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Stock Flats Inventory

Discussion in 'Scenery, Props, and Rigging' started by leistico, Jun 3, 2006.

  1. leistico

    leistico Member

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    Hi there

    Question for anyone who knows a good rule or guideline. I'm working with a community theatre group and I just got through building "Bus Stop" for them. It is, by budgetary and space and time and manpower constraints, the most god-awful conglomeration of materials you could imagine. I have a few Hollywood flats with cutouts patched in them, a few softcover flats with tears and rips repaired with paper and/or tape, foamcore framed in in spots, lauan, hardboard, etc, dutched with paper, 2" masking tape, anything you could imagine.

    Thank goodness I know how to do a lot of painted-on details...

    Anywho, I want, after this bad boy is struck, to make up a good stock of flats for this place. Hardcover flats, as opposed to Hollywood (regular flat frames as opposed to 1x stock on edge, covered with lauan, for storage and handling purposes). The thing I'm having a hard time with is determining how many of what sizes to make.

    Our proscenium is about 23' wide by 10' tall (former community center/soroptimists hall), so most of what I build is 10' tall and out on platforms in front of the proscenium (stage is 13 feet deep from the plaster line, so I extend our apron usually 12-16 feet)

    I want to build 4', 3', 2' and some 1' flats to keep in stock--How many of each? Like, "enough 4' flats to...build a room? wall up the proscenium? box in the whole stage and apron space?" Any guidelines would be appreciated. I want a good stock that we can use to throw up pretty much any unit set without cannibalizing, but not so much that we'll end up buying/storing more than we ever use.

    Any input would be great. Thanks.

    sean
     
  2. soundlight

    soundlight Well-Known Member

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    I would also build some six-footers, depending on what kind of sets you build. If many of them have a straight section of wall in the back, some sixes might do you good. Also consider the constraints of your storage space, I know that our garage that the flats get stored in is...well...stuffed literally "to the top", and you have to climb over flats, legs, props, and platform staging to get to what you need, usually! Also, if you seem to be using alot of one or two styles of door flats, make a few of those. That can save time later, and the door can always be painted for different shows.
     
  3. jonhirsh

    jonhirsh Active Member

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    Seems like a waste of money to pre build flats. Build them for every show, because storage and wasted materials cost money. If you build everthing but that one flat you really needed and blew your budget in the process then your screwed.

    your better off knowing what you need for each show and building just that. Then you can store that if you must to recycle.
    JH
     
  4. jbeutt

    jbeutt Active Member

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    I totally second that. You're the best judge of what you need. If you want my opinion, don't make any until you need them. If you're going to anyway, though, you know better than anyone else what you need based on the shows they do.

    The reason you have so many different flats is because of inconsistant staff. People come in and do things "their" way. At bigger places, a consistant staff or design philosophy generates a consistant stock. One house may use hard skin, another all soft. If you plan on staying for a while, then show by show the stock will change as you get rid of what you don't need and build what you want. If you want to do this as a favor, don't. Someone else will come in and change it. There's no way to create building blocks for set design. It's very limiting creatively.

    However, if I were to prebuild flats, they'd be 4x8s. Especially for community theater, that size is by far the most useful. If you want to prebuild anything, that should definitely be it.
     
  5. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    Depends on the height of your proc....

    You might also want to research building space frames. They store easy, can be configured to nearly any size, and are easy to rig and build. Initially they do cost more, but the amount of use gained out of them is well worth it.
     
  6. jbeutt

    jbeutt Active Member

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    Yeah, I'm probably in a different mindset because of the houses I normally work in. Nonetheless, I'd say pick one size and build a bunch in that size. Then when you go to design a set, you keep your resources in mind. This is the only solution for budget conscious/constrained theatres.

    Maybe a better way of describing it is not to build flats for all the possible future designs, but rather build a consistant inventory and design to that inventory as much as you can. Of course there'll be anomolies and you'll end up having to build one weird flat, but at least you won't have a whole ton of prebuilt flats you can't use.

    On the other hand, maybe you know the sizes you'll need and you plan on using them all in future designs. If that's the case, go for it, but I have no idea why you'd ask someone else what to build.
     
  7. jonhirsh

    jonhirsh Active Member

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    But if you make your designers fix there ideas around your stock flats then you are going to end up with allot of the same looking sets. dont you think. if every set has to be a box set because thats all the flats you have and you cant do a curved wall lets say then you might ruin the idea of the designer.

    So why not build to spec. Then you dismantle the flats and resuse the wood.
    JH
     
  8. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    If you glue and screw flats out of 1x3 you really are not going to get much usable wood back, and if you take the muslin off you are losing a big chunk of change. Also, odds if you are building stock scenery your designer can work within it. There is something to be said for design choices, but if it is a question of having 25 4x16 and 20 4x8 flats that have been built over time or having 3 custom flats i would work within the stocks every time. Same thing goes for platforms. Most places stock 4x8, 4x4, 2x4, and 2x2 platforms loaded with coffin locks. Usually you can get a few extra irregular platforms built for each show but essantialy the stock platforms are free for the designer. Well made stock flats and platforms can increase the amount of scenery put on stage for little cost.
     
  9. ship

    ship Senior Team Emeritus Premium Member

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    A book called Stock Scenery For the Theater might have a lot of percentage of what sizes to stock solutoins in it. Otherwise as what all say (besides those wishing to start from scratch eatch time) have good points. Sorry others that build for each show, but it's not the normal concept or often best use of time.

    I"m also noting at a local theater masking tape for seams. They have banned buttering one's joints due to the dust. The masking tape of course looks like crap but the productions are short enough in length at least that the tape does not start peeling on it's own.

    Key to all of this is a good TD working with the designer. Let the designer design what they wish in making art. The TD's job is to either figure out what materials will be needed to construct what's needed for the set by way of stock scenery or what's to be built, or consult the designer as a designer in the TD's own right with proposed design changes that more fit within designer's concept but with the stock scenery available. Just design the show, let me figure out how to build it.

    Over time one will find whats' most needed based upon a number of shows is good advice. Doing one or at most two forms of scenery walls is also good. Until such a history of each piece is done, it's really hard to say what's at times more needed to be in the inventory, a 1'-6" flat or a 2' flat for instance at times.

    Until you know over time what's used and not, hopefully as efficient of storage as possible and tossing what's not in such good shape is the best solution for now.
     
  10. jbeutt

    jbeutt Active Member

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    I'm really glad you mentioned that about the td/designer relationship, Ship. I don't know the OP's situation, but most community theatres have regular designers and TDs and eventually they'll each know what the other needs. Even if they don't have consistant designers, it's totally appropriate for the designer to talk to the TD in early design stages and make sure their set is going to work with what's available and vis versa.

    A good designer will be able to use the same stock of stuff to create significantly unique sets. It goes without saying that new pieces will need to be built, but there's absolutely NO reason to build from scratch. Nobody does that. Nobody with limited time and budget.
    Also, John, paint has a pretty big impact in making a set unique. That along with the few new pieces you build will make a completely unique looking set. It's the TD's job to make the set work given the resources and do it efficiently. This is no more true than with community theatre or low budget shows where resourcefullness is the name of the game.
    You do have a point though, in stripping sets and reusing wood. I mean if you build a whole new deck for a show, nobody expects you to store it. But even then, there's stuff to keep and save. There's an annual outdoor shakespeare festival I work on and while we don't keep the whole deck, we sure as heck keep the blocking with joist hangers attatched.
    So I take back my suggestion of a specific demension to build, and maybe you'll want several, but after time a stock will probably develop on its own. As long as designers know the situation, I think this whole thing will happen naturally.
     
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2006
  11. leistico

    leistico Member

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    Thank you all for the advice. As much as I'd love to custom build for each show, I've got about a $350 set budget to play with (we're small and really struggling) and a stock of "flats" and "platforms" (in all forms of immaculate and cannibalized condition). Also, I seem to be the unlucky one--I end up getting called to duty whenever we do shows with very involved box sets (I'm known as the king of the trap door... not easy in a space with a 30" raised platform for a stage and a solid concrete/tile floor!)

    As far as staff, usually our designers and our TD's for a given show end up being the same person. I've designed and built "Bus Stop" here, and before that, "Stalag 17", plus a few other builds. I'm the "resident techie guy" of the facility, being the one people come to when they don't know what we have or how to do what they want to do, be it set, lights, sound, effects, whatever.

    Our plan on stock set building is a bit on hold, as we're waiting on hearing about a storage shed we might get here for set pieces. A lot of good advice here to think about, and I appreciate every bit of it. Thanks.

    sean
     

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