Monday, January 31, 2011

In-House Hi-jinx

Let me tell you the last two weeks working on the sets of Cinderella were CRAZY!  With all that work we still managed to have a little fun, right there in the theater.
 (Wichita Theater circa 1908)
You see the Wichita Theater was built in 1908 as the Wichita Falls Opera house and at the time was the largest preforming arts center in all of Texas.  In fact when the traveling production of Ben-Hur came to town in 1913, it was the only stage they had preformed on that didn't have to be altered for the chariot race scene. Its told to me that both of the back doors of the theater were kept open and the "racers" would ride across stage, into the alley, around to the other door and through the stage again!  The boards have hosted famous names such as Lillian Russell, Clark Gable, Judy Garland Debbie Reynolds and many more.  By 1915 everyone who was anyone in Vaudeville had played the Wichita Falls Opera House.  Then in 1928 something magical happened, Motion Pictures learned to TALK!  In 1938 the Opera House underwent some remodeling and became a movie theater, it was then that the theater became the Art Deco wonder it is today.
(Circa 2010)
What does this have to do with set dressing you ask? Not much, when ever the team had some down time we'd go exploring. Expeditions were led by friend Sheldon and oh the places we went! One night we explored the old projection booth in the balcony of the theater.

Even thought the old projectors were taken out long ago a few artifacts remain.  Like the original 1938 RCA sound system dials are still bolted to the walls.
 The projection booth itself sports concrete walls, and metal shutters over the projection windows and a solid metal locking door.
 Why you ask? Because when it was modernized for a movie theater movie film was still made from Celluloid, Celluloid made the pictures cells more clear and colorful. However it was highly explosive, and so the projection room was fitted in such a way so that if a fire did start only that room would be damaged. We found all sorts of long forgotten things up there...
 (The ordering cards they would send out for the film) 
 (A blank inventory order form)

  A slew of old Schlitz beer cans and a medicine cabinet mirror that all the projectionist had written in,
 The longest working from 1939 - 1973  that's 1,938 weeks. Think of all the movies he showed! Wizard of Oz, Casablanca, Singin' In the Rain, Gentlemen Prefer Blonds, & Blue Hawaii, just to name a few! They're no ghosts (per-say) haunting the booth, however there is Charlie...
He's just a cardboard cut out, and Wichita Theatre's #1 patron, however he has a tendency to move around that window on his own. On the Left side of the projection booth is the old "Ushers"  locker room, not much up there now but a sink/ mirror and a set of wooden lockers dated 1962 on the inside...
Other than that is just a 2 level balcony I love hanging out up there, because you can get a good overall view of the sets and the production! Here we ahve the original seats from 1938.
And look at these amazing frescoes on the ceiling! The Wichita Theatre is a registered Texas landmark, and when it was revamped in 1938 it took on the style and became an Art Deco theater.
 Its just beautiful! But I can never get a goo picture of what the whole "house" looks like because its so dim inside the theater. I can tell you that what you see above it just a FRACTION of all the cool Art Deco things still inside the theater... But that's a subject for a another post entire, and there will be many more theater adventures I hope!


Friday, January 28, 2011

Directors Letter Of Recomendation For Cinderella!!!!

To whom it may concern,

I am happy to write this letter of recommendation for Mickey Jordan.
I had the pleasure of working with Mickey on the set dressing for Wichita Theatre’s recent production of Roger & Hammerstein’s Cinderella. As the director of the show I had some clear ideas of what I needed for the set and a construction team that built the bones of it, but I was very open to the colors and style and the look it would eventually take.

In my initial meetings with Mickey I gave him the basics I needed and he took it from there and ran with it. He came back the next day with pictures and ideas and research he had done to make everything fit the time period we were basing it in and then got to work immediately. He organized a team to help him do the grunt work and before my eyes the set became a piece of art. He was very frugal and creative as he came up with faux finishes for the walls, spray painted pieces to fit the times, and detailed props and furniture to complete the sets authenticity and magical feel.
I enjoyed his cheerful attitude and he worked tirelessly to make sure I was satisfied. I was thrilled with the finished product and it has been met with great delight from our patrons and was specifically praised by the newspaper review.

I would highly recommend him to those seeking someone to dress the set of their production.

Joy Schaeffer, Director


You can see The sets she's talking about here....

Monday, January 24, 2011

'A Lovely Night', Our Cinderella Story...

 Im so glad that "Cinderella" was my first officially "hired" show, the biggest challenge it presented me were those fateful words ...
" Once Upon A Time..."
How does one define a statement used to make the story versatile to every age and generation? Research. After quite a bit of It I found out that the story we know and love about a girl with a glass slipper, fairy Godmother, and pumpkin carriage was penned in 1697 (remember that it's important) Instead of being straight laced to the 1600's I used a combination of  1600's, The 1950 Animated Disney Film, and a little of my own Magic.
Our story begins, two weeks before opening night...
 Until now sets for the Wichita have always been good, but more of a "Back burner project" I plan to up the quality. The first night I went to rehearsals for the show I was simi-horrified to find that almost half of the furniture from "It's A Wonderful Life" was going to be used for Cinderella. Uh-uh NO GO.  Thus began my "1 & 2 rule" ( If we use a recognizable piece in one show it isn't reused for two more.)  In a perfect world, I would have had loads of Louis the XIV furnishings all around. However, since that stuff is so expensive, it was time to crack out the gold spray paint.
(1980's rattan couch before, simi-passable Louis XIV Settee after)
 This started a new rule for me If I found something up on the third floor that wasn't "sacred" and If been painted once its subject to be painted again. I did this on several pieces,
Another fine example of gold spray paint! I love this chair it actually looks pretty close to the real Louis XIV stuff except it was made in 1979 haha. Now that we had a few pieces of never before seen furniture we were ready to start creating. My projects for this show included. 

Cinderella's House ( inside and out, living room & kitchen)
The Palace Ballroom
A room inside the Palace

Sounds easy right? HA! I decided the key to this set was going to be attention to detail  and very little clutter.  My team and I started on the "step sisters" side of the house painting the walls Valspars "Emerald Isle Green"  taking inspiration from lyrics in the song "In my Own Little Corner"

"I am in the royal palace, of all places
I am chatting with the prince and king and queen
and the color on my two stepsister's faces
is a queer sort of sour apple green ..."

  Can you see the three dragon faces in the iron work?  Could it be the step mother and 2 ugly stepsisters?! Next we painted this cabinet with a base coat of white, we were again trying to make it look fancy on a budget  and friend Holly did a spectacular job!
 Add some windows, a floor to ceiling wainscott and 1x6 crown molding a viola you have a chateau in France...
 The next undertaking was Cinderella's Kitchen, It was mostly just paint effects I used a peach base coat color on the walls...
then gave it a stucco effect by dry sponging a lighter brown over it until I got the desired effect. after the walls and fire place hearth were painted I got to do what I'm best at and dress the area! 
 My favortie part of the kitchen was what I called "The transition wall"  because 3/4's of the house was painted green but the closer you got to Cinderellas kitchen the more the green fancy paint and molding fell into disrepair, you can see a rip in the wall paper and the plaster board is showing through the wall.. The Joke was that since the step sisters didn't care about Cinderella that part of the house just went unkempt.  In fact if you look closely at the kitchen picture above you'll notice the crown molding just stops suddenly and over hangs the wall to boot. It was my goal to make Cinderella's kitchen the more desirable place to be in the house, while the green 'Salon' is fit for the stepsisters, the kitchen is by far the more warm and welcoming space. Put it all together and ta-da! When the lights went out and the crew opened up the sets to the house an audience wide gasp swept across the room, and that dear friends is the sound of accomplishment.
 Both sides of the house close up to make the village square.
 (The address on Cinderella's house MDCXCVII - is the year 1697 in Roman Numerals, told you it was important)
However, even thought the humble home of Cinderella was complete, my job was not. The Ballroom is provably my favorite over all on the set. My team and I started by making the Ominous clock  it measures six feet by six feet and hangs dead center on the back wall.
Next up was the grand staircase, to make it regal I went with stage painting the whole set white and then "marbling" the entire thing with dry brush gray & brown.
(base coat white)
(gray marbling first done with a kitchen sponge)
(lightly detail the brown with grey using a sponge)
Paint in red  carpet for the stairs and  you have a ballroom fit for the King and Queen of France! I based my designs for the ballroom of the actual "Hall of Mirriors" in France that was built around  1678.
 (My 'Hall of Mirrors' )
 The last project on my list was a tiny scene in the Palace between the King and Queen, for this I pulled a vanity I had out of storage because it had the flour-delis carved on the top of the mirror. 
Told in pictures I know it doesn't look like much but SO much work went into this I couldn't have been able to do it with out my amazing team! Along with all the cast that came in and helped paint or build!
 (The Team! Mary, Bryson, Patricia, Holly, Myself & Sheldon)
Also special thanks to  Larry, Joy, Amy, Cameron, Margaret, Amanda, Chris and everyone else involved!
So Ladies and Gents, one show down seven more to go! It just go to show that 'Impossible things are happening every day'.

 -The End-


Monday, January 17, 2011


'Impossible, for a plain country bumpkin
to become a set designer, Imosspible.
 But the world is full of zanies and fools
who don't believe in sensible rules
and won't believe what sensible people say..
and because these daft and dewey eyed dopes,
 keep building up impossible hopes
 impossible things are happening every day!'

Before the the merriment and big news, Let me say Im sorry I haven't been around much! I want to catch up and comment on all of your blogs. My days now go something like this... I wake up go to work 9-5, go to the theater at 5:15-10:00, Leave the theater go home sleep and do it all over again. haha! Someday things will go back to normal... or will they!


As you will recall,  Iv'e been in two shows at the historic Wichita Theater. I helped "Happy Days" by bringing a slew of props, then was turned loose on the sets of It's A Wonderful Life and the theater owners/ managers were so impressed with my work they hired me!!!!!!  I am now Head of the Prop & Set Dressing/ Design departments, they've asked me to do all eight of the theater's major shows and help out on the other four "Jr. Productions".  Well my job started almost immediately after we'd finished talking, and as if the teaser title and theatre picture didn't give it away, my first project of 2011 is ....
I am SO excited to have this opportunity and this years theatre season some of our shows including, The Sounds of Music, Hairspray, The King and I, 7 Brides for 7 Brothers, and.... White Christmas!!!!!! There might be a new segment here on Mick's "The Casablanca on Stage". Now I have to share with you the even bigger news...

"Even Bigger News"
If you've been following Mick's for close to a year you'll remember that back in March of 2010 I started doing community theater at the Backdoor Theater where I was in Jesus Christ Superstar, then during the summer had a blast as the Major General in The Pirates of Penzance. Well about a week ago the Backdoor theater held their annual  Genesius Awards, I wasn't nominated for anything but I went to see and cheer on all my theater friends but was taken totally buy surprise when I was awarded "Rookie of the Year"!
 Totally wasn't expecting it, (but secretly pining for it)  I had thank my good friend Janet she is the one who invited me to come be in Jesus Christ Superstar and got the ball rolling, I owe an awful lot to her! I have enjoyed every moment I've spent at Backdoor Theatre and hope for many many more! (You see Theatre's Backdoor and Wichita are on the same street in Wichita Falls)

Gosh Im busy, but Im as happy as a lark and im going to give it my all! I will do a post about working magic on the Set of Cinderella soon, I promise.