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The case for a black stage floor and surround

Discussion in 'Scenery, Props, and Rigging' started by Smatticus, Jun 13, 2008.

  1. Smatticus

    Smatticus Active Member

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    We are about to embark on the process of convincing our school officials that our auditorium stage floor should be painted black, as well as the walls surrounding the apron of the stage. I have attached a photo illustrating the proposed blackness for the stage. As you can see in the photo the stage floor is a glossy sealed wood floor and the surround is currently painted white. I have started this thread to gather the opinions of others involved in our field as to why the stage floor and surround should be painted black. By gathering the opinions of others I hope to reinforce our argument. My primary argument is that the current state of the auditorium is very distracting from the performances that we put on there, primarily because of the severity of the light bouncing off the floor and off the walls surrounding the stage apron. I would appreciate any opinions or corroborations on this feeling you might be able to offer. If you have any photos illustrating these ideas in your space please post them! I know there are other posts on what types of paints to use and how to apply them but any comments pertinent to painting a stage floor for the first time would also be appreciated (suggested preparation techniques, etc). Thank you!
     

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  2. bobgaggle

    bobgaggle Well-Known Member

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    I'm with you all the way. In my school, the walls surrounding the procenium are already painted dark blue (school color) but the front of the apron was stark white for some reason. My director got it painted the same blue and the whole stage picture changed dramatically. Just by painting that small strip of wall, the whole space looked so much better.

    But as for painting the walls black, I'm not so sure admin will go for it. From the looks of it, you have a multi-purpose space rather than an actual theatre so it might be better to convince admin to paint it a school color, preferably the darker of the two, and assuming you have good color choices (you don't have colors of yellow and pink right?)

    One thing I'm no expert on is finishes. I'm not sure, but if you want that stage to be black, wouldn't you have to strip the wood of the sealant, sand the whole thing, and then paint it? Not really something you can get your Drama II class to do as an in class project...
     
  3. icewolf08

    icewolf08 CBMod CB Mods

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    I think the only thing that you really want to paint is the stage itself. The walls and the front of the stage and the ceiling don't need to change. Look at most theatres, the walls are whatever color they are, and it is generally not black. If you have issues with light on the walls they you should play with your shutter cuts as this can be avoided.

    In terms of the floor, you will never convince the school that it should be done. It is an auditorium before it is a theatre, and it has to look nice. I would suggest taking the route of maybe seeing if they will allow you to lay masonite over the stage floor which you then can paint however you like. To this end, you can argue that it will protect the nice finish of the floor.
     
  4. DaveySimps

    DaveySimps CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    I agree with Icewolf for the most part. Concentrate your efforts on just the stage floor. Although the masonite solution would work well, and may very well be the only solution administration allows, I think it is still worth trying to push the issue a bit. If they do not allow you to paint the floor, then you have a reliable back up plan.

    ~Dave
     
  5. bobgaggle

    bobgaggle Well-Known Member

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    depending on how dumb they are about theatrical things, you can argue that a glossy finish can throw light in random ways, creating weird shadows on the principal's face when he gives speeches. see how vain he is...

    is this a middle school? cause I swear my middle school auditorium looked just like that...
     
  6. midgetgreen11

    midgetgreen11 Active Member

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    We tried to get the principal to paint the backstage walls black... he laughed at our Drama coach's face.
     
  7. Smatticus

    Smatticus Active Member

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    I think there will be an equally dramatic shift in our space if we paint the walls surrounding the proscenium. The structure of the auditorium house around the apron is ideal for painting it a different color than the actual house walls. There is a very defined line where the walls jut inward and then back outward. This isn't very clear in the photo but if you look at the extreme left and right of the photo you see that the walls jut inward. There is also an old Front of House beam that creates a very defined break in the ceiling between the apron and the rest of the house. I will take and post a couple more photos later tonight.

    We do have a multi-purpose space, it is a high school auditorium. It is primarily used for an annual musical, an annual play (starting this year), and two annual dance recitals. It is also used for band/orchestra/choral concerts, meetings, awards ceremonies, and as a rehearsal space for field band. Our school colors are purple and white so if we were not going to go with black we would have to go with a fairly dark purple. You can't see in the photo I posted but the grand curtain and grand teaser are actually purple, the rest of the stage curtains are black.

    I disagree, if we are going to paint the stage floor we absolutely need to continue it down the stairs on each side of the apron, and if we don't continue it across the front edge of the stage it would look very strange. The primary reason we want to paint the apron surround is that we rely very heavily on the apron for all of the productions we do. Without the apron the stage depth is typically not adequate, especially if we need to use any of the upstage space for a lit backdrop. Because we rely on the apron so much (and because we have no electrical positions over or on either side of the apron) we typically set up free standing booms on either side of the apron so that we may employ side lighting or mimic the pipe ends on the rest of the stage electrics. There is no way to shutter these instruments to keep them off the walls at either side of the apron. As far as the Front of House instruments go I am sure that we will have less spill on the walls and ceiling once the stage floor isn't reflecting the light all over the place.

    At this point we already have a school employee in charge of school facilities relatively on board with the idea of painting the floor. This is not a new floor and it is not in great shape. The floor is actually partially sanded right now because the school was planning to re-seal it. We are simply proposing that we not go the route of re-sealing it but rather just finish sanding it down and paint it. Even if the space is an auditorium before it is a theater we aren't proposing something that is going to make it look bad for concerts or awards ceremonies, we are proposing something that will draw the eye better to what is happening on stage. Again I will post a few more photos to illustrate the things I've mentioned here.
     
  8. curtg

    curtg Member

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    I think your approach to this problem in commendable. Good luck! You have also gotten some good alternatives. This is a silly battle that takes place all over the place. The money people want shiny and bright and everything preserved forever. Theatre people want a working space.

    Who else uses the space, and would they benefit from darker paint? Try to find a it will benefit all user argument.
     
  9. bobgaggle

    bobgaggle Well-Known Member

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    At least your Grand is a nice dark color...my school has a bright fugly orange Grand (Again, school color) chosen by, guess who, our principal. Luckily my director found some clause that said something about curtains being replaced after 7 years or something because of fire code, don't ask me about it, she just mentioned it, so when they get new ones, she's getting a navy one.
     
  10. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    Why is there no way to shutter? Are you not using ellipsoidals? Is the beam angle correct for the position? Do you have top hats for them? If they aren't ellipsoidals do you have barn doors? Lots of things you can do to fix that problem.

    My bet is the majority of spill on your walls and ceiling is from incorrect instruments, incorrect instrument placement, shutter cuts, and or lack of top hats/barn doors. Remember that light is going to reflect in a straight line (just like a pool ball bouncing off the side bumper of a pool table). If the light is hitting the stage at a downward angle of 50 degrees it's going to keep going in a straight line and reflect back up at a 50 degree angle lighting up backstage somewhere. So unless you have down light directly over the apron, you aren't going to be lighting up the front of the proscenium with reflection.

    Tell us more about the types of lights you are using perhaps we can help you with your spill problem by improving your technique.

    Painting the front of the proscenium or the rest of the theater black is a pretty extreme thing to do and not something I would advise. I would go with the dark purple instead. Very few large theaters are black. Most are dark but few are black. Many places paint their stage black but do a dark stain on the front edge to keep it fancy but not bright and shiny. I would do a dark stain on the steps as well. Walls and ceiling backstage should be all black to help make things disappear.
     
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2008
  11. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    Yes you might illuminate a little but with top hats, the proper lens, proper position, proper shutter cut, black wrap maybe... there shouldn't be much spill. You also can't put an instrument so close to the wall you can't make a shutter cut. It's not possible... you can put an instrument so close to something you can't get the shutters out, but not the other way. Like I said we need to know more about the distance of the throw and type of instrument. I think there are some equipment or technique issues that will help with the problem.
     
  12. Sean

    Sean Active Member

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    I really have to disagree with you gaff, and agree with the OP.

    School auditorium design is a really hateful tradition. They aren't designed as theatres.

    Based on the photo provided in the OP, there are several issues to be addressed. The first is the choice of FOH fixtures. There seem to be a bunch of S4 Pars out there. Lose them/replace them with lekos. That WILL help a bit. Secondly, getting some kind of dark(er) color on the proscenium will help a LOT. It will provide a visual cut-off from the rest of the space, and will certainly reduce the visibility of flare, etc.

    I strongly support the attempt to color the floor. If they won't go for paint, you can try to get the floor refinished in at least a dark cherry, if not ebony. Often it being a "finished" wood floor seems to be the important part.

    OK, really..... this is me trying take the weekend off. Can you tell?

    --Sean
     
  13. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    Sean I think we are mostly agreeing...

    Summary of what I'm saying...
    Paint the theater a dark color... just not black as it's really oppressive in a big space especially with a black curtain. I like the dark purple from the school colors as a paint choice and you'll get support for that color on campus. Stage floor should be black or dark stain if you can't get paint. If you can paint it black back stage that helps a lot with keeping cast and crew invisible waiting in the wings. You've got S4 PARs in the wrong location. I don't see any evidence of top hats which will help a lot as well. Are those S4 JR's? What degree are they? Stain the stairs and front of the stage dark don't paint them. It'll look nice. You've done a good job cutting the front of the stage in this picture and there is very little if any light spill on the front and stairs. Keeping them a dark natural look will seem like a concession to your opposition to painting the floor.

    Charc and I had a side discussion about times when it is impossible to cut the light off the wall. In this picture if an actor was standing extreme DL or DR and there were no flats behind the actor then yes you would have light on the wall. However, that isn't the of the light spill in this scene. Move the pars and buy some top hats and you'll fix a huge percentage of the problem.
     
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2008
    Sean likes this.
  14. Smatticus

    Smatticus Active Member

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    Thank you for all of the constructive thoughts, I would love to hear more from others. I have attached another photo illustrating the layout of the apron and the front of the house a little better. The X's in the photo are the walls that we are proposing to paint a darker color, I'm liking the idea of using a dark purple. In this photo we have the lighting set up for a dance show with two booms upstage of the grand and one boom downstage of the grand. The boom seen in the photo has several high side lights on the top, as well as shin and head side lights. This is what I was referring to with shutter cuts. It is not possible to shutter the side lights off the opposing wall. This goes for the high sides as well due to the unavoidably low angle. This is why we have the black curtains put up that you see in the photo. I would love to have actual electrical pipes over the apron but we just don't have them.

    I appreciate the comments on our instrument choices, I know that the PAR fixtures are not ideal in the Front of House for spill reasons but we don't have enough ellipsoidals so we use them for color washes. Most of the Source Four Jr's in the Front of House are 26 degrees allowing us to create 5 independent acting areas (sometimes we also use 36 degrees and then we can get away with 4 independent acting areas). I did not mean to suggest that we have extraordinary spill problems from our Front of House instruments. Any of the spill problems from the Front of House are likely due to the PARs, but the effect of even that spill would be greatly reduced if we paint the stage surround. At this point I don't think it would be practical for us to purchase top hats to put in every single one of our Front of House instruments.

    It seems that the general consensus is for painting the stage floor black, assuming that the administration accepts this. The finished wood floor is not in very great shape, especially upstage of the grand because that's where most of the scenery construction and movement takes place. I am still considering what to do with the stairs and front edge of the stage. In the attached photo we have black fabric covering the front edge of the stage but underneath it is a stained wood similar in color to the risers of the stairs.
     

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  15. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    You are correct Char, Dr. Doom would not approve of a curtain blocking a fire exit... and my fire marshal would shut you down for that. I know sometimes it sucks but you shouldn't block an exit like that. If you are going to put up a curtain like that you need to bring the curtain onstage 3 or 4 feet to allow clearly visible access behind the curtain to the door... at least that's what my fire marshal told me.

    As for you not having the money for top hats how about $35 for a roll of black wrap. Wrap the PAR's with wrap to make your own barn door/top hats to cut the spill.
     
  16. Smatticus

    Smatticus Active Member

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    I assumed the topic of the curtain would come up. Let me first say that this was extremely temporary, only setup for this weekend's performances. Then let me say that the fire alarm actually went off during today's performance half way through the first act. A third of the audience used the exit shown in the photo without any problems whatsoever. Given the fact that there were half a dozen fire fighters in the audience that didn't have a problem with the masking, and given the fact that the fire fighters that responded to the alarm didn't have a problem with the masking (they actually commended us for how quickly and smoothly we emptied the auditorium), I'm not too concerned about it. If we want to start talking about fire codes we should start talking about why the school's exit sign over that set of doors isn't even lit. Myself and my director were not worried about the masking situation because we were both sitting right off the front of the stage across from the exit, we were not at the back of the auditorium in the control booth. Should there have been any problems we could have been at the exit almost immediately.

    On use of the microphone; I have no idea how effective the placement is but our sound guy was using it and another for tap dancing and I could definitely hear the tap dancing through the speakers without any problems.

    On the black wrap; we could try it on the PARs, I've used it to make top hats and half hats before. The spill honestly doesn't seem that bad from them but it would be worth trying just to see how big a difference it would make.
     
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2008
  17. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    It's definitely an issue that would change depending on your Fire Marshall's interpretation. The code says something roughly like the exit sign must be visible and access to it can't be blocked. Well the sign is visible and you could argue that access isn't really blocked as it's only hidden by some light fabric. My Fire Marshal likes to not just go by the book... he's added a few chapters to the book just to be sure. There's NO WAY he would let that go. Your Fire Marshall may be more lenient.
     
  18. Smatticus

    Smatticus Active Member

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    This is part of the reason we would like to paint the apron surround (and the exit doors themselves) a darker color so that we can avoid blocking the doors in any way at all.
     
  19. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    The problem you face with painting a dark color is how far do you go? Where do you stop. That line is going to look odd. If you take the whole thing dark you will be amazed at how much darker the space feels. Go spend a few minutes in a Black Box then imagine your large auditorium THAT black. Some audience members will have a strong negative emotional reaction to a place that is really dark. That's why the dark purple (or maybe a dark burgandy/purple) is advisable. It is darker but there is still some color to it. Going all black is a pretty bold move that is expensive to undo.
     
  20. Smatticus

    Smatticus Active Member

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    I agree that we should not go black, but I am thinking that the structure of the space at the front of the auditorium is ideal for a color different than the rest of the auditorium. I have a 3D model of the stage in VectorWorks so I may play with some renderings to see what it might look like.
     

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