Berkeley Rep Blog

Category archive: Scene shop

Bamboo and bikini wax

posted by Karen McKevitt on Wed, Nov 7, 2012
in Our shows , Scene shop

The White Snake, Mary Zimmerman's seventh show here at Berkeley Rep, begins this Friday. (Hint: good low-priced preview seats are available on Friday and Tuesday. Click here to check it out.)

To celebrate, Scenic Charge Artist Lisa Lazar shares a fun tip about prepping some scenery for the show. Take it away, Lisa!

I have been tending to the scenery for our upcoming production of The White Snake. This show is a co-production with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and we're using their scenery, costumes, and props. 


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Chinglish's set changes

posted by Karen McKevitt on Thu, Sep 27, 2012
in Backstage buzz , Our shows , Scene shop

Audiences are just loving David Henry Hwang’s Chinglish, but they’re almost buzzing as much about the set. And with good reason! The set changes feature two turntables, automated armchairs, moving walls, flying screens and curtains, even actors crossing the stage as the set moves -- all to the energetic beats of c-pop.

Check out the scene changes in this video! It was shot with three cameras, including a handheld one backstage and one mounted on our catwalk for the overhead shots. Of course, some of this wasn’t filmed during a performance – otherwise all the backstage shots would be totally dark.

Chinglish (The Set Changes) from Berkeley Repertory Theatre on Vimeo.

While Chinglish’s set looks fully automated, what really happens literally behind the scenes is a complex dance between computers, stagehands, scene pieces, wardrobe, and even the actors.

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Sneak peek: The Chinglish set

posted by Karen McKevitt on Tue, Aug 21, 2012
in Our shows , Prop shop , Scene shop

David Henry Hwang's Chinglish, a comedy of cross-cultural errors, begins Friday. Here's a sneak peek of the set, which was trucked in from New York a few months ago and has been awaiting new life in our scene shop.  


Production manager Tom Pearl takes a closer look. 




 And here's a view of it in the Roda Theatre last week.


 A couple of bins of props in the Roda lobby, awaiting load-in.


All photos by Mary Kay Hickox.

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Making graffiti

posted by Karen McKevitt on Wed, Jun 6, 2012
in Our shows , Scene shop

By Lisa Lazar, charge scenic artist

Greetings from the Berkeley Rep Scenic Art studio!

Today we answer the question: How might one paint a graffiti-covered corrugated roll-up door for Emotional Creature? How might one paint this on a non-corrugated floor?


The image is drawn on a huge sheet of paper and then transferred to the flooring material. Drawing on the paper allows the artists to work out the drawing without damaging the actual scenery.

Once the image is transferred, the artists start painting.  All the colors are custom-mixed to match the designer’s specifications. In the above photo, Scenic Art Fellow Anya Kazimierski is painting with a color she mixed to match the designer’s scale rendering. You can see a blue crescent on a white board at the top of the photograph. That is what the artists are working to replicate.


Once the graffiti portion of the painting is completed, the next step is to add the illusion of corrugation. Here, Anya is marking the lines that will become the next layer of this painting.


All of the lines are airbrushed on with a spray gun made for painting automobiles. The spray gun gives a smooth, photographic quality to the painting, but because there is the risk of unwanted “over-spray,” this technique requires extensive masking.  


And here you have it! One custom-shaped handpainted graffiti-coved roll-up door…on the floor.



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Floating set

posted by Karen McKevitt on Sat, May 19, 2012
in Our shows , Scene shop

Whenever she's working on a set for a Berkeley Rep show, Scenic Charge Artist Lisa Lazar emails awesome photos with commentary to the entire staff. Here's her step-by-step of the set for Dael Orlandersmith's Black n Blue Boys / Broken Men, which begins performances on May 25.

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The fate of the Red canvases

posted by Karen McKevitt on Tue, Mar 20, 2012
in Our shows , Prop shop , Scene shop

Red previews have only just begun, and already people are buzzing about the paintings onstage. What will happen to those canvases? What will happen to the fabric the actors are stretching and priming?

The canvases are the handiwork of the scenic art shop. Preview audience members have suggested that we auction off the canvases (signed by the actors) at the end of the run, which would be really fun. But -- bummer -- we’re required by contract to destroy the Rothko-like work after the show closes.

David Chandler (right) as Rothko, along with John Brummer. Photo by

But the fabric is another story. The prop shop preps a week’s worth every Monday, and by the end of the run -- 53 performances -- we’ll have used 190 yards of 144-inch fabric. But don’t worry, it’s not ending up in a landfill. We’ll be donating it to local artists. And leftover paint will go to the Museum of Children’s Art in Oakland.

Want to get involved and donate art supplies to local artists and teachers? Bring those items to the show! We have a bin in the lobby all set up for the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse. 

You can read more about how the scenic art and prop shops tackled the challenge of creating Rothko-like canvases in our Red program -- and we'll be giving you more behind-the-scenes peeks in future posts. 


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Fabric origami with Chris Palmer

posted by Karen McKevitt on Tue, Jan 24, 2012
in Costume shop , Prop shop , Scene shop

Berkeley Rep's shops are filled with pretty awesome, talented artisans who are always curious and ready to learn new things (and build some awesome things too). That tradition continued last Friday when the costume shop hosted an in-house fabric origami workshop taught by the amazing artist Chris Palmer, author of Shadowfolds. He taught members of the costume, prop, and scenic shops his method of folding fabric to make three-dimensional geometric designs.


Kitty Muntzel, the costume shop's draper, instigated this post -- and pointed me to a terrific blog post by our Scenic Charge Artist Lisa Lazar, who allowed me to repost it (with some slight changes) here.

 I could a tale unfold...


On Friday I had the great fortune to participate in a workshop with artist Chris Palmer.


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Building a New Book

posted by Karen McKevitt on Wed, Oct 5, 2011
in Our shows , Scene shop

By Lisa Lazar, charge scenic artist

Bill Cain's How to Write a New Book for the Bible, directed by Kent Nicholson, begins performances on Friday. Get a glimpse behind-the-scenes and see how some of the set elements came together for this new play. 

The scene shop is in the middle of building How to Write a New Book for the Bible. We are delighted to work on any show designed by the Scott Bradley.


Carpenter Colin Babcock stands in front of one of the windows he built. This particular window will eventually feature faux stained glass. 

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At Burning Man

posted by Karen McKevitt on Fri, Sep 23, 2011
in Scene shop

By Colin Babcock

As master carpenter of Berkeley Rep, I am constantly confronted with new challenges and get to work with new materials and techniques. It’s my favorite part about my job. Recently I built the rolling fire escape and stoop unit you saw on stage in Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup. The stoop unit was tricky. It had to be wheeled out and placed on its spike mark and stay there as Rita Moreno recounted her early years in New York. To accomplish my given task, I drew upon past Berkeley Rep experience, with some help from my wife Stephanie Shipman, who built two rolling desks for The Peoples Temple back when she was the scene-shop intern during the 2004/05 season. I was able to base the engineering of my stoop on what she did with the desks, but augmented her design with some techniques I recently employed on an outside project. I devised a lever-and-pulley system in the stoop that engages the wheels in much the same way that I made the rudder turn with the front wheels of the 25-foot-long submarine my friends and I made from scratch this summer.

The task was to build a replica of Captain Nemo’s Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea that could be driven around the playa at the recent Burning Man Festival in Nevada. About 40 of us worked long nights and weekends all summer long at the Five Ton Crane Headquarters in West Oakland to accomplish our goal.

6034468988219_ORIG Attaching skeleton to the vehicle

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Conceptual Cargo construction

posted by Kate Vangeloff on Thu, Feb 10, 2011
in Our shows , Prop shop , Scene shop

Cargo 015
So just how did they build the set for The Last Cargo Cult? How does it stay together? Where do the boxes go while Steve Jobs is being performed? Who owns the contents of the "iPig" box?

Excellent questions, my friends.  

Being unsure myself, I felt it was time to do some set-inspired sleuthing. I began my inspection by performing some very scientific data-gathering methods such as "sneaking into the theatre" and "gently poking the boxes to see what would happen." 

MD_CC4_lr (I think it is important to note at this point that this research is confidential, so please don't disclose my methods to Mike Daisey or Jean-Michele Gregory...or stage management...or anyone for that matter.)

Not much knowledge was gleaned from this first attempt other than the fact that sneaking into a theatre and gently poking cardboard boxes makes one feel like a bit of an idiot, so I decided to dig deeper. I had heard a whisper of a rumor that although I had previously enjoyed imagining that the Cargo Cult boxes spent their week off sight-seeing, carousing, and generally making merry, that the boxes were actually kept inside the now somewhat-abandoned prop shop at Addison Street. I accosted a hapless facilities crew member and convinced them to let me into the prop shop which, I might add, was ominously locked.

On the breathless verge of discovery, I slowly opened the heavy, creaking door. After a tense moment fumbling to find the light switch -- behold! Six mounds of corrugated consumerism materialized before my eyes along with the truth I was so desperately seeking. Why hadn't I seen it before? But of course: Box Tetris!  

Cargo 002 Let me explain. Each individual box is part of one of six larger units of boxes fastened together with hot glue. These “playing pieces” are stacked on large crates to add height and fitted together in a Tetris-like fashion to create the illusion of the mountain of materialism looming over Mike Daisey.

Case closed.

Now if I could only figure out who owns the iPig and why...

Photo of Mike Daisey in The Last Cargo Cult by

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