This Christmas our church did a modified program based on WillowCreek’s Imagine Christmas. The setting was an outdoor forest scene. Our stage is minuscule compared to Willow’s, as well as our budget. So we had to come up something a little different.
Here’s the original stage that Willow had.
Our design would be a smaller version using pre-existing materials and trying to use as little new stuff as possible — to keep the cost down. I used their pine trees as a model and we would make a waterfall in the back with fabric we already had.
We had never made anything this large before — the largest tree was about 13 feet tall. Fortunately, a person in our church has a direct link to getting wholesale styrofoam sheets from the factory, so we got 1-inch thick 4′ x 8′ sheets.
We laid them out on the floor and Sabrina and Amanda followed a scale drawing to sketch the outlines of the trees.
Amanda cut out the trees using an electric knife.
As the pieces were cut out, they were laid out on the floor.
Sabrina gave all the trees names to help us distinguish them.
David used liquid nails to glue the panels together, then taped them to hold them in place.
For extra reinforcement, they also glued long strips of styrofoam to the back to support the seams. Here’s Danny with his supports.
After they dried, they stuck in shish kabob skewers at opposite angles to hold the panels in place. Otherwise they had a tendency to just fall off. Skylar demonstrates this below.
After they were dry, we flipped them over and Sabrina used a propane torch to draw swirls into the trees to give them a little texture.
Daniel painted the cracks with white latex paint. Later we discovered this was a bad idea because we could clearly see where all the seams had been painted. What worked better was spray painting the cracks with white primer.
Then it was time to spray paint them.
Our black dividers at the side of the worship center turned out to be handy stands to prop the trees up against.
While all this was going on, another team was working on the carpet.
We have pink carpet. It’s quite awful when trying to do stage designs — not much really matches with pink carpets except pink. It was time to make it a different color.
First David taped off our outlet boxes.
We had green spaghetti stuck in our carpet from our summer day camp. A long time was spent trying to scrape it off. Even the kids helped! (They were so cute!)
Finally, a clean carpet, ready for dyeing.
Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures of the dyeing process, but it involved a lot of black RIT dye. In the end our carpet didn’t turn black as we hoped, but it was a duller shade of red that looked almost brown in certain lighting. So that was better.
Dave used some existing frames we had lying around to create an underlying structure for the waterfall.
He hung white fabric over the frame to be the underlying layer. On top of that he hung voile fabric, which is more transparent. These were secured by T-pins to the styrofoam.
In the end, a bunch of tulle fabric fluffed on the bottom made it look more like a waterfall with foam on the bottom.
There was a bright hotspot on the bottom because we were limited where we could put our lights. The waterfall was right by the entrance/exit and we had to make sure the lights were out of the way so people wouldn’t trip over them.
Here’s our stage in progress. Amazing what a mess one can make trying to create beauty. You can also see the darker carpet in this picture.
The trees were light enough to hang from the ceiling, so Peter and Glen inserted wooden dowels and used fishing line to hang them to the ceiling.
After we backed the lift off the stage and no longer could move it on, I decided I didn’t like how the trees were laid out and we changed one tree. It was too late to hang it up so we went for a ghetto method — using old broken chairs as stands and duct taping the trees to the chairs. It’s sure a good thing people in the audience can’t see the back! Not a pretty sight.
Then we added fake snow underneath, using snow blankets and buffalo snow. I found it to look a little more natural if parts of the snow were higher than other parts.
The finished set!
Unfortunately we were limited by our lights because the stage lights were too far back to light the front trees and the lights over the house were blocked by the teaser above the stage (the section of the wall that covers the front of the stage). So the tops of the tress were a bit dark.
We maxed out every possible light we had to create a few color combinations: dark blue mysterious scenes…
A pink set. The only time our pink carpet would have looked good.
A multicolor version.
A bit of the side view. The drummer and bass player were hidden behind the trees.
In addition, we had icicle lights hanging over the top. Unfortunately we only have two dimmers on stage so we had to tie the icicles to the waterfall lights. So if there were no waterfall lights on, there were no icicle lights on.
In the end, there were lots of things I would have liked to improve but we ran out of time. I wasn’t too happy with the “broccoli” trees in the back and was really glad they were pretty hidden. On the plus side, we were really frugal and only bought styrofoam, paint, and fake snow — total cost was about $250 or $300. Everything else was repurposed from somewhere else. Our set is much more bright than Willow’s version, but everyone liked the final look and feel, and it was a great setting for our Christmas Eve services. A big thanks to Peter, Glen, Sabrina, Amanda and Dave for their hard work!