A recent post in the Educational Theatre Association (EdTA) Open Forum about a mobile costume shop workstation was so cool that I decided to do a post here on a paint cart I designed years ago for a local theatre.
As I’ve said in previous posts, it always amazes me how many people in non-professional theatre seem to believe that a scene shop, by definition, has to be a disaster area. I’ve seen it in the two high schools I’ve designed for, as well as in colleges (where you would think the professors want to teach their students the correct way to do things) and at community theatres. And it’s worse when working with volunteers, who are often not instructed in proper shop practice or are only there for part of a work day. Sure there are notable exceptions, but, in my experience over the past thirty-odd years, the exceptions are few and far between.
By contrast, professional scene shops, and those in university professional training programs, tend to be very neat and organized. A professional shop I worked with was cleaned up twice a day: just before lunch and just before the end of the day. Even with several jobs going on at once, you never saw piles of stuff all over the place. Our shop in college, run by a retired movie and TV carpenter, was awesome, and the guy insisted on keeping it that way.
The purpose for this cart, which was built for a community theatre, was to mitigate the previous “practice” of having the paint cans and tools for the current show scattered all over the floor and work tables (wherever the last painter left them) and making it difficult to find what you needed when you needed it. Things were okay when professional scenic artists were hired, since they knew to put things back in the paint area, but even then one or more volunteers often didn’t know to put things back or didn’t bother.
The cart was built from scrap materials, mostly 3/4″ plywood, and had shelves on both sides for various-size paint cans, as well as plastic bins for tape, gloves, masks, chalk, and other accessories. It also had a rack at one end for extension poles, straightedges, yardsticks, and similar tools. Because it was on casters, it could be easily moved around the shop, or out onto the stage, as needed. The paint-can opener, which always tends to disappear, was tied to a string secured to the cart handle, and it never disappeared after that.
The cart ended up being just about four feet by two feet, by thirty inches high. Although some people still didn’t get the idea, it made keeping track of paint for the current show-under-construction a lot simpler. The rest of the paint stock, as well as accessories, tools, and supplies, was all stored on shelves in the paint shop.
Sometime after the cart was built and in use, I added a new feature to it.
A lot of scenic artists use music stands to hold their painters’ elevations while they work on a set. It keeps the documents safe, off the floor or work surfaces, and makes them easy to refer to while painting. So adding one to the cart seemed like a natural.
Rather can cannibalizing a perfectly good music stand, however, I made a simple one out of a closet pole and some scrap plywood. It had a simple tilting device on the back, held together by a bolt and a wingnut, and rode in one of the holes on the rack at the end of the cart.
Visiting scenic artists were delighted with this, as it gave them a safe and convenient place to keep their painters’ elevations and other reference materials.
In future posts I’ll be describing similar shop-made accessories that can make life much simpler and more productive. Stay tuned.