Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar Acquiring: The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. Part 17 – Rolling the Drops

While Wendy Waszut-Barrett is recovering from travel and catching up on current projects. She is reposting a few early installments from “Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar Acquiring: The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center.” Here is her seventeenth post from March 2, 2017.

Part 17: Rolling the Drops

The drops were loosely rolled to transport down the winding staircase to the first floor in Fort Scott. There, they would need to be unrolled and rolled again onto cardboard tubes for shipping. Prior to any final rolling, however, they we carefully matched up with all of the corresponding scenes. Entire scenes were not lowered simultaneously; we slowly worked from upstage to downstage in succession for safety reasons.

A year earlier, I had completed this same task with Paul Sannerud and was absolutely dreading it. For the Winona scenery, we carefully flattened each scene on the floor and rolled each drop onto 6” tubes of PVC. This was an option due to the shorter length of twenty feet – the height of each scene. For Fort Scott we needed longer tubes -twenty-five feet, hence the cardboard tubes from North Carolina.

I had found a company that manufactured shipping tubes to order. Unfortunately, due to the initial contractual delays, the tubes were very late in arriving – so we had to alter my anticipated process. Instead of “lower, take downstairs, roll and stack” it became “lower, take downstairs, place somewhere, and wait to roll.” This meant that I had to divide each scene on the first floor and remember where all of the scenes were once we started rolling – as there would be a specific placement in order to unload the collection from the truck into the storage unit.

The difficulty of this task is always trying to roll a piece of fabric that is not flat. When a drop hangs for decades, the shape becomes altered over time and it is no longer a perfect rectangle. People fail to understand that the fabric continues to stretch from a variety of factors. Primarily, uneven pick points allow the weight of the batten at the bottom of the drop to reshape the rectangle into a trapezoid – often undetectable from the auditorium. Then there is the hourglass shape with curling edges on each side of the drop – very identifiable from the audience.

Furthermore, the air currents bellow out the center. Think of it as the center of the drop moving forward and backward, gradually stretching the fabric, resulting in a central sagging. These alterations are almost unperceivable, until you lay the fabric on the floor. Some areas will form bubbles, like when you played “parachute” in gym class. Remember how all of the edges could be brought to the floor and the center puffed up? A similar thing happens to the drop when all of the fabric settles to the ground, there are still irregularities in the center.

Another way to understand the difficulty of this task is to think of rolling linoleum on a tube. The rigidity allows it to roll perfectly. This is not what happens with old fabric and wrinkles appear. When wrinkles appear during rolling, the fabric subsequently creases and the paint it cracks off, thus forming an irreparable line.

Even after restoration, wrinkles often occur during rolling. That is the reason why I am so adamant about only restoring scenery on site. You might have a restored a drop and it looks perfect on the floor, but the rolling and transport will damage all of your work. Therefore, you would need to do additional work once it arrived at the space; work that would be extra and drive up the overall expense. This was another point of contention with the CEO. He refused to believe that the drops couldn’t be restored off site and transported without harm. In the end, he found someone to restore them off site. Upon inspection of the first few “restored” drops during February 2017, all of my fears about transportation after restoration were verified.

In Fort Scott, there was not a single space on the first floor where we could fully layout any drop. This added an additional layer of complexity to the process. Prior to rolling, we had to loosely “accordion pleat” about two-thirds of the scene.

Preparing a drop for rolling in Forts Scott, Kansas at the Scottish Rite theater. Photograph by Wendy Waszut-Barrett, November 2015.

I had always rolled up the drops on the floor, but my lead rigger Brandon invented a rolling machine that saved our backs, knees and the painted surface on many drops! He called his invention the “rigger–mo’-roll!”

Rolled drop encapsulated in muslin on the “rigger-mo’-roll,” invented by Brandon Fischer of Fairhope, Alabama. Photograph by Wendy Waszut-Barrett, November 2015.
Starting to roll the wood cut drop in Fort Scott. Notice the netting in the center holes. This was one of the early drops where I had not yet decided to remove the dirty netting. In the end, I regretted this choice as some of the old netting was left on but others restoring the scene. Photograph by Wendy Waszut-Barrett, November 2015.

He picked up sawhorses and casters from Kansas City to create a fabric roller. It took a while to assemble, but I was amazed at the end result. Not perfect, but the weight of the fabric would keep the rolls mostly taut and minimize the wrinkles. In the end, each drop would weigh 100 lbs. and take four robust individuals to safely transport it anywhere.


To be continued…

Rolling the Egyptian backdrop at the Fort Scott Scottish Rite. Photograph by Wendy Waszut-Barrett, November 2015.
Rolled tubes and battens, all stacked according to each scene. This was necessary as the unloading into the final storage unit dictated the original packing order. Photograph by Wendy Waszut-Barrett, November 2015.


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