Thursday, June 13, 2013

Tom Stoppard's Arcadia and Set Painting

We had the opportunity to see Tom Stoppard's wonderful play, Arcadia, at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. (Shakespeare in Love fans may remember that Tom Stoppard wrote the script for that wonderful movie.)

Before the play, A.C.T. arranged a lecture on how the romantic murals were painted on the set by A.C.T. Charge Scenic Artist Jennifer Bennes. 

Stoppard's story takes place in the same English country house during two different time periods - modern day and the time of Lord Byron. The modern characters are studying history and are trying to figure out what actually happened when Byron was there. Since the set couldn't be fully changed when the years changed, a background was needed that suited both time periods to reflect the mixture of the classical and romantic in the play. 

The first step was to repurpose a backdrop from a previous A.C.T. play...

Next she showed us how they made the stencil to paint the mural. This is called pouncing and it's an ancient technique. Here's a great video from the National Theater in London explaining the technique in great detail.

After the stencil has been used to get the drawing on the background, these stamps carved from upholstery foam were used to make leaves for the trees. 

Here you can see Jennifer in action using the stamps. The large backdrop was painted on the floor so the paint didn't drip and destroy the image. Putting the stamps on sticks helps get the work done without breaking anyone's back (sorry, Michelangelo).

Once the mural was finished and dry, it is taken to the theater and hung. In the photo below our mural hangs a full ten feet away from the windows in the set. In front of the mural hangs a thin screen of made of tulle called bobbinet (bobbinet originally got it's name from bobbins and net since it was the first kind of tulle/lace that was manufactured rather than made by hand. The bobbinet helps create the illusion of glass in the windows looking out at the scenery. 

Here is the final product on stage.

Arcadia runs at the A.C.T. through the June 16th. I highly recommend it. 


  1. Wow! That's a lot of but by your photo looks well worth it

  2. It was a lot of work but the set was beautiful.

  3. This is cool. Wish I lived there so I could have gone.