I’ve just finished three weeks working on a stage set for our local theatre group’s production of
Laughter on the 23rd Floor. This one was extra challenging for a couple of reasons; one, I was
tasked with working on a background mural that was a daunting eighteen and a half feet wide and
eight feet tall, and two, because this time we were a skeleton crew of just a few (very hard-working,
dedicated) people from start to finish.
While the building crew were finishing the set, I got a sense of what sort of space I had to paint
the mural. The work was going to be done on the pale blue wall behind the set:
Although the windows were narrow, the set was built six feet away from the wall, which meant that
audience members, depending on where they were seated, would be able to see quite a bit of the wall.
I marked out sight lines and found that the mural would have to be very wide and very tall.
The mural was to be a cityscape of lower Manhattan, circa 1953. I made a digital mock-up of the
cityscape, but kept the shapes fairly simple as there was very limited time to paint it.
Since there wasn’t room to use a projector to transfer the building shapes on the wall,
I made a big grid on the wall to correspond with another on the mock-up, then began to draw in lines
and tape edges:
I chose a limited colour palette and began to fill in flat colour. I emphasized distance by gradually
lightening the colours from the middle ground to the background shapes, and keeping details to the
For this play the set is meant to look like two rooms that have been combined into one, with the
remnants of a brick wall in the middle. I was tasked with painting the brick, something I’d never
done before. My friend Andrea, a set design veteran, gave me a quick tutorial over the phone, and
I launched into it. The idea is to cut a large cleaning sponge into something roughly brick-shaped,
prepare three trays of paint, brown, red and orange, then dip the sponge flat into each color and
stamp with it. I found it worked best to start with brown and follow with red, then orange. The
faux brick is painted on top of a cement-coloured grey base. This was the brickwork finished:
Here’s the faux-finish up close:
Due to serious time constraints and so few hands on deck I wasn’t able to put as much work as I would
have liked into the mural. My next task was to lend a hand in painting the rest of the set, including
a very complex checkerboard floor. We finished in time, which was the most important thing!
Here is the finished set, complete with props and furniture:
Photo courtesy of Robin Maggs