Soon after the Enchantment Theatre Company of Philadelphia, PA began to develop a wonderfully whimsical stage adaptation of Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit™ Tales, its artistic team realized large format printing on fabric would be best for achieving a marvelous, mobile set design.
“Our job was to stay true to the spirit of [Potter’s] book without copying it,” explains Landis Smith, Enchantment Theatre’s artistic director in charge of production. David Russell, who designed the scenery, costumes, and props for Peter Rabbit™ Tales, was in England when the agreement with Potter’s estate was finalized. So he reviewed hundreds of images in the estate’s digital library and his design was inspired by some of the unpublished illustrations he encountered. “We felt that David’s very detailed art would be more consistent if we had it printed on fabric and we appreciated the process Big Image uses to set dye into the fabric,” says Smith.
Durability, ease of use, and precision were also critical. Smith custom-built the metal framework so that load-in and set-up could be completed in four hours (or less), regardless of the wide variety of stage dimensions and facility conditions the stage crew would encounter during the show’s international tour. “This was a very complex design that required a lot of decisions,” Smith says. “For example, we had to decide whether to use a chain or a pole at the bottom of the fabric to weigh it down. The trusses were assembled, then the fabric was hung from these to form the borders and legs. We also decided to hang some lights on the trusses in between the fabric portals to make sure the design looked good in all locations.”
Smith reviewed the full range of fabric samples that Olle Lindqvist, president of U.S. operations for Big Image, provided before arriving at a design solution that combined translucent and opaque fabrics. “I could tell by working with Olle that he was detail-oriented and very knowledgeable,” Smith says. ”He knew immediately what could or couldn’t be achieved when using specific fabrics. Even though I trusted the printing process to work, there were a lot of pieces that needed to be trimmed and precisely finished. Some were hemmed and others were cut with a hot knife. Velcro was sewn along some of the edges so that we could fasten everything into place and also dismantle the set quickly. There were so many variables to keep track of to ensure everything was functional and beautiful under the lights.” Lindqvist concurs, “It was very unusual to sew two different fabrics together to form a drop – especially when one of the fabrics was lightweight and very sheer [Trevira Voile] and the other was opaque and heavier [Rolltex 229]. Our sewing staff had to determine how to create seams that didn’t wrinkle or pucker. They did several tests before deciding it was best to use a half-inch overlap and straight seam to connect the two fabrics.”
With the U.S. tour in full swing and performances on the horizon in Canada and abroad, the stage crew has had ample opportunities to set-up and strike the set. Smith says it is not only holding up well to the rigors of the road, but “wherever we go, people literally gasp and say ‘this is gorgeous.’ It has been great to work with Big Image because its staff shares our commitment to quality and attention to detail.”.