Neat Things One Is Called Upon To Make, Only In Theater

Hey there Teammates,

This is Theater J Tech Director Tom Howley, speaking to you on location from the Theater J Scene Shop in Beltsville, MD. While only popping up very rarely on our blog, the theme I’ve enjoyed touching on is “Only In The Theater,” and I have to say that the talented Paige Hathaway’s design for ANOTHER WAY HOME, written by Anna Ziegler, has afforded us another one of those happy opportunities. She’s given me permission to give you a behind-the-scenes look at a particularly fun element of her design: The CAMP KICKAPOO sign that looms over the primary playing area on the stage.


It is, of course, one of those traditional made-from-branches camp signs that have been appearing in films and on postcards since about 1903. Very outdoorsy/folksy/artsy-craftsy. But, what there’s NOT is a chapter in the ol’ Scenic Construction 101 on how you’d actually make one of these venerable, iconic items? Happily, it’s really not that challening from a technical standpoint.


Did not cut any live growth. That just seemed inappropriate.

Step 1:  You need branches. Fortunately, a slice of county forest abuts most of our back yard, so I got out into the woods with loppers and a pruning saw, and worked my way around to a couple of particularly large dead-fall piles created by the remains of a) Snowmaggedon, and b) the Derecho (a few years ago).

Step 2:  Cut branches down to transportable, usable lengths, aiming for a ballpark diameter between 1-1/4 ” and 2-3″.



This was easily the most taxing aspect of the project.

Step 3:  Good heavens. These branches are ALL covered with unusable bark! The branches need to be stripped. What expensive, special tool does one have to use to do that?  A machete?  Some new power tool?  Or. . . my Dad’s old Swiss Army Jack-knife which I’ve carried around for 25 years and never actually used?  I summon my inner Jed Clampett. . .




The branches are attached with a combo of long drywall screws and long finishing nails.

Step 4:  Then came the-honestly-quite fun part of the project, which was working from the drafted letters and finding real-branch analogs for them. It was necessary to take a couple of stylistic liberties here and there in order to make the letters themselves attach securely to the beams and to each other. The square panel you see to the right was a gridded guide I used to lay each letter out first to ensure that it fit correctly and that it presented well.


Several kinds of wood on display.

Final Step: The framework has a break point between the two words, as the whole piece is about 6 ft longer than will fit into our truck. Temporarily assembled, I propped some scrap ply behind the frame just to clear up the visual. The framework is open, and the letters themselves will have a lighter, grayer wash to both unify them and to make them visually pop from the darker wood around them.


And there you have it.  A how-do-you-do-it project that proved to be not too hard to figure out and was quite fun to fabricate in the process. One component in a truly delightful design for our final show of the season.


Another Way Home by Anna Ziegler runs at Theater J from June 23-July 17. Click for tickets and more information. 


A Mid-Season Update

We are halfway through the 2015-2016 season and it has been an incredible year so far with some exciting firsts for Theater J.

At the recent Helen Hayes nominations, Theater J received five nominations, including four for QUEENS GIRL IN THE WORLD.
• The James MacArthur Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play — HAYES Production, Michael Willis, SONS OF THE PROPHET
• Outstanding Lead Actress in a Play — HAYES Production, Dawn Ursula, QUEENS GIRL IN THE WORLD
• Outstanding Director of a Play — HAYES Production, Eleanor Holdridge, QUEENS GIRL IN THE WORLD
• The Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding Original New Play or Musical, Caleen Sinnette Jennings, QUEENS GIRL IN THE WORLD
• Outstanding Play — HAYES Production, QUEENS GIRL IN THE WORLD

Theater J has never before received nominations for lead actress, director, playwright and the overall play all for one production and we could not be more thrilled!

QUEENS GIRL IN THE WORLD also garnered Theater J’s first ever review in The New York Times, which was glowing, calling the play a “sweet spirited solo show…portray[ed] with star quality brilliance.” The play was commissioned and developed through our unique Locally Grown Festival, which focuses on providing support to local playwrights to foster new work.

Our new Artistic Director, Adam Immerwahr, started in December. He is hard at work programming our next season, which will be announced on April 3rd at the Theater J benefit – so mark your calendars!

Our next production, an adaptation of famed Israeli author David Grossman’s FALLING OUT OF TIME, is going to be an incredible and unique theatrical experience. After losing his son in the Israel-Lebanon conflict, Grossman was moved to write this stunning masterpiece about loss, solace, and hope. To more deeply engage our audiences with the work, we have planned two important events:
• On March 20, A Conversation with David Grossman, Azar Nafisi (author of READING LOLITA IN TEHRAN) and Leon Wieseltier about “The Freedom of the Writer and the Cruelties of History”
• On March 17, Pre- and post-show conversations with The Parent’s Circle, an organization that unites bereaved Israeli and Palestinian parents in promoting reconciliation.

We are proud to continue to bring Israeli art to DC audiences and to use it as a springboard for these important and inspiring conversations.

Hope to see you at the theater soon!