Shabby stage design

Today we started a new series called The Hole in Our Gospel, based on the book written by Richard Stearns, the president of World Vision.

The series is about how the gospel is not just about salvation, but also about living out our faith and caring for others in the world, including the poor and needy.

So this past week the stage design team worked on putting a new set together.

The design was inspired by a set design I saw from Willow Creek Community Church. They had a truly lovely stage design made of wood, bamboo and other construction materials. I knew there was no way we would be able to exactly replicate it, because:

1. There was some concern about our ceiling being able to support the weight. So far we have only hung fabric. We realized using real wood for the whole set would pose a major safety issue.

2. We had very little budget.

So… next best thing. Make it have a wood-like look!

Materials we used:

Matte board, donated by a wonderful man in our church. This is the board used by picture framers to frame pictures. Cost = $0.


Sheets of leftover 1″ thick styrofoam. This was leftover from a previous event we had. Cost = $0.


And 1″x1″ pieces of wood. This was made by scrap wood, sawn down to 1″ thick. Also donated. Cost = $0.

First, we cut the matte board into strips and made them look rough and uneven on the ends. I then laid them out, with two long pieces of wood as a support.



Jenny, a new addition to our team, stapled some other matte board to shorter pieces of wood so they wouldn’t curl.

Peter built a frame by drilling and screwing together some braces.


He also spray painted the slats outside. The spray paint was our major cost. We ended up spending like $50 worth of spray paint.


Jenny drew straight lines on the styrofoam.


Glen cut out pieces with the Skilsaw.


Meanwhile, I was back in the worship center, tying the slats together in the back with twine.


I made a loose loop so we could adjust the slats later. We later learned that from the get-go it is a good idea to space the slats out according to the distance you want them apart. It’s too hard to do major adjustments later, but the loops do let you make minor tweaks.


Jenny and Peter used twine to hang up the styrofoam pieces (which had been spray painted). Peter used a screwdriver/metal rod to poke a hole and then poke the rope through the hole.


Since this is a team that has fun, they said, “Angela! Take a picture of Glen poking Peter’s head with a stick!”


Another new addition to our team, Amanda, helped Jenny tie up other styrofoam slats. They found it easier to add the slats on while hanging from the cyc boom.


Meanwhile, Glen made the styrofoam roof pieces outside.


They used cardboard and wood, duct taped to the back, to join the pieces. (Later we found out the wood didn’t have enough duct tape, and it started to slip and stick out during our morning services. But the cardboard seemed to hold.)


The other cost we had was burlap. Altogether between paint and burlap we spent about $100 or less.

I cut the burlap into rough shapes.


I sewed a piece of wood to the top and bottom using thread. On the top, the edges flopped over, so I used a shishkabob stick (from my kitchen) to hold up the floppy ends. (We are totally ghetto when it comes to assembling things. Everything including the kitchen sink goes! This is what happens when one has no money — one becomes extremely creative.)


Here’s how the shishkabob stick was tied in place. I just poked the ends into the cloth. You can’t see them from far away.



A quick pause for a team picture. Amanda was gone but we took a picture of the four of us. So funny. Two tall white guys and two short Asian women.


We attached everything to the cyc booms and raised the set to the ceiling. You can see in the middle burlap what happened when the top flopped down — big shadows.


Once the pieces were raised up, we saw some were too high and had to lower them.


The cross was raised and lighting adjusted. The lights had no gels and were covered with black foil that had holes poked in them. This gave a varied light surface on the set which added to the mystery ceiling. The original idea was to use a leafy gobo to make it look like leafy shadows, but we don’t have the right kind of lights to do that. The black foil helped highlight certain areas.

I’m pretty happy with how the design turned out, though there are things I would have loved to fix if we had had the time. (We ran out of time.) Things like spacing issues, lighting issues, adding unevenness to the paint to make it look more like real wood. However, given our budget and time limitations, I think we did the best with what we had. And that’s my definition of excellence! 🙂


A Yee

Angela Yee is a professional designer (graphic design, stage design, interior design — and teaches leadership skills at

2 comments to “Shabby stage design”

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  1. Glen Nielsen - October 10, 2011

    Masterful design, ingenius & frugal use of materials, rock-solid team w/a great attitude & work ethic, very labor intensive project, strong result which TOTALLY supported the new series with a visually rich & compelling experience. Congrats on another successful stage design project … YOU ROCK!

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