Great Expectations

Its been a few weeks since we were in the midst of the Autumn term opera and we have now just completed fitting up our end of term drama, Great Expectations.

The set consisted of three platforms of accumulating heights leading up to a pier structure at the back of the stage.


The platforms were constructed from steel deck which then had timber sections added to them to give them their angular shapes.


Once the platforms were on stage, the floor boards were then laid and nailed to them. The edges were trimmed off using a skill saw.



Finally treads were installed around the perimeters of the platforms which were then clad with floor boards to match the platforms.


Meanwhile the props workshop was busy carving lumps of polystyrene into an edible looking feast.

Alix worked on creating a roast chicken by firstly covering her poly-carving with a cream coloured base coat and then sponging on the darker orange/brown tones. She finished it off with a gloss glaze to imitate the oily skin of a roasted chicken.

Brussel sprouts and a cabbage was made buy pouring coloured liquid latex into moulds and pealing them out once dried.

The finished plate looked good enough to eat!


Georgia  completed the same process for her leg of ham which had great results!


The plate itself was cast in plaster from a purpose made mould.

Moulds were also made for fennel and fish which would also be part of the feast!

The wedding cake was made by Lana, our 3rd year props manager. She began by cutting three cylinders out of polystyrene which would form the three tiers of the cake. These were stuck together and then carved into in places to give the impression that sections of the cake had crumbled / rotted away.


Lana coated the polystyrene with foam coat and plaster which she sanded down to give a smooth finish. Vacuum formed piping shapes were stuck around the edges of each tier and the cake was painted.

Finally the whole thing was covered in ‘Kobweb’ spray!


Our scenic artist have been busy with the 15′ back cloth which was painted to look like  a stormy sky. The effect was created by applying a number of washes in shades of blue and grey and blending in patches of white for the clouds.


It was important that the paint remained very loose as the cloth was to be used for back projection therefore the transparency of the cloth was critical to achieve the final effect.

…so Great Expectations is now up (looking great) and in rehearsal stage. Our first year students are now working on their Design Realisation Project which is based around Vincent Van Gogh and his time in the yellow house. We have parts of the set coming together quickly so I will have lots to show and tell…until next time!

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Autumn Action

So, I have finally found a moment to fill you in on what we’ve been up to so far this term in Design Realisation. We have just finished the sets for our three opening productions of the term and we are now embarking on the fourth and it’s only October!

The first show to go up was our autumn  drama, ‘August.’ The set was designed by Libby Watson and performed in our Milton Court studio theatre. As this was a no build show there were only elements of scenic art and props to make.

The perimeter of the stage was draped in heavy brown curtains with a blackened gradient towards the bottom. The effect was produced by spraying a black wash along the bottom of the curtains and fading it up towards the top.

Below our 2nd year scenic artist Libby creates the gradient on one of the curtains in the paint shop.


Scenic art also undertook the task of painting the floor cloth, which was designed as an abstract watery mix of earthy colours.

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The process began with a yellow ochre wash and then washes of the other colours were applied to the damp base and blended in to give a smudgy appearance to the painting. More defined lines and details were added in over the top once the bottom layers had dried.

In props our 2nd year student Alex had the task of creating 12 breakable plaster vases which would be shot to pieces during the play. (All very dramatic!)

img_2941Above: Alex and Props Lecturer Pat going through the process of moulding the vases.

The process was a tricky one as the vases had to have fairly thin plaster walls in order for them to break effectively on stage. It was difficult to get the walls of the vase to the correct thickness, many of then turning out to be too thin and in need of filling/ reinforcing.

Once the vases were cast they were cleaned up and painted to give a handmade rustic effect before being glazed.


Simultaneously our DR students were working on realising Amelia Jane Hankins’ designs for The Crucible. Set in our Milton Court theatre,the design consisted of a woodland, created by twisted ropes partially concealed by a wall of uniformed sawn timber which continued onto the floor.img_2942Above: model box of Crucible design

img_2945 Due to the colour of the wood in Amelia’s design, our scenic artists had to apply pale brown and green washes to the sawn timber planks, this enhanced the grain and helped to create a uniformed hue over all the pieces of timber.

In props our students were also kept busy making bespoke benches for the set which had a very satisfying, chunky quality and aesthetically matched the uniformed and clean design of the set.




To complete the trilogy of productions so far this term, we have just put up the finishing touches on the set for our double opera Iolanta/Mavra designed by Bridget Kimak.


Our construction team led by our third year student Bryan, had the task of building the set walls from timber frames and tri-wall cladding. The tri-wall was key to the design as it was important for light to be able to shine through the walls.

In scenic art our students led by our third year Lana painted the walls in a translucent green blend of colours. img_2990img_3034

This was effective in giving the walls an almost mouldy feel to them and the light bleeding through the paint also helped to enhance this effect.

The opera double has been a very prop heavy production and our props department led by Constance has done an amazing job at producing some very weird and wonderful prop makes.

The plate stack which was a feature of the room was a great success. It was made up from a selection of plastic plates, cutlery and takeaway boxes which had been drilled through and slotted onto one of three metal poles. These poles had been welded onto steel plates and mounted onto an MDF base to create a freestanding piece.


The side walls for Iolanta consists of an intricate layering of steel mesh, pipes and cord to create the look of a mechanical sound wall. This was created by attaching sections of steel mesh to a custom, welded frame and layering a collection of painted PVC tubing over the top to create a random crosshatching of pipes and metal. Thick black and red cord was fastened to the mesh and piping to give the appearance of electrical cables.


Following this Alex made a selection of vacuum form speakers; these were made in sections and in various shapes and sizes and then assembled to create the finished shapes. The forms were then spray painted and attached to the frame using cable ties.

Next came the mound of clothes! As part of Bridgets design the props department had to create a giant mound of clothing. This was created from several sets of treads, made in construction, which were then covered with layers of blue foam to disguise the hard edges and corners and then wrapped in canvas. The canvas was then painted in a patches of random colour before the many items of clothing (I think we emptied all the charity shops in East London) were splayed out and glued over the top of the canvas.

The result was a fantastically messy assortment of colour! (My OCD urge to tidy became very difficult to control at this stage!)

…and Constance was crowned Queen of the mound!

img_3031…spot the students?!..

We are now well in to rehearsals on the opera and the workshops are preparing all they need to begin the build of our Great Expectation set. Which, from the rumours, will give me some great ‘bloggable’ material!

Until then….


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No rest for the wicked!

It has been the most hectic and exhausting few weeks of the term and in fact year, which means it must be time for a musical!! It is now the day after the opening night and it has been an intense process.

The design for On the 21st Century consists of a beautiful art deco train carriage as the centre piece. The build itself has been a challenge! Having only 2 weeks from the start of construction to fit up has pushed our students to the edge…they have however donned their war paint and thrown themselves into the battle head first.

The first construction task was to construct the art deco portals for the stage. These were constructed with a timer frame and cladded with skin ply before attaching the vac form art deco pattern on top.

To the untrained eye this looks like a relatively simple task right?… would be wrong!…..The challenge here?…getting the patterns to match. Lets just say there were more than a few incidences of people holding their breaths and counting to ten. Fortunately our students are great problem solvers and managed to make the patterns appear to flow seamlessly across the portals.

The portals were then taken through to the paintshop to be turned gold! First they had to be covered with covent garden primer to allow the paint to stick to the plastic, they were then given a coat of antique gold paint and sponged on top with lemon gold.


Scenic art had the big challenge of the back cloth. The cloth itself was a 6 x 15m canvas which needed to be painted to represent the map of the journey from Chicago to New York

The canvas was primed with yellow ochre and then the design was projected onto the cloth, traced and masked off before the rest of the canvass was painted black. The extra elements of the design were laid on top to complete the piece.


Despite the challenge Sunny led the scenic art team effectively and the backdrop was completed relatively painlessly. (Just a few soar biceps).

Our props team, led by Imelda, have been making a series of art deco chandeliers. The main shape of the pieces have been constructed from MDF whilst the patterned sections were created by making the embossed pattern onto a piece of timber and using that to create a number of vacuum formed copies which could then be easily applied to the walls of the chandelier with contact glue.


To finish the chandeliers off they were edged with a silver lace trim (you can just see it hanging in the background of the image) which looks really effective when lit!

The interior walls of the train carriage were next on the construction teams list. The team, led by Jonathan,  created the main structure out of MDF which was then clad with 6mm MDF. The challenge here being the rounded corners to the partitions. The curves were created by heating up the mdf with a heat gun and bending it to give us the soft curves we wanted.


The seating booths were upholstered by our props team. Imelda, Lana and Alena covered the chairs in this plush, purple, velvet fabric and finished them off with gold trimming.

( It’s all very decadent!)

Back in construction Oscar has been busy making the carriage entrance door. It was then given the gold treatment by our scenic artists before being set on stage.



The canvas frames required for the set were constructed with mortise and tendon joins. This was because they were to be displayed from the back and therefore we wanted the finish to be neat and tidy. To create the aged finish required we covered the timber and fabric in a raw umber wash and flicked a thicker mix on the canvass after to give the impression of old paint splatter and stains.


The final piece of the set to make was the face of the train! We had to simplify the train front due to time pressure but the compromise didn’t make it any less of a feature! The piece was constructed as a flat and clad with MDF. The front was embellished with MDF trim to add detail.

The face of the train was edged with rivets to develop its industrial style. We then cut the numbers out on the bandsaw and fixed the number plate to the front.


The face was also given the gold treatment to match the rest of the train and the recesses received a good old raw umber wash to exaggerate the depth. The lights were inserted which really brought it alive onstage!


Final paint call….the last big push for our scenic art students before the set was finished was to paint the diamond pattern Adam had designed, onto the carpet. This was achieved in several stages. Firstly the carpet was primed with covent garden primer this helps to seal the pile and also reduces the amount of paint absorbed by the carpet. The diamond pattern was drawn up on tracing paper and transferred onto the carpet by pouncing over the pattern and rubbing charcoal through the perforated lines. This gave us an outline of the pattern to follow which we then masked over before applying the paint.


The set was left to dry…

…and by some miracle, It was all done!!!




I have to say what a fantastic job our students have done. It has been a really tough build but it looks absolutely beautiful. SO proud of them all!

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“…Beneath this mask there is an idea…”

IMG_2536Earlier on in the Spring of this year we were lucky enough to have had the company of Etienne Champion, a mask maker and master of his craft for a 1 month residency project in our DR workshop.

Étienne creates original pieces of work incorporating not only the characters of the actors but shaping the masks to fit their function and works closely with the actors whom he is creating the masks for.

This visit of Étienne Champion to GSMD was organised to develop the work being done in the Drama department. It also presented an opportunity for our DR students to work and learn with Étienne and get an insight into a specialist craft.

Étienne was able to teach and demonstrate to our students the techniques required for maintaining the masks.

These masks were inspired by the ‘animal.’ This is reflected in the faceted nature of the sculpt.


Here George, one of our first year students, is learning how to repair and conceal the cracks in the surface of the wood.


Étienne also sculpted a series of masks based on sound. The deep grooves in the wood resemble sound waves. Whilst the shapes of the pieces were created to help amplify sound.


It was a pleasure to see Étienne at work and to watch the manifestation of his masks.

The 2nd year actors will use the masks during the autumn term 2016 in a new project exploring the ‘politics of the mask’.

We would like to thank Étienne for work and hope to see him again in the near future.

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Graduate Exhibition 2016

Join us once again for this years show of work by our graduating third year students.

It’s shaping up to be a real mega-mix of pieces of constructed set, props, lighting installations, projection mapping, scenic art, props, costume and any number of other wonders.  All taking place right here, at The Guildhall School’s in the Milton Court Studio Theatre.

Hope to see you there..

tt post

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Model box Project

It is that time of year again where we get to present the work of our first year DR students  from our model box project.
Our students were given different texts that they had to read, research and create a set for. The aim of the project is to give the students a chance to explore the process of developing a play into a theatre set and whilst the projects primary focus isn’t on design, the students are encouraged to research and be imaginative in their approach to their designs. The main focus of the course is to develop their model making skills and through this project they are introduced to different model making techniques, materials and resources and encouraged to be experimental in their approach to the text.

This year our students developed the following…

Maddie was given the play, ‘ Journey’s End,’  which is set in a British dugout, near Saint Quentin in France, towards the end of the First World War. The play covers the three or so days leading up to the real-life events of ‘Operation Michael’.

Maddie chose to stay true to what a dugout might look like as a way of commemorating the hundred years anniversary of the First World War.

She wanted her design and model to look like it had been plucked straight from under the French soil. As a way of ensuring that sight lines weren’t being blocked  by the roof of her set. Maddie chose to raise the ground level of her set, placing it on what would be a steel deck platform, to ensure that the audience members views wouldn’t be obstructed.

Here are some of Maddie’s development images.


Final Model…

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Alana’s play was Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Alana chose to have both the bedroom and living room on display simultaneously and managed this by designing a platform on top of which the bedroom would be leaving the rest of the stage below and around the platform for the living area. Alana made some very nice and intricate prices of naturalistic furniture to dress the set which contrasted nicely with the honeycomb backdrop which was designed to reflect the compound vision of a fly.

Final Model…



Anna was given the text, ‘Bright and Bold Designs,’ by Peter Whelan and was set in a pottery paintshop in the 1930s. Anna took inspiration from well known pottery designers of the time, including Clarice Cliff and Suzie Cooper.


This is what gave her the abstract colours as well as the angular lines of her set, which she intended to look like broken pottery.


Final model…



Alexandra had Alan Bennet’s, ‘The Madness of Kind George III.’

The play explores King George III struggle with the fact that he, despite being king is still only human and in some ways just as vulnerable as everyone else. He is “treated” by multiple doctors, but the medical knowledge at the time leads to the kings health being worsen further, as they try to tread him with blood letting and blistering.

The play takes place in many different locations so Alex decided to keep the basic structure quite simple and adaptable for each scene. A central staircase is mentioned frequently in the play, so Alex decided to include it in my design very early. Alex was keen to work with distressed wall textures and try to create something that reflected the intense pain and chaos that would have been going on in the King’s mind. She explored this idea by looking at how she could contort patterns and shapes for the wallpaper to reflect the Kings hallucinations.

Sketch Modelling…

Final Model…

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Sustainability in action

Here in Design Realisation we are making a constant effort to be mindful of how we dispose of our waste. Reducing the amount we waste and reusing or recycling where we can. Recently we have been making an effort to donate materials which we no longer have use for to people / places in the community.

In January we were able to donate a load of surplus paint we had in scenic art from our production of, ‘The Secret Rapture,’ to a local school for use in their art classes. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School were very happy to receive our donation and planned to use the paint on theatre productions which they put on in the school year.


In April we were able to donate some large wooden planks that were left over from our production of, ‘The Rape of Lucretia,’ to a local adventure playground. Lumpy Hill playground is run by the Islington Play Association. This is a charity which strives to provide play areas to children who would otherwise have very limited access to outside space. The playground gives local children the opportunity to explore the outdoors by playing on in their amazing adventure playground structures, planting vegetables and building bonfires. The playground depends on donations and the staff are in the process of trying to build an additional platform for the playground and so they were very happy to receive the wood we had to offer!


We are keen to keep these donations going and I will try to keep you updated with future donations we make and how they are used, so look out for future updates.


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Head first into the summer opera double bill.

The workshops are in full swing and beginning to fill with the pieces of our opera double bill. Arianne and Alexandre Bis has our students working on realising the designs of Simon Corder.

Here is a snapshot of the samples produced by scenic art for the set. We have three main finishes that need to be produced for this set. We have a yellow marble finish, a painted number grid and a white-washed concrete finish. Here are the samples that were put together for Simon to look at.



Construction have been busy building all the necessary flats to make up the walls of the set and treads for the show and with the help of our TT students, who are with us for their associated studies, we seem to be making good progress.

Construction have also had the pleasure of realising one of the more decorative features of the set. Alice, Lana and Oscar under the instruction of Andy were able to have a bit of fun in creating the Baroque style fireplace.

The main frame was made from timber which was clad with ply to give us the basic shape. The edges of the frame were decorated by laying a border of a thick plaster mix and then shaped with a purpose made jig to give the edge shape you see below.

the larger decorative mouldings were made by pouring plaster into vac formed moulds and the attaching these to the timber frame. The The mouldings were strengthened by laying hessian into the plaster.

Andy also sculpted some extensions with clay to finish off sections of pattern too fit and align with the size and shape of the piece. A mould was made of these clay sculpts which was them cast to create a finished plaster section.

The pieces were then screwed onto the main frame using the supports that had been set into them.

The joins were then filled and moulded by hand to give the impression it was one fluid piece.


The piece was then ready for a paint job. Our second year student Lana and I finished the piece by applying a marble paint effect.



Our scenic art students began their process by texturing the flats. This was done by covering them with a thin layer of idenden which gave the surface a rough concrete texture. They were then painted white and a raw umber wash applied to the bottom sections.


In props our students have been busy constructing miniature models of  the Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and Sacre Coeur which will sit on plinths around the walls of the set.They have been using mainly styrofoam to construct the models and some of the final details will be drawn in CAD and 3D printed.

Emily did a great job at gilding the large picture frame to give a degraded finish. This prop piece will sit above the fireplace.


Props have also had the opportunity to work on some polycarving. In front of the fireplace is to be placed a decorative peacock fire gate. Sneha with the help of Anna carved the peacock from blocks of polystyrene. This was then covered with layers of foamcoat to help smooth the surface before being painted in metallics.


Alongside preparing the opera set, we have had students from other areas of technical theatre creating work for either a personal project or getting stuck in with assisting on the construction of the Alexandre Bis set.

Here are some example of the work going on amongst our associated studies students.

Fit Up….


Fit up for the opera went relatively smoothly. It began by constructing the steel deck truck onto which the set was attached. The walls and treads went in first, followed by the windows and balcony.


Once the set was attached to the truck we had to attach some breaks to it. However…we didn’t have any rubber fixed to the breaks we had… so we improvised…

…Worked a treat!


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End of term trio

It has been a steady few weeks with injections of hysteria as we have been working on the three sets over the spring term in Design Realisation.

We have been preparing our Silk Street stage for ‘Go Make you Ready,’ Designed by Mark Simmons.  This was a vast and open set divided into an indoor/outdoor space with a strong contrast of colour and texture.

The Cloth

The main challenge of the set was taken on by our scenic art students Becca and Claudia who were led by our third year Sneha. The task was to paint two cloths at 8m x 4.5m and 8m x 3m with a dense forest scene inspired by the painting, ‘A Stag Hunt in a Forest’ by Jan Hackaert and Nicholaes Berchem, to hang up-stage, left of the set.

A Stag Hunt in  a Forest. Oil on canvas by Jan Hackaert and Nicholaes Berchem. 1660


Here you can see the cloth being worked on in it’s various stages. The shapes of the trees were traced onto the cloth by projecting the artists image onto it and tracing round the trees in charcoal. The darker background tones were then blocked in and then the lighter shades were painted on top in stages to give the illusion of a 3D image.

The Floor

The stage itself was on a raised steel deck platform and was covered 2/3 in laminate flooring and 1/3 in painted carpet tiles. The carpet tiles (of which there were about 300) were individually primed with Covent Garden primer to prevent the paint from rubbing off and painted using a stencil. This took a big group effort to finish  but was effective once laid all together onstage.


Up-stage right consisted of a large steel frame which was constructed by our 2nd year student Lana and was clad in plywood in order to provide a screen to project on during the show.



Prospero’s Staff

In props Hellen had the task of creating Prospero’s staff  which she did by drawing the shape in Sketch-up and 3D printing it. Then she created a mould out of Latex and cast the shape in crystal clear resin. The final piece had to be sanded and polished to give it a smooth cut glass look. The staff needed to be made as a break-away prop. This was done by sawing the cue in half and inserting a dowel into one end and drilling a hole to insert the dowel in the other half. This way the staff could be snapped along this seam each performance and reset by inserting a new dowel into the socket.

White LEDs were placed under the end of the crystal to make the staff glow which made for an effective looking practical prop.


Once the set was fitted up there were a few tweaks to make before the show went up. We put an extra wash on the forest cloth to bring the bushes into shadow a little more and there was a little dulling down of the yellow crosses on carpet tiles. Overall it was a job well done.


Alongside this our scenic art students were also preparing a cloth for the set of ‘Guns and Drums’ designed by our own third year student Sunny Smith. This piece was to be the floor cloth and was designed to look like a birds eye view of war trenches.

The organic waving lines were traced onto the cloth using a projected image from the model. The lines were then painted onto the cloth and finally washes were then applied to break up and blend the background colour with the red and blue lines.

Our spring term Opera Scenes set was designed my another of our third year students Alena, who’s design resembled an abandoned industrial space. The main structure consisted of a platform and a ramp which the actors were to slide down and was made by Vincent, Ollie, and Lana. The set was dressed with a selection of found items which our trusty Tom Downing scoured around London in junk yards to find. Superhero!

These items were then given various paint treatments to enhance their rust and to break down the surfaces.

The set had a great grungy industrial feel and was very effective onstage. Well done to everyone!

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Making a meadow


Over the past couple of weeks our props department have been lending their hand to a little gardening….

For our spring opera, ‘The Rape of Lucretia,’ the design partly consists of a cemetery amongst a meadow of wild flowers which our props department, led by our third year student Jonathan Gilmer, have had the challenge of creating.
The meadow was made up in sections each piece consisting of a plywood base covered in a layer of artificial grass.



Sourcing the plants…

In order to obtain the variety of flowers needed to make our wild meadow, plants were sourced from a variety of places. New Covent Garden market provided us with a great range of artificial plant, grasses and wild flowers.


We were also able to make good use of the dead and dry plants from the Tower Hamlets Park Cemetery.  Across the cemetery we were able to harvest a range of dried thistles and wild flowers which we brought back to the workshop and painted back to life. These have worked remarkably well amongst the other artificial plants and have really helped to bring the entire piece together.



The stems were painted back to a forest green and we added the pink/purple colour to the thistles by mixing some paint with sawdust, and crumbling it over the dried flower heads and painted the purple onto the buds for the other dried plants.

Our props department have worked tremendously hard planting all the pieces into the bases. This was done by drilling holes for each individual stem and fixing it into place. Some grasses were added in short strips to fill out the gaps and help to create a variety of texture.


 Some close ups of our revived plants in the meadow



completed sections


The final result has been very effective and well received by the designer. So a great job all round!


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