construction of stage sets. Theater transports its audience to a place within their minds that they might not ordinarily go. The set designer is able to create a fantasy environment on the stage. The first show I designed was for my mother's dance group of folklore dances from various regions of Mexico (below). In high school, I designed the sets for the school plays and musicals and productions at our church. More here. Even when I was a teenager, I was making connections, seeing possibilities, and noticing ways to make things better. Below are a few ideas I developed and sketched from 1966-69.

Self-storing pyramid steps
My mother created a dance group that specialized in folklore dances from Mexico. She asked me to design some simple stage sets that could easily travel as the group performed around Texas. These included an Aztec ritual area, wing flats, a forest/jungle with trees, and cactus. One number was an Aztec god dance. It needed a pyramid and a set of steps for the plumed god, Quetzalcoatl to ascend. I built a canvas flat in the shape of a pyramid that folded in half to protect the canvas and to make it easier to transport. In front of that were three steps that I built out of scrap lumber. I was still learning about structural support and would add wood where necessary to support human weight. It didn't tour well and was cumbersome to cart around.

I designed a set of 3 steps that would nest inside of each other when inverted yet provide ample support when set up. I built them out of 1x4 lumber and half inch plywood to keep the weight down for easy storing and carrying. It worked - simple solution to a set of 3 steps that would be easy to transport. The pictures above were taken years later, after they had sat in the garage and weathered a bit.
Design and production: 1966

Platform components

Stage sets consists of 3 main components: flats and vertical set pieces, drops and pieces flown in from the loft, and platforms that change the height of the acting floor. There are 3 main types of platform legs. The parallel was a rectangle/parallelogram that opened to fit the corresponding size platform top. The downside is a theater needed lots of these braces - to fit a variety of platform tops. I noticed that if, instead of 1 piece, there were 2 or 3 that fit each end of the platform, the legs could fit several sizes of tops. Advantages:
• Sturdy
• Easy to set up and strike
• Flexible - rearrange legs underneath top
• Less abuse of lumber and set pieces
• Cheaper - uses less lumber
• Less space required for storage





Flat support hardware

The standard way to attach flats (in 1968) was to use a loose-pin hinge. This allowed the pin to be removed easily so the two flats could be separated, moved, and stored. I wondered about using hard plastics, instead of metal, and a male-female pin arrangement that didn't rely on a separate pin. Plastic is more 'forgiving' and has a smooth surface for sliding in and out. The tapered end of the male pin and the funnel opening of the females allowed easier operation in set up and strike.


Dutchman hinge

Canvas across the opening hides the crack between sections when open.

Collapsible column

Wood lengths are supported with opposing hinges - when opened and folded over, form a rigid support. When hinged shut, collapse into a smaller package for moving and storage.

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