PCS Blog

Charge Scenic Artist Erinn McGrew Discusses “The Whipping Man”

Posted by Kinsley Suer | 11 March 2013

I enjoy being a part of a process that the audience is, most times, not even aware of. The paint department is responsible for coating the scenery—built by the carpenters and welders—in various goops, adhesives, fibers, particles and pigments. Along with coating the scenery, we must make sure that the coating meets any functional requirements of a particular show and that the coating maintains its visual quality throughout the run. The most challenging part of my job is patching the set together, on stage, after it has been transported from our off-site scene shop – so, literally, making the set look "seamless."
Erinn McGrew
 
Erinn McGrew has been the Charge Scenic Artist here at PCS for almost three seasons. Her most recent project? The set for our production of The Whipping Man. The play takes place at the end of the Civil War in the entryway of the DeLeon mansion in Richmond, Virginia. The home has been badly damaged by a recent fire and subsequent exposure to the elements. We recently asked Erinn a few questions about the process of painting the set and the challenges of creating the damage to the mansion itself.

 

What are some of the ways you created the damage to the DeLeon mansion in The Whipping Man?

The primary ways we conveyed the damage was through darkness and texture. The walls were covered in muslin and painted with the wallpaper pattern. To achieve the wallpaper “blistering” effect we took a razor to the muslin and cut out holes that we then stretched and stuffed to ensure that they caught the “scraping” beams of light. The paint “peeling” effect was created by soaking ripped pieces of paper in glue and paint, then laying it on the surfaces, again ensuring that there were protrusions for the light to catch.

Were there any unexpected challenges with this particular set?
 
There was a lot of focus on texture and color value, and how it would respond to the lighting. More so than usual, any reasoning behind a paint decision came from the vantage point of “how will the light react to this?” I enjoyed this type of collaboration, a true joining of the elements of  theatrical design.
 
As scenic artist, do you research the time period in which the play takes place, or is that up to the designer?
 
It is a shared task. The designer must do research for his or her own purpose -- to produce an adequate scenic design. The designer then usually passes along some or all of their research to the scenic artist. From there the scenic artist decides if any additional research is necessary to complete their job. It is always smart to do some research of your own so that you can “complete the picture” in a way that makes sense to you.
 
What was the biggest triumph with this set?
 
Completing the QUANTITY of scenery with as much QUALITY as we, the entire scene shop, were able to.
 
What’s the most satisfying part of your job?
 
I enjoy the physical nature of my job, and the moments when I am able to become wrapped up in a certain experiment or painterly task.
 
Is there a project that you are particularly proud of?
 
Each project has its own challenge and success. Though the trees for A Midsummer Night's Dream stand out at this point in time. That set could be likened to a very large, sculptural installation project. The end goal was clear, but how we got there was determined, more so than usual, during the actual construction process. 
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