How to make a set for a play that is a forest

Stage Curtains image by Darragh Tobin from

Forests are often the theme of theatrical set designs. Plays based on fairy tales are especially likely to have at least a scene that is set in a forest. There are many different ways to approach forest set making. Forest sets can be simple to construct and very effective onstage. You can use just one forest set technique or a combination of two or more techniques to create different forest effects.

Place leafy patterned gobos over some of the theatre lights that you will be using to light the stage during the forest scene. Spotlights work better than wash lights to create this effect. Secure the gobos on the stage lights with a gobos holder.

Put a green or amber gel over some lights that will also be lighting the stage. Secure the gels in place with a gel holder.

Focus the lights to the areas of the stage that you will be lighting during the forest scene.

Turn on the lights and adjust light levels and positioning them to create the desired effect of a forest scene.

Cut plastic corrugated board in the shape of trees, toadstools and bushes. Use a craft knife to cut the board.

Lay the plastic corrugated board flat and paint as trees, toadstools and bushes. You can use fun colours to paint the trees or add fairies and woodland animals sitting in the trees. Be as creative as you like since it is a mythical forest.

Place an L-shaped shelf bracket on the bottom right front side of your plastic corrugated board a couple of inches in from the right corner. Position the shelf bracket with the short side of the bracket flat against the bottom of the set piece and the long side flat on the floor. There are two holes on a shelf bracket, one on each end of the shelf bracket. With a pencil, mark where the hole is on the plastic corrugated board.

Set your shelf bracket to the side in order to punch a hole using scissors through the area that you marked with your pencil.

Reposition the shelf bracket in its previous position with the short side of the bracket flat against the bottom of the set piece and the long side flat to the floor. The hole in the plastic corrugated board should line up with the hole in the shelf bracket. User bolts to connect the shelf bracket and the plastic corrugated board.

Take another shelf bracket and place it on the backside of the set piece. The bolt should be sticking out the back of the set piece. Put the bolt through the hole on the short side of the shelf bracket. The long side of the shelf bracket should be flat to the floor.

Put the nut on the bolt and screw the nut on until it is tight against the two brackets on each side and plastic corrugated board in the middle.

Put another bracket on the left front side of the set piece, a couple of inches in from the left bottom corner. With a pencil, mark where the hole on the bracket is on the plastic corrugated board. Punch a hole through the pencil mark with scissors. Line up another bracket on the backside of the set piece and stick the bolt through all three: the front bracket, the plastic corrugated board and the back bracket. Put a nut on the bolt and screw on until all three are fastened the same way the brackets on the right side were fastened. There should be four brackets holding the set piece up, two at the front and two at the back, with the front ones lined up with the back ones. The long part of all four brackets should be flat to the floor. These brackets make the set pieces freestanding structures.

Make several of these and position them around the stage to make a fairy tale forest.

Hang realistic looking vines from the top frame or ceiling of the stage. Use tape or a staple gun to attach the vines. Make sure the audience can't see the tape.

Attach realistic looking tree branches along the side frame of the stage if you have a proscenium arch stage. Tree branches can be attached with tape or a staple gun. The branches should stick out from the sides of the stage, giving the impression the branches are attached to offstage trees.

Put leaves and twigs on the floor of the stage to create the illusion of a forest floor.

Find a picture of a forest that has the look that you want your forest set to have.

Buy green, brown, white and black paint. Be sure to buy enough paint to cover the entire backdrop.

Put an overhead sheet on top your forest picture. Use a thin-tipped permanent marker to trace the major lines that make up the forest. You don't need to trace fine details, but focus on stronger lines such as tree trunks and thick branches.

Place the sheet on an overhead projector. Project the image onto your backdrop. The image should fill as much of the backdrop as possible. Move the projector away from the backdrop in order to make the image bigger and then focus so the lines are crisp and clear.

Trace the projected image on the backdrop with a pencil.

Use the lines you traced on to the backdrop to form your forest scene. The original picture will help you determine how you should mix colours in the painting. If the backdrop can be easily taken down and you have enough space, lay your backdrop flat to paint it.

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