Mt Ennon Baptist Church needed a set built for a dramatic play, 'MAAFA' which traces the history of slavery in America. Part of the drama hinges on a scene in which a hanging would be re-created with actors and stuntmen.
Fabricating the Tree
Every part of the tree we were contracted to build had to be meticulously fabricated and engineered.
Safety of the Actors
Not only was the scenery built to look accurate to the time and locale, care had to be taken in fabricating with the appropriate materials and hardware to ensure that no actors sustained any injury.
Structural Integrity of the Tree
The Tree started with a design incorporating heavy duty 12” square aluminum truss. A structural engineer was contracted to provide stamped build drawings. The cantilevered limb was counterweighted by 500 pounds of sandbags below the stage decks.
Dressing with foliage and moss.
The truss skeleton was then clad with a carved foam trunk and limb components. This ‘skin’ was lightweight and easily permeable, and so was an agreeable substrate for applying set dressing such as foliage and moss.
Slave Trading Ship
In addition to the tree, we were contracted to build a slave trading ship.
For historic verisimilitude, we would need to incorporate elements of early 18th century European sailing vessels, while keeping the overall design fairly simple and easy to assemble.
The Boat Beginning to Take Shape
Forms cut from 3/4” plywood on a CNC router provided the structure to which we could apply a contoured bending plywood skin. The boat began to take shape. Stain and paint as well as custom-sewn muslin for the sails were added.
To finish the set, we were asked to recreate a slave shack which once stood on a South Carolina plantation and which now resides in the museum of African American History.
Foliage Set Dressing
Working from photographs, we created scale representation of the shack using standard scenic materials: Luan, dimensional lumber for structure, sheet foam for the distressed clapboards and paint and stain and foliage set dressing to finish the look.
Slave History Timeline
The show had its initial run in February, 2018, and a second run in February of 2020. It played to packed houses both years and is currently safely disassembled and tucked away in storage. The show is scheduled to run again in early 2022.