I've been involved in community theatre as an actor, producer, prop maker and graphic artist for several years. And every time I'm invited to join the cast of a play, it's not just another chance to act and perform for audiences. It's also another opportunity to exercise my designer muscles and do something clever, creative, and crafty for my new castmates and crew for opening night.
Sometimes, I fail. An idea that wows me just doesn't come to mind or what does can't be executed in time for opening night (I always blame those pesky rehearsals getting in the way). So sometimes, I come up with nothing to give the cast when we open a show. On those occasions, I hope that in the weeks while the show's up and running, I'll get an idea and use the time to have something clever and personalized done to hand out by closing night.
I'm in a show now, The Curious Savage. We opened two weeks ago, and this time, I had something for the cast and crew on opening night.
In the show, I play a doctor, Dr. Emmett. Brainstorming ideas for what gifts I could do, I came up with "medical bag"..."stethoscope"..."prescriptions". Prescriptions seemed like a no-brainer, a sheet of paper designed like a prescription slip that I could write a message on, like "Here's your prescription for a great show - Break a leg!" from the doctor. They'd be way easy to do too. Design it, print it, stuff it in an envelope - done!
Then, I figured it was TOO easy and wondered if there was something else I could do to plus them out a little bit and make them more memorable. That's when medical file folders popped into my brain. Why not make each person's card their patient file folder?
Next step? I visited my local JoAnn store (I like Michaels too, but it's farther away from my place, and like Michaels, I still used an online coupon to get a discount) and found a stationery set with cards that are the right color and texture as file folders. It'd be easy to trim them down to look like mini file folders. Add a label with the "patient's name" on each of them, tack the prescription on the inside, and we're done. Time to get started.
Buying enough for the cast and crew, my first task was to create a trimming template of a file folder shape that I could lay over the cards and transfer lines onto them in order to cut them out perfectly and fairly consistently. Drawing the template in Adobe Illustrator was easy. Then, I made printouts and scribbled dark pencil lead across the backs of the printouts, only in the areas where the lines were that I needed for cutting. I then layed a sheet, pencil lead side down, on each card and then drew over the printed lines using a burnisher stylus to transfer the lead onto the cards. Old school trick, easy peasy!
Once I transferred the lines to the number of cards I needed, I trimmed them and they looked awesome! Next, I pulled out a pack of Avery file folder labels I already had, opened a template and typed out labels for every patient - I mean, cast and crew member - and printed them out to put onto the mini folders. The label size I had was twice as tall as I needed, so I had to do some additional trimming to each label to look proportionally correct on these 5" x 7" cards/file folders.
For the prescription slips, I designed very simple stationery for my character Dr. Emmett, including the name of the facility he operates in the play - The Cloisters - at the top and a quote from Lord Byron he (I) recites in the show at the bottom. I did them four to a page. After printing them out, I cut them apart and then hand-wrote my "prescriptions," or personal messages, on them personalizing each one.
So I had all my elements figured out. But then I thought only having one sheet of paper inside each file folder seemed chintzy and lame. There should be a few more sheets inside each patient's record, to add some life to this mini prop. What would be appropriate "medical records" of the cast and crew of a play?
I scanned several pages from my script and scaled them down and printed enough to include a couple more pages per folder. Having some spare sheets of colored paper, I printed script pages in different colors. As luck would have it, I have scenes with everyone in the cast. So I made sure I had at least one script page of a scene we had together in each actor's folder. That way their files would actually have information relevant to their character and of us working together on stage. My script is a working script, so my pages are filled with blocking and acting notes all over them written in during rehearsals. Rather than erase them, I left all those scribbles in.
Finally, I had to come up with a way to permanently attach the medical records into the folders. Rather than simply stapling them in, I reused the scrap pieces I'd trimmed from the cards, colored half of them black with a Sharpie, and turned them into an accent piece that would conceal the staples holding the papers together. Then, I glued the stapled assembly onto the folders.
Design-wise and assembly-wise, I was pretty much done. But for one final touch, I decided to add a date to the cards, putting our opening night date to the bottom of the theatre's promotional art and printing them out onto label paper, trimming them apart, and sticking one onto the backs of each card.
Taking my time, it took a couple of days to get these all designed, printed, cut, stapled, glued and assembled. They're not as elaborate as ones I've done for past shows. But every show is different. And getting a distinct medical file from "your doctor" seems pretty on-the-mark. (Here is when Frank modestly pats himself on the back.)
In the middle of making these, it also dawned on me that every patient should also get a lollipop! Duh again. Ironically, of all the things I had to do to get everything done, finding slim lollipops like you'd get at the doctor's office that could fit inside the folders before putting them into their envelopes took more time to complete than any other step of this project! I traveled all over town, hitting several stores I thought would have them, passing over piles and piles of bags of Charms Blow Pops and Tootsie Roll Pops before finally finding the lollipops I needed.
I'm pretty happy with the way they turned out, and it was nice to see and hear the reactions from the cast as they opened their cards.
Now what the hell am I gonna do for closing night?!
They started with this.
I whipped up the above artwork for my friends building the set of Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka, last month's musical staged by the Torrance Theatre Company and one I was also cast in, playing the part of reporter-to-the-Golden-Ticket-winners Phineous Trout. The artwork would be applied to large 5' x 3' boards installed at the top of the proscenium of the Armstrong Theatre and illuminated with animated magical effects during every show.
Now whenever I'm in a show, I like to try to do something creative and special for the cast, to hand out on opening night or closing night. For this show, I had to consider something I could produce for about forty cast members and about half as many more crew members, something that wouldn't get in the way of me missing (too much) sleep to get them sixty-odd pieces done and looking pretty.
In my last show, 12 Angry Men, I made a card with a wheel that can be turned to reveal jokey verdicts through a cut-out window and a simple pop-up card that I handed out to the cast and crew on opening and closing nights. They turned out well enough and everyone got a kick out of them. I also had fun making them, and they turned out to be fairly simple to do yet were impressive to receive. (Pats myself on the back.)
So immediately the idea of again doing something involving paper engineering came to mind. I browsed through some books on paper engineering I own for inspiration and also to see what would be simplest to produce for a cast of thousands! Ok, sixty people. But I didn't want this to feel like I was making enough for thousands.
After I finished the Golden Ticket art, I occurred to me that not only was that the perfect graphic element to share with everyone, but also that half my graphic design time was theoretically done if I was able to use it in whatever I came up with! (On top of taking the time to brainstorm, design and make these whatevers, I still had rehearsals to go to too! So time management was a bit important to me.) I decided I wanted to do something a little more exciting than the simple pop-up I did for 12 Angry Men. And quickly the idea of opening a card to reveal a real Golden Ticket popping up at them became my focus and my goal.
My biggest challenge being a novice paper engineer was how to make it pop up! But a little trial and error building white model mockups aided me in figuring that out fairly quickly. Next up was designing the graphics for what would appear on the rest of the card, what would appear behind the Golden Ticket that popped up and what would the cover say to set up what they'd find inside. I was again able to save some time by re-using the gears from my Golden Ticket art to use in the background spread of the inside. And since this was coming from the reporter in the show who introduces himself to the audience by saying "This is Phineous Trout!", the concept for the cover arrived quickly too.
As the art was getting done, I printed them out to mockup some more white models to see how it was looking and also to make sure the placement of the Golden Ticket didn't block my text and message in the card. Once I signed off on my own graphic design, it was off to the local craft stores to find just the right kind of gold paper to print the Golden Tickets on, because Golden Tickets need to be gold (duh) and sparkly! (And because I could then print them as black and white art, it would save me a hell of a lot of money on toner too!)
Thank God for Scrampers, a scrapbooking supply store that was the only place I found with just the right paper I was hoping to find! I also bought a box of Avery 5 1/2" x 4 1/4" Note Cards for the base cards; pre-scored and perforated-to-size was another time-saver I banked on. And since I already had white card stock at home for the pieces going under the tickets to lift them up - card stock being sturdier than thin copy paper - I just needed toner - lots of toner - and I was ready to print, cut and score.
Below are images of my final artwork and shots I took during construction. I didn't have time to produce anything for opening night, so I was glad I got these done to hand out on before the show on closing night. I was very happy with the way they turned out. Thankfully, so were my very talented castmates and the backstage crew who worked hard throughout the production.
Check out my portfolio to see other paper engineering projects I've done for fun!
All About Me
A fan of Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Batman, comic books, Blu-rays, Disney, soundtracks, taking pictures, theatre and...Barry Manilow!