Friday, February 10, 2012

Never be Afraid to Ask...Branches

For this spring's production of Brother's of the Dust at Congo Square theatre, the designer wanted two trees on the set. They weren't terribly large, about ten feet tall each. I know there are other technicians who will argue with me about this, but I decided to use real branches to make my trees.

Side Note: I have heard stories about problems with moss, dry rot, bugs etc and know people who refuse to use real branches for something like this. In my experience though, there is no good way to make a fake tree look real. My policy is just to be extra careful with what I bring into the theatre. 

There are some places where locating several large branches that I can take, cut, bend and twist into trees would be as simple as walking outside the back door of the theatre. In the middle of Chicago though, large branches can be harder to come by.

While props shopping for the show I drove past an empty corner lot with a pile of large branches in the center of it; exactly what I needed! I pulled over and called the number on the large sign on the chain link fence. I explained to the woman who answered the phone who I was and what I needed. She spoke briefly to her boss and then told me that I was welcome to whatever I needed. I could untwist the wire holding the gate together and walk right in as long as I closed the gate when I was done.

I drove home, grabbed my cordless Ryobi circle saw, went back to the abandoned lot and collected my branches.

When I installed the branches onstage I had a bit of trouble because they were dryer and more brittle than fresh cut branches (which often bend easily and can be secured in place with a screw). But I was able to reattach the branch to itself where I needed to and add other pieces and sticks in where it was looking bare. I hot glued a small amount of leaves onto the tops of the trees to finish them off and it ended up working perfectly.

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