Ideas for Stage Backdrops

Written by melanie j. martin
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A stage backdrop is an important part of a school play or musical. It sets the atmosphere for the performance and gives the audience an idea of what to expect before the scene even begins. Engage artistic students in creating a variety of backdrops for a performance and be sure to mention them in the program.

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Castle

Paint stones with irregular shapes to form the walls of a medieval castle, lining the stones in a light colour so the pattern stands out. Use sponges to apply the paint using a blotting technique. Remember that, as with stage make-up, everything must have plenty of contrast so the audience can see it clearly.

Forest

To create a ravine or deep forest setting use tree props together with a painted backdrop. Take real branches and stick the ends in pots, so when they stand up, they'll look like trees. Paint the mural to match, using a dark base and brighter strokes for the outlines of trees.

Cityscape

Create a view of a city street that displays large buildings in the foreground and smaller ones fading into the background. Or, display the city from a slightly overhead angle if you want to emphasise its vastness. Paint a railing on the backdrop to suggest that the actors are standing on a hilltop. Consider which part of the city you want to show, such as an upscale neighbourhood, a marketplace or a poverty stricken area.

Living Room

For a cosy indoor scene, use large tapestries strung up against the back wall and side walls. Then, you don't even have to paint. Use it to represent uniform wallpaper, or layer different fabrics and patterns for a haphazard, comfortably dishevelled look. You can also paint in bookshelves and a window.

Starry Night

On a black backdrop, paint a moon and starry sky with glow-in-the-dark paint. Draw a plus sign for each star, then add two diagonal lines running through the centre so it looks like it's sparkling. Make the stars different sizes for a more realistic and interesting look. In the lower portion of the backdrop, paint the ridge of a hilltop in green paint with a light outline, overlooking a small village of houses accented by light, golden tones.

Simple Stage

For a one-person production, a small, simple backdrop may be best--something that focuses the audience on the performer. If you are a storyteller or perform a one-person show at different locations, create a portable background by stretching fabric over a PVC pipe frame, as storyteller Rachel Hedman says. See the Resources for detailed instructions.

Considerations

Sometimes any backdrop will do, but the important thing is that it fits the text of the play. Read the script and talk with the students who will be painting the backdrop so they can come up with ideas that best suit the play.

Before creating your backdrop, think about how permanent you'd like it to be. If you're painting a backdrop that is fairly generic and might be useful in future productions, paint it on a solid base such as wood if you have the storage space. Or, use large pieces of heavy canvas that you can easily hang on the back wall and roll up when the show closes.

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