Waterproofing a Set

ScenicKatie

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Mar 20, 2019
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Chicago
Hi all,
We are recording a production of the Its a Wonderful Life Radio Play outdoors this fall. I am wondering what the best way to waterproof a set is. Its just going to be a series of platforms as the deck and a few walls. If anyone has some advice I would really appreciate it!
 

sk8rsdad

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How long does it have to endure the elements?

Paint ought to be adequate in the short term. Paint all exposed surfaces. Exterior grade paint may be helpful if it's more than a few weeks. Water resistant (exterior grade) materials are a longer term solution. Tarps are always an option, but they can trap moisture and speed up rot.

Slip-resistant surfaces are a good plan if there's any chance of rehearsing or performing in the rain. That can be as simple as sprinkling sand on the paint while it is drying.
 

ScenicKatie

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Mar 20, 2019
Location
Chicago
It will only have to hold up for about 2 weeks. I was thinking paint might do the trick. Good call on the sand for the slip prevention! Thank you for your quick response!
 

bobgaggle

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Nov 19, 2007
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Philadelphia, PA
i'd definitely avoid any of the "compressed dust" paneling options, ie masonite/hardboard, mdf, chip board. even a little bit of rain and the edges start to swell

just for 2 weeks this probably won't be an issue, but you could consider building your platforming on a slight rake, 1/8"/ft would allow water to shed off rather than puddle on the decks...
 

techieman33

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topeka, ks
i'd definitely avoid any of the "compressed dust" paneling options, ie masonite/hardboard, mdf, chip board. even a little bit of rain and the edges start to swell

just for 2 weeks this probably won't be an issue, but you could consider building your platforming on a slight rake, 1/8"/ft would allow water to shed off rather than puddle on the decks...
Even plywood will swell at the edges. If they’re all painted it shouldn’t be an issue, especially for a short run like this. If your really concerned do your best to raise all those Edges up so they won’t be sitting in any puddles.
 

TheaterEd

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We have had success with spray painting a clear-coat on wooden signs and having them hold up to the elements for a couple of weeks or so.
 

Van

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An undercoat or Top coat of 8# clear shellac will do wonders for water proofing as well. Thompsons Water seal will work but it's more toxic and doesn't play well with some paints.
 
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JonCarter

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Apr 18, 2011
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Meridian, Idaho, US
I worked at an outdoor theatre for several years, many of them rainy summers. We did 2-week runs of musicals. Everything was painted with casein paints--this was the late 1950s- no latex then. It was much better than stage paint! Usually held up for the two week runs with no problems, and the cyc held up for the whole season every year with no need to re-paint it. Paint it with the least expensive latex you can find and don't worry about it.
 

macsound

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Jun 15, 2018
Location
San Francisco, CA
Do you think it will rain and water will puddle overnight?
I second what's said above and allow the water to drain off in your desired direction, either by building it on a rake or adding wedges underneath when you leave for the day.
In any case, making the water go the direction you want will help it from puddling up at the joints between the walls and floor and never drying out.
A leaf blower might be helpful if wet, to help dry.
 
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Villanova, PA
For two weeks I wouldn't worry about much deteriorating due to weather. You could consider building w/ pressure-treated lumber but that may also add an entire new level of frustration(s) to your efforts. PT is also rife with chemicals the cutting of which requires a respirator....

I like Aaron's suggestion of a slight rake for drainage.

Latex paint, with proper drying times, should be more than enough protection against the elements in Autumn, I would think.

Good luck,
 

MPowers

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Jan 11, 2010
Location
Des Moines, Iowa
i'd definitely avoid any of the "compressed dust" paneling options, ie masonite/hardboard, mdf, chip board. even a little bit of rain and the edges start to swell

just for 2 weeks this probably won't be an issue, but you could consider building your platforming on a slight rake, 1/8"/ft would allow water to shed off rather than puddle on the decks...
The raked deck is an excellent suggestion. Over the years I have been involved in several outdoor summer theatres and also productions of ”Singing in the Rain”. If you KNOW there will be water, plan for it. In addition to raked decks, plan how to handle and direct the run-off. Can be as simple as a piece of 1” pvc slit in half and placed under the lip of a platform to catch the run off and direct it to the side, to a drain or grassy area, etc. With several platforms, tilt them in different directions to avoid a big puddle in one place. DON’T allow them to form a puddle under the platforms, it will attract insects and become a mosquito breeding pond. Hope this helps.
 

ScenicKatie

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Mar 20, 2019
Location
Chicago
Thank you everyone for your advice! The set held up through 5 days of pretty constant rain. It cleared up just in time to film last night. Half of the set was built on a flower bed- so it did sink a bit with the last thunder storm but we boosted it up and made it work! If anyone is looking to do this in the future I would say that a raked stage would absolutely be the way to go. We only didn't because of time constraints and the challenge of building on uneven ground to begin with. I sealed the floor with oil based poly and that seemed help the paint hold up in the rain. Otherwise, like everyone said, just making sure everything had paint on it and bracing the crap out of everything did the trick!
IMG_4949.jpg
 

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