By Jacob French, Assistant Artistic Director, Master of Note & Figure
Years ago–before I found Sweet Tea–I was a theatre husband. My wife (the incomparable Medina Demeter) is a high school theatre teacher and, for most of her productions, she would need assistance with building sets, props, and other little (or not so little) things. I would show up on Saturdays and work with her students to make what was needed. If I’m being honest, I quite enjoyed playing the part of “grumpy-husband-who-works-in-the-corner-of-the-workshop-making-stuff-who-the-kids-are-scared-to-approach.” I’d lean in every now and then and tell someone they didn’t know how to use a power drill correctly and then show them how. Then I’d stand back and cringe as they failed to take my advice and trashed yet another Phillips head driver bit and stripped yet another screw.
When Medina auditioned for, and was cast in, Sweet Tea’s production of Julius Caesar in 2014, she mentioned that they could use help with “production-y” kinds of things. I thought I might be able to make myself useful there, so I made myself available. Of course, this involvement eventually led me to become the Master of Note and Figure and an Assistant Artistic Director in the company–but that’s another story. My hopes of building things for Sweet Tea shows proved to be warranted, and the opportunities plentiful. Through recent years I’ve built all kinds of things: shadow puppets, papercraft dog masks (so…many…), a wind machine, stage boxes, crown molding, rigging cables for outside (and inside) use. You know: theatre stuff.
For this season’s production of Pericles, we need a moon.
To be more accurate, the note that was given was, “we need a giant, light-up moon.” This sounded like my kind of project, and since the magnificent Dean Dibling had already claimed the “enormous harpy wings” that we also needed, I jumped on it.
I took pictures while I was making this thing. What follows is an attempt at a brief description of how I made the moon that you’ll get to see in Pericles. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed making it–and come to the show to see how it turned out in person!
HOW TO MAKE A GIANT, LIGHT-UP MOON
STEP ONE: Assemble Materials and Recruit Help
For this moon I’m using…
- (many) 20”x30” foam project boards from Dollar Tree.
- (a lot of) Super 77 Spray Adhesive
- (sticks of) hot glue
- (a little) packing tape
- (15ft) 5050 LED Light Tape
- (1) 8aa(12v) Battery Box with Switch
You’ll also need the right tools for the job. In this case…
- Xacto Blades
- Straight Edge
- A Cutting Mat (if you can find one that’s too small for what you need, amazing)
- A Soldering Iron
Oh, there’s also a very helpful dog.
STEP TWO: Change Your Plans (Immediately)
- After realizing the foam board will not be strong enough for the size this moon needed to be (because you’re an awesome planner), immediately flounder about and try to find some kind of support material.
- Ultimately, decide on the box that your synthesizer came in when you bought it. Be glad it’s big enough.
- Lay the cardboard out on your living room floor and curse, once again, the decision to buy a house without a workshop. Be glad your wife isn’t home to see the mess you’re about to make.
STEP THREE: Start Layering
- Using Super 77 spray adhesive, glue the foam board on top of the cardboard you managed to find. Tile it so it makes a big enough piece to cut your moon from.
- Realize you forgot to open the windows to vent the fumes from the spray adhesive.
- Have a mini-trip as a byproduct of aerosol propellants.
- Open the windows.
STEP FOUR: Cut Into a Circle
- Think for a while about how you’re going to cut out something that represents a circle from this pile of glued-together cardboard and foam.
- Attempt to make a large compass out of some pins, markers, and strings, but be unhappy with the results.
- Realize that your kitchen table is about the right size and shape.
- Once again, be glad your wife isn’t home to see this.
- Empty off the kitchen table and flip it upside down on top of your cardboard/foam composite and trace the circle you need.
- Put things back before your wife can notice that anything fishy went on.
- Cut the line you traced with your sharp cutting implements.
Don’t take pictures of this process as they can later be used to incriminate. Approximation provided.
STEP FIVE: Add Cardstock
- Realize that the gaps in the foam and the corrugation of the cardboard make the surface of this moon extremely unstable.
- Decide to use more spray adhesive to skin the top layer with cardstock, taking care to cover the gaps and provide support.
- Realize too late that you should have done this before cutting out the circle out in the first place.
- Spend an extra five minutes cutting off the excess when you could have just done it in one fell swoop.
- Drink a beer.
STEP SIX: Make a Bunch of These
- Use the cut-off pieces of cardboard/foam from your circle creation to make these things that look like ice cream sandwiches.
- Start by using your sharp knives, but switch to your good kitchen shears because it’s easier (don’t tell the wife).
- Make as many as you need.
- Make more.
- Make some more.
- …and some more.
STEP SEVEN: Glue the Standoffs to the Edge
- Use hot glue and attach all these “ice cream sandwich” things you made to the edge of the circle you created.
- Burn yourself on hot glue.
- Drink a beer.
STEP 8: Line the Sandwiches with Foam
- Measure VERY carefully the EXACT height (preferably to the millimeter) of the standoffs you glued on to the moon perimeter.
- Use your straight edge and X-Acto knife to cut a strip of foam board to exactly that measurement.
- Realize this is more work than it’s worth and just eyeball it. (Why does it need to be straight?! No one’s gonna see it…)
- Peel off one side of the paper lining on the foam board so it bends without creasing.
- Use hot glue to attach this lining to the standoffs you glued down (don’t forget to burn yourself).
- Do this ALL the way around the perimeter.
STEP NINE: Get all Electronic
- Get out the electronic stuff and heat up your soldering iron.
- Don’t use a pair of helping hands–you don’t want to make this too easy on yourself.
- Realize you’re not that great at soldering and really have no business doing this.
- Decide to do it anyway. It’s only a potential house fire, right?
STEP TEN: Solder the Things
- Behold your adequate soldering job.
- Shrink wrap the connections before you test to make sure it works. You know, to make more work for yourself if it doesn’t.
- Turn it on and hope for the best.
- Be amazed (every time) that it works!
STEP ELEVEN: Attach the Lights
- Peel off the adhesive from the back of the light strand and stick it to the foam “lining” that you installed a little while ago.
- Realize this is taking you longer than you anticipated.
- Be grateful you’re not called for rehearsal tonight.
- Decide to press on and finish.
- Drink a beer.
STEP TWELVE: Hide the Ugly (Or Part of It)
- Do away with the thought of exact measurements for this part of the process and just wing it.
- Cut a “roughly” circular strip of foam that is a couple inches wide (in theory).
- Use more hot glue (remember: burning) to attach this strip to to the top of the “ice cream sandwiches” from before.
- Realize that this won’t do as much to shield the light as you’d like it to, but settle because it’s better than nothing.
STEP THIRTEEN: Turn it On
- Flip the switch and hope for the best.
- Be glad it works!
- Realize that pictures of this thing don’t really work because of the bright light, but it looks a lot cooler in person.
- Think about painting it to actually look like the moon.
- Decide that’s a job for someone more talented at painting than you.
- Drink a beer.
Come and see Jake’s handiwork! Tickets for Pericles and The Tempest are available at sweetteashakespeare.com/tickets.