About the author

Craig Mason


  • Foam sheeting is terrible for the environment. It may be simpler, but at a horrible cost to the world. I NEVER use foam for this exact reason. I cannot believe you are even suggesting its use over a safer, and more recyclable material like wood. :(

  • Thanks for the feedback, Peter. I didn’t even think of that when I read the article (I didn’t write it).

    What did you think about the other tips? Do you know of any resources for folks looking to produce environmentally-friendly sets and props?

  • Just a couple of notes/comments: in some locales EPS (AKA pink or blue insulation) foam is equal in cost to plywood, depending on thickness. Also, the phrase “easy to paint” is a bit misleading, as EPS generally needs to first be “skinned” in some way (such as applying a thin coat of spray adhesive (Super 77, etc) or such over the surface) to give the paint something to “grip”. I also have some concerns about the suggestion to use 1/2 ply for decking platforming. Unless it is also going to be skinned with a top of 1/4 masonite and/or the spacing on the 2×4 members is 18″ or less there can be a great deal of “spring” in such decking, especially if the production is a musical and there might be dancing on it. And one final concern: While drywall screws are great for final assembly in the venue, if you are working on building up a stock of scenic units, using pneumatic staple guns (with glued joints of course) to construct the “base pieces” will make them sturdy enough to last several productions/seasons.

  • A hardboard or masonite will give you the smooth texture like a foam will. And yes foam can soak up tons more paint. Most foams are prone to melt when they come into contact with spray paints too. I agree with Carl about the springiness of a 1/2 in deck also. 3/4 is fine, If you are going to use a 1/2 inch, use it with a 1/4 in. masonite decking. Most decking is not seen (unless you’re in the balcony :)) so using a 1/2in with a 1/4 in maso is a little overkill, just use 3/4. I prefer drywall screws, just because I recylce my pieces. Otherwise glue and a pneumatic gun are great for permanent pieces.

  • I am a staunch environmentalist and because I put on productions for schools… I have to be extremely creative with the cost of materials for sets. I guess I have a different perspective on styrofoam. I use foam all the time. For my students, it gives them the ability to make incredible pieces like a rock fireplace or a stone castle. I have found that hospitals receive new equipment all the time packed in large sheets of foam. As well as businesses that sell large appliances… get a huge amount of large size styrofoam. When asked what they do with it… the answer is always the dumpster. We save it from the landfill use and re-use over and over again not having to buy more products. I have found that if you coat the foam with 2 coats of primer you can use spray paint without it melting. Just another person’s perspective.

  • First, I would never top a load bearing platform with anything less than 3/4″ ply; it’s just not firm enough to safely support actors. Using 1/2″ and over bracing it underneath adds just as much weight and cost as starting out with 3/4″‘ not to mention taking more time. Ditto on a layer of Masonite.
    now on to my big issue with this article. We are teachers. Is it not our responsibility to teach theatre as a craft? If so, that includes all aspects of theatre, not just the stage performance aspect. Eliminating, or wanting to eliminate, students from the design and construction process is leaving a big gap in their theatre training.
    I suggest to all teachers in this situation that they approach their administrations about establishing a stagecraft class where a limited number of students can be safely guided through the design and construction process. Once a program is established, you will have created a hierarchy of talented and capable students that can, and will, serve as student leaders during the construction process.
    I did this 8 years ago and today my stagecraft classes are so popular that I could fill three class periods instead of the two my schedule permits. I rarely spend a Saturday in the shop and I can proudly boast that all our sets are totally student designed and built.
    I guarantee, this will be worth your initial effort ten-fold.

  • An additional reusable resource I have used countless times are the political signs made of corrugated plastic. It,too, goes straight to the landfill. I can paint it, cut it with a scene knife (in most cases) and comes in many different sizes, depending on the election. I contacted the appropriate city department that takes down the signs and got as many as I needed. Painted black, they work as masking anywhere I need it — and it is LIGHT!! I can STAPLE it to a frame. Check some out and experiment . . . it saves our environment AND our budgets!