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The Whipping Man: Theater Secrets Revealed

Posted by Kinsley Suer | 06 March 2013 | Comments (3)

The Whipping Man is full of secrets. Every character has one to hide; the big question is, when will his secret be revealed? But the secrets aren’t just found the script for this production. In fact, our creative team was tasked with creating some pretty spectacular theatrical illusions. Pulling them off required some serious behind-the-scenes tricks of the trade. Now we’ll reveal them to you!
 
 
Even the set model for this show looks amazing. Wait until you see the real thing! It's the tallest set in our history in the Armory. The walls are an average of 28 feet high, only leaving 10 feet of clearance between the top of the set and the roof of the Armory. Scenic designer Tony Cisek (you'll know his work from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, The North Plan, A Christmas Story and Sometimes a Great Notion, among many others), designed another beautiful set for this post-Civil War production.
 
   
 
The play takes place in Richmond, Virginia, in April 1865. As you can see in the production photo, it was a dark and stormy April. You can hear rain pounding outside the dilapidated mansion for most of the show. But it’s not just a sound effect you’re hearing; when the door to the mansion is opened, it actually appears to be raining. To pull it off, we're using real water for this theatrical trick! Approximately 250 gallons of water are being constantly recycled through a pump that draws water from a 38-foot-long tank hidden behind the set. Then we add some dramatic lighting to make the rain visible on the dark set and sound effects to ensure that it’s all easily audible from the audience.
 
  
 
In the play, Caleb DeLeon is a Confederate soldier who returns home to Richmond with a serious gunshot wound on his leg – a wound that has been festering, untreated, for several days (eeew!). To create this “wound,” Costume Crafts Artisan Barbara Casement transformed a simple pair of men's tights into a seriously nasty battle abrasion. The best part? It can quickly and easily be pulled over the actor's leg before every performance. To make it, Barbara covered the tights with latex, sawdust, glossy paint (to make the wound appear wet), layers of silk fabric and a magic ingredient – insulating foam sealant – to create the appearance of a terribly infected battle wound.
 
 
To make the set itself look realistic, our scene shop crew first built the DeLeon Mansion in perfect condition, as if it had never been destroyed by fire. Then all of the fire and subsequent rain and looting damage was painted onto the set while the carpenters smashed holes in the walls (sounds fun!). The scene shop also looked all over Portland for real burnt pieces of wood from recent fires. In their search, they discovered 80-year-old rail ties from a railroad track renovation. As you can see from the picture above, they are a perfect realistic addition to the set.
 
In addition, real open flames are used to light some of the candles on stage, which is pretty unheard of in the theater world. You can even smell the used matches from your seat in the theater! The flames inside some of the lanterns, however, are artificial. To create a realistic flickering effect, six tiny lights were installed on the tip of each lantern candle. Can you tell which flames are fake?
 
Special thanks to Group Sales & Promotions Manager Mandy Morgan for her contribution to this post!
Comments (3)

Hi Jim,

We asked our charge scenic artist, Erinn McGrew, that very question! You can find out how they created the wallpaper effect here: http://www.pcs.org/blog/item/charge-scenic-artist-erinn-mcgrew-discusses-the-whipping-man/.

Thanks for coming to see the show!

  • Kinsley Suer
  • 12 Mar 13 11:32

I want to know how they got the blistering effect on the wallpaper - the fire damage was incredibly realistic.

  • Jim
  • Tualatin
  • 11 Mar 13 06:19

This is amazing!  I have seen only one play at this theatre but it too was amazing.  Only wish we lived closer to see all of these fabulous productions! Congratulations to the crew of artists who designed and created this!

  • Selma Hamilton
  • United States
  • 08 Mar 13 06:48

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