Make a Scene: Creating a backdrop and set pieces for events

When adding a theme or setting to a party or event, backdrops and scenery can be useful additions. For instance, if you are putting together a princess birthday party, a castle might be the desired setting. While you could rent a facility that is already decorated as a castle, if that is not a realistic option for your event, you can make a castle yourself. Set pieces and scenery can be as simple or complex as your skill and budget allow.

Perhaps the easiest way to create a backdrop is to paint a mural on a wall, but very few venues will allow you to paint on their walls. Plus, murals take time to paint and often set up time for venue rental is minimal. Therefore for most events you will need a backdrop and/ or set pieces that can be created off site and are easy to set up and remove without damaging the venue where you are holding the event. If the event is taking place outdoors, you will additionally need your scenery to be weather resistant. Most venues have walls and other structural features that can be used to attach or lean the scenery against, but if the venue is an open space, the scenery may need to be self supporting as well.

In the theater, it is common to use muslin stretched on a wood frame and stapled in place with a staple gun. The muslin can then be painted like a canvas. You can create the frame work as a large backdrop or smaller set pieces. Foe instance, you can paint the castle and scenery on a large square or create a frame shaped like a castle and stretch the muslin to fit. You can also create 3D buildings by making multiple muslin and wood walls. If the walls need to be self supporting, you can add wood supports to the back.

If weather is a concern, using plywood may be a better option. Plywood has the disadvantage of being heavier and more difficult to transport, but it has the benefits of being sturdier and weather resistant. You do not necessarily need to put a frame on plywood as it is self supporting; however, if you are using very large pieces supports or re-enforcement may be necessary.

Particle board is a cheaper option then plywood, though the texture of the board can be a concern. There are other options available at the hardware store that you can paint on as well. Take a walk through look at the various materials available. Talk to the employees for suggestions.

For events on a tight budget, consider using cardboard. Cardboard can be easily cut to shape with a box knife. Check with stores that sell large items to see if they have any scrap cardboard they would be willing to give you.

Paper, such as newsprint, is a real economy option; however, newsprint and other lightweight papers are easily damaged and wrinkle when you paint them. If you are using paper, you will need to attach the artwork securely to a wall. Make sure the venue where you are holding your event will allow you to do so. You can use thumb tacks, masking tape, or poster putty, but each of these may cause damage to the wall and there is always the possibility that the paper will fall down or get torn during the event.

Depending on the complexity of your scenery or backdrop and your artistic skill, you can either draw your design directly on the material or you can use a slide or opaque projector and trace your image. A projector makes transferring images much simpler. Be realistic about your skills as an artist when designing your artwork. If you are not much of a painter, don’t try for photo realism.

You can use artists acrylic paints, wall paints, or tempera paints. Make sure whichever paint you use suites the material you are painting on. For instance, if you are painting on lightweight paper, avoid thick wall paints as the paper will not support it. If you are using the painting outdoors, make sure the paint is weather resistant. Keeping the color pallet to a minimum can reduce your paint costs. You can buy primary colors and mix them with most paints, however if you have large areas in single colors, like a blue sky or a brown wall, it may make sense to buy a large container of that color instead of attempting to mix it.

If you are trying to create textures, such as a wall texture, a sponge or a rag can be a useful tool. Consider purchasing a book to help you learn texture techniques. As long as the material you are using is sturdy enough (muslin or plywood), you can use masking tape to block the paint and help you create straight lines, then remove the tape once the paint is dry enough. Consider practicing techniques on a scrap piece of material. Your set piece will be only as good as your painting and construction skills.

When you finish creating your scenery and/ or set pieces, all that is left is to transport them to your venue and put them in place. Be sure to allow plenty of time in case any issues arise. It is a good idea to bring tape and other materials in case of damage in transport and set up. If you do not have a lot of time to set up at the event venue, practice setting the pieces up off site to make sure that you have resolved any issues before the day of the event.

Constructing scenery and set pieces can be complicated and does require a certain amount of artistry. Volunteering to help with set construction at a theater company or school is a good way to gain skills and make sure you are not getting in above your head with your plans. If you decide that you are not up to the task but would still like to include some set pieces or scenery consider hiring someone to create the work for you. Contact your local community theaters or university theater departments for referrals if you are interested in hiring someone to create your set pieces. You might be able to get a student to do the work for a lower rate than a professional.

Sometimes you can find set pieces and scenery that are already completed to rent or purchase for an event. If you see a theater production with set pieces you would like to use, ask the theater company if they would be able to rent them to you for your event. Remember that sets are often taken apart immediately following the production, so make arrangements as soon as possible to avoid being too late. You can also contact AZ Party Rents to discuss whether or not we have anything available that might work for your occasion.

After an event is completed, you will need to take down your scenery and set pieces. If you have rented them, you will need to return them. If the scenery and set pieces are yours, you might be able to reuse them as is for another event or if you used muslin or plywood, you can repaint them for additional events or reuse the materials. Theater departments often use the same materials over and over again for many shows.

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