Big Image Systems’ Fabric Prints Cover All Set Surfaces for Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s Production of “The Burn”

Big image Systems printed the large format graphics on fabric that cover all surfaces of the set for “The Burn.”

Each year, the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago, Illinois, presents two full-scale shows that tackle topics of interest to young adults. During the 2017/2018 season these shows were The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, and The Burn, by Philip Dawkins.

“Since The Burn used aspects of a previous production, we were able to modify an existing set.” says Mike Donohue, Steppenwolf’s Technical Director. “We kept the structure—the deck and the walls. We knew we’d need at least one large fabric print for the cityscape that Designer Courtney O’Neill created for the back wall. It would have been laborious to paint this and we had a tight schedule.”

The creative team went back and forth about whether to paint or print the “streaky printer concept” O’Neill had developed as a backdrop for the cyber- and real-life bullying themes addressed by Dawkins’ play.

“The calendar dictated our final decision because we realized we weren’t going to have enough time to do the painting,” Donohue says. “So, for this particular set, we covered everything in fabric prints that Big Image Systems produced—including the floor.”

Pictured above: Model showing how backdrop and Ground Cloth “wrap” the set for The Burn in large format, digitally printed fabric. All photos are provided courtesy of Steppenwolf Theatre Company.

Although Big Image had done a great job producing large format graphics on fabric for various Steppenwolf sets, Donohue and his team were initially skeptical when Olle Lindqvist, President of Big Image Systems US, said that “little if any adhesion or attachment method” would be needed for the Ground Cloth.

“I was worried that we were going to have to staple it in place,” Donohue explains. “However, the fabric is thick and has a heavy rubber backing.”

The Ground Cloth was developed for the theater and is now increasingly used for corporate events.

“It lays flat and doesn’t bubble up, so I can see how it would hold up without extra adhesion— depending on its use,” Donohue says. “As an extra precaution, though, we carpet-taped the perimeter and seams. It really stayed put!”

According to Donohue, the decision to use fabric prints so extensively wound up to be a win-win for everyone.

“It freed up our schedule and gave the designer more creative freedom,” he says. “If we had gone with a painted floor, we would have had to simplify the art. Courtney was pleased to hear that she could do exactly what she wanted and that Big Image would take it from there. We obtained samples in advance to check the color and were good to go on the first pass!”.

In general, Donohue says he goes straight to Big Image rather than “doing a lot of shopping when it comes to printed images.”

“Big Image’s customer service is fantastic,” he says. “The staff works to provide the highest quality, affordable solution with an impressive turnaround time. In this case, the material for the Ground Cloth cost more than the standard Cloth 201, but we would have spent more money on labor to paint the floor and we didn’t have the time to do that, either.”