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Suggestions for updating theatre stage

  • 1.  Suggestions for updating theatre stage

    Posted 04-14-2021 16:01
    Our school is going to invest in re-finishing or re-flooring our traditional proscenium stage.  Fairly new to the school, I don't know full history, but the light wooden, scratched and splinter inducing floor needs a lot of love! It needs to host school functions beyond theatre productions. Have any of you recently made changes to your stage- beyond sanding and refinishing? We are discussing optimal stains (darker over lighter). 

    Thanks in advance for ideas and caveats!

    Tracy Terstriep Herber

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    photo

    Tracy Terstriep-Herber
     she . her . hers

    Theatre Director/ Performing Arts Chair


    The Pembroke Hill School
    816.936.1544  
    Respect   Compassion  |  Scholarship |  Integrity 


  • 2.  RE: Suggestions for updating theatre stage

    Posted 04-15-2021 06:58
    I am not at a school, but would like to offer some suggestions.

    1) As this will be a multi function space, if the wood is damaged enough and can't be minimally repaired to look good, replacement is the seemingly best option.
    2) Many theatres have a Masonite layer applied to the top but this definitely makes this look theatery. Which from your use intent does not seem to fit the ussage.
    3) If going with wood or able to easily repair the wood floor, I would like to suggest staining the floor, Dark would be better and not to use a satin or gloss finish as that can bounce light a matte finish would be the best

    I would possibly recommend that if they want it to remain perfect, they supply you with a layer of Masonite that can be put over the floor for productions where you need to move scenery to protect the floor from damage

    I wish you luck

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    Jerry Onik
    V.P. Theatrical Supplies and Equipment
    Heartland Scenic Studio
    Omaha NE
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  • 3.  RE: Suggestions for updating theatre stage

    Posted 04-16-2021 04:42

    Regardless of who is using the stage, the focus for the audience should be the performers / presenters, not the floor.  Peoples' eyes are naturally drawn towards the lighter / shinier things in their field of view.  This is why legs and border drapes are typically a velour (matte) black, and why stage floors should be a low sheen black (a 'satin' finish seems to work better than a flat or matte finish).

    Stage floors take a lot of abuse from chair legs. lecterns, scenery, and platforms being drug across them (ALWAYS carry stuff across the floor if you don't have casters on it!), tap dance shoes (ALWAYS have dance programs provide a protective floor to lay over your floor if they are doing clogging or tap!), or heavy objects with casters that are too small (think: Pianos and Hammond B3 Organs!).  You need a durable floor that will take heavy point loads.

    The Plyron material suggested is good, but it is VERY expensive, and it is thick, so if you add it on top of an existing floor it typically creates a trip hazard at the edges.  ADA requirements are that flooring discontinuities can't be more than 1/2".  Large discontinuities also make it difficult to roll (NOT drag!) carts and scenery on and off the stage without jolting the equipment (Think: TV or Video Projector on a cart suddenly stopping at the joint and the TV or projector tips off the cart and crashes to the floor!).

    Repair and refinishing a tongue & groove wood floor is difficult as all the dings that can create splinters must be thoroughly patched.  Hardwood floors are more durable than softwood (pine) floors, but either tend to allow grooves to develop every time someone drags something across the floor in lieu of carrying it or rolling it on a cart.  First you get grooves, soon after you get splinters.  Splinters are dangerous to dancers and actors that are doing fight choreography.

    The other solution is to level the floor (patch divots and splintered areas) and cover it with a 'sacrificial' skin.  This is typically a very high density tempered hardboard (formerly known as Masonite Duron, but Masonite Corporation does not make tempered hardboard products anymore, albeit, the term 'Maso' / 'Meso' is embedded in the theatre vernacular).  Tempered hardboard comes in five ANSI Classes that range from 1 to 5.  Class 5 is the soft junk that flakes apart when it gets wet, and is typically what you get from big box stores, if you are lucky, you might get Class 2 from a lumber yard.  Class 4 & 5 is the really hard (dense) material that holds-up well on stages.  Class 4 is less expensive than Class 5, and usually can be ordered from a lumber yard.  Class 5 is the really good stuff used on professional stages, but is more expensive and more difficult to get.  For most High Schools, an ANSI Class 4 Tempered hardboard floor, 1/4" thick, will last for 10 to 25 years.  When purchasing flooring material, reference ANSI A135.4-2004 Basic Hardboard standard to specify the Class of material you want to buy.  Get multiple quotes as you can find a wide spread of pricing depending upon what mill the lumber yard deals with. There can be a long lead time on the material as it is not a common item.

    Securing the decking to the floor:  There are two common ways of doing this.  Historically, people have drilled countersink holes at about 12" on center (actually slightly less given the 4'x8' sheet size) and screwing the floor skin down with 1" - 1.5" Phillips head wood screws (NOT sheetrock / drywall screws!).  The Grade 4 and 5 tempered hardboard is REALLY HARD, so drilling the countersink holes can take a lot of time unless you subcontract someone with a CNC drilling rig to do it.  The modern alternative is to stick the floor down with double sided 'hurricane' tape.  The tape is somewhat expensive, but the labor is almost nothing compared to drilling a bazillion holes.  The tape-down method provides a nice uncluttered floor with no visible screw heads / holes, too.

    To finish the floor, you need a durable flooring paint so you don't have to repaint it frequently.  The more paint you layer-up, the spongy-er the floor feels, and the rougher the surface gets.  If you need a 'special look' for a show, put-down a floor drop (canvas) and paint on that.  Then just remove it after the show is over.  This saves time because you don't have to repaint the floor afterwards, and you haven't added two unwanted layers of paint to the deck.  My recommendation is to use a good quality 2-part epoxy floor paint, and let it dry for at least a week before ANYONE is allowed to walk on it.  It takes time for paint to properly cure, and walking on it prematurely will leave marks that are noticeable.  A black satin finish formulation looks good and wears well.

    Maintain your new floor properly:

    • Sweep it every day, or more frequently if there is any set construction, so bits and particle of grit and other things don't get ground into the finish.
    • Damp Mop the floor before and after shows to pick-up the fine crud.  Don't leave pools of water -- dry it with towels.  Damp, not Wet.  No Soap or Waxes.
    • Mix about 5% Hydrogen Peroxide in the mop water to disinfect the floor.
    • Have strict NO PAINTING and NO GLITTER policy in your rental agreements.  Also, apply the policies to your in-house users, too.  If someone forgets to put down a drop cloth before painting set pieces (try to do this in your shop, not on stage), clean-up the spills and spatter IMMEDIATELY.
    • Have a strict NO TAP DANCING or CLOGGING policy.
    • If dancers want a special floor, have them provide a roll-out vinyl dance floor (aka: 'Marley', Harliquine, Rosco, etc.).
    • Train Students, Staff, and Guests to carry or roll items across the floor -- DO NOT DRAG things!
    So, this is an outline of what to consider.  Like any project, "The Devil is in the details", so feel free to ask me for a consultation if you need some drawings and specifications to put this out to bid.  I don't sell flooring, paint, screws, or tape, so I have no vested interest in this other than seeing that clients get a good workable floor.

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    Erich Friend
    Theatre Consultant
    Teqniqal Systems LLC
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  • 4.  RE: Suggestions for updating theatre stage

    Posted 30 days ago
    Erich, thanks for the being the devil in the details with your abundance of advice. So helpful!

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    Tracy Herber
    Theatre Director/Performing Arts Chair
    The Pembroke Hill School
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  • 5.  RE: Suggestions for updating theatre stage

    Posted 04-15-2021 11:27
    Though I was hesitant at first, I am now very happy with the treatment of our splintered stage. It was covered with a layer of Plyron, which is basically a sheet of plywood covered on both sides with masonite. This enables us to replace a damaged sheet by flipping it over first and eventually just replacing a single sheet where needed.

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    Christopher Piner
    Drama Teacher/director
    Uintah High School
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  • 6.  RE: Suggestions for updating theatre stage

    Posted 04-15-2021 14:27
    Tracy, years ago our Theatre Program paid to have our Arts Theatre stage sanded down and stained really dark, then finished with satin polyurethane.  As you can see from the picture, the entire audience sees the stage.  The stage is used by Theatre Arts classes almost daily, but also it is the venue for performances by the Theatre, Dance, Choir, Strings, and Band (small ensembles) Programs.  It is also occasionally the venue for book talks with authors and other school day special programs for small groups.  Every group loved the new floor.

    One word of warning.  The summer I retired, someone on the maintenance staff sent a crew in to put a new coat of poly on the floor, and they put HIGH-GLOSS poly down.  Probably the same stuff used on the gym floors.  Horrific!  You can imagine how the stage lights reflect on it.  I was just sick for the new Theatre teacher!


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    CJ Breland
    Retired Theatre Arts Educator
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  • 7.  RE: Suggestions for updating theatre stage

    Posted 04-15-2021 15:17
    Thank you all for the responses! Beautiful stage, CJ. 


    --


    photo

    Tracy Terstriep-Herber
     she . her . hers

    Theatre Director/ Performing Arts Chair


    The Pembroke Hill School
    816.936.1544  
    Respect   Compassion  |  Scholarship |  Integrity