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News & Notices
News From:
Conference & Stage Expo
For the Record
Scenic Tricks with
Non-Traditional Sources

Nadine Charlsen
Scene Design Commission

This is the second in a series of "Scenic Tricks" from the Scene Design Commission's round table in Louisville called Great Stuff Not Made for Us. The focus of the discussion was to share the use of materials not originally made for the theatre. Most materials used in the theatre are probably adapted from other uses. Many products are so commonplace that it is easy to forget they weren't originally developed for theatrical use.

There were many products mentioned at the session the Commission would like include in future issues of Sightlines. Some are mentioned below. Anyone who can provide information on any of these products and processes may send them to Nadine Charlsen at: 344 W. 49th Street #2D, New York, NY 10019, or


Product: Vodka
Use: For removing smells from containers or costumes.
Description: When Dave Letterman decides to eat a stick of deodorant or taste the contents of a can of paint, the case may need to look like the real thing but the product inside has been altered to make it edible. Barbara Taylor, staff scenic artist, must remove all traces of the real smell and chemicals. Her last step is often a bath of good old Vodka.

Karen Hart, costume designer puts vodka in a spray bottle and sprays costumes after a performance to remove the smell of perspiration. She also writes a warning on the bottle that says "toxic." It saves the costume or cleaning crew from a hang-over!
Credit: Barbara Taylor, David Letterman Show*; Karen Hart, Kean University, Costume Designer.

*Barbara Taylor, scenic artist on the David Letterman show, will present a workshop in Phoenix on food for production called "Beyond the Pie in the Face…".

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Product: Jello and Phlexglu
Use: Makes a good, long lasting mold material.
Description: Use approximately six times the amount of Jello powder normally used. Follow the proportions but add the extra packets of gelatin. When the mixture has dissolved, add a small amount of flexible glue. Put the mixture in the refrigerator and let it set. The mold shown lasted about a month. It was kept it in the refrigerator between performances. Mark it "non-edible."
Source: Grocery store and a source for flexible glue
Credit: Nadine Charlsen, Kean University.

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Product: Purse Magnets
Use: Replace whopper poppers on costumes where an actor has to "quick-in" without being able to see what he or she is doing.
Description: Used on Flaming Agnes dress so she could re-dress onstage while singing. The magnets sort of find themselves.
Credit: Cathy Fritsch, draper, Indiana Repertory Theatre.
Note: Someone else in the workshop suggested a hospital supply where you can find fabric with magnets embedded. The fabric can often be stitched into the costume and then the excess cut away.
Anyone want to take credit for this tip?

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Product: PineSol
Use: Cleaning forgotten paintbrushes full of dried paint.
Description: Soak the brush bristles in full-strength Pine-Sol for a day or three (depending on how bad it is). Squish it up and down whenever walking by to get the Pine-Sol to all the bristles. When the paint seems to be sufficiently softened, clean brush with liquid dish soap or Go-Jo cleaner and a wire brush if necessary. I have even been able to resuscitate several nice lining brushes full of dried oil paint using this method! (It took a second soak in Pine-Sol after the initial cleaning, but all the gunk eventually came out.) My success rate with Pine-Sol is approximately 96%. I only had to toss one cheap brush whose bristles fell out in clumps because the glue softened in the Pine-Sol.
Source: Auto supply or auto repair shop.
Credit: Allison Koster, Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota

Product: Help find uses for the products listed below.
We would like to include their ingenious theatrical uses in future issues of this article. Can someone find alternate uses and/or sources for the following products?

  • Volcanic Dust
  • "CoolSeal"(from Lowe's)
  • Filter foam
  • Headliner foam from inside a car roof
  • Weed cloth
  • "Everclear" (grease solvent)
  • "Sto"
  • Tubers and Zots
  • Cammo netting
  • Exothermic spray foam
  • Landscape cloth
  • Printers tin
  • Swamp cooler pads
  • Cherry Coe Alginate

Any information appreciated about the source for: ground brown rubber; SIL-32

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