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Building Materials--Cardboard, Luaun, Muslin?

Printed From: Community Theater Green Room
Category: Producing Theater
Forum Name: Set Design and Construction
Forum Discription: Post your questions or suggestions about designing or building a set here.
Printed Date: 6/19/18 at 9:32pm
Software Version: Web Wiz Forums 8.05 -

Topic: Building Materials--Cardboard, Luaun, Muslin?
Posted By: JohnEZ
Subject: Building Materials--Cardboard, Luaun, Muslin?
Date Posted: 7/24/07 at 6:21pm
Our adviser does not like the idea of using plywood in set construction--he fears its weight and its cost (he doesn't have any problem building frames for the set out of wood, however--clearly). Last year in our production of Sheakespeare Abridged, we used cheap, foam insulation for a wall material ()--unfortunately, it was the type that came creased, so if we didn't paint a stone facade on it, it would of have looked like hell.

I don't want to repeat the foam disaster in our next performance. As I don't really want to get into the cost or work of muslin, we have two options: luaun and cardboard.    We don't really need to attach things to the walls--we think--which is a plus in terms of cardboard, but if we did have to, would luaun be strong enough to support it?

The main reason that I was thinking cardboard rather than a more durable substance was that in my area, cardboard IS cheaper than luaun (I heard it might be more expensive)--around $5 for a 4x8 sheet. Additionally, the school will not provide us with any sort of area to store anything. Our auditorium is used by chorus and band classes year round, so really, at the end of each performance, we have to discard nearly 100% of our set.

What do you think? On a budget of ~$1,700, would luaun really be the way to go if we do a play that requires interior scenes (Arsenic and Old Lace, You Can't Take it With You)--especially bearing in mind that there is a good probability that the flats would have to be tossed at the end of the production run?


Posted By: Gaafa
Date Posted: 7/24/07 at 8:49pm
You could try 'Scene Board However it would cost more than cardboard;- -
Although I used to work in sticky tape & cardboard at the TV studio, for years. it was not durable as a set, especialy in theatre. Also fire proofing retardants did not seam to work that well, primarily the caedvoard was purely a skin for prebuilt frame, because it was cheaper & easily applied than that of calico or canvas.
Quite frankly I prefer soft flats, rather than TV hatd flats, because they easily repaired, with a bandage & easy to handle for Bump In/Outs.
I used lightweight sqare tube & plastic pop in corner & T piece jioners, available from hardware shops, that make up furniture structures such as tables & shelving. I had various stocks of fabric & masonite skins, fitted with velcro on the tubing & skins. Everything broke down to a pack of tubing, rolls of fabric & masonite boards skins. Giving the flexability of quickly reskinning the frames for different productions, which worked well for touring sets.

Western Gondawandaland
turn right @ Perth.
Hear the light & see the sound.
Toi Toi Toi Chookas {{"chook [chicken] it is"}
May you always play
to a full house}

Posted By: pdavis69
Date Posted: 7/27/07 at 12:04pm
Luaun flats work great.  We work almost exclusiveluy with them.  4x8 luaun sheets on a 1x4 frame.  If you have to get rid of them after each performance, why not get in touch with a local theatre and see if they would be interested in the donation of the set units?  You might even be able to work an exchange with them to be able to borrow the flats back next year.

Patrick L. Davis
Fort Findlay Playhouse

Posted By: Mr. Lowell
Date Posted: 7/30/07 at 7:05pm
I use tons of luaun.  It is easy to cut into many shapes.  I go through luaun like the front office uses printer paper!
But I do have room to store it between shows.  Do you have someone with an unused garage where you can store your flats?
One thing about luaun, is that it is VERY COMBUSTABLE.  (I take small scraps when I go camping to use for kindling!)  It burns very fast and hot.  Various city fire codes insist that you treat it with a flame retardant liquid.  But what works just as well is to back-paint everything.   Just gather up all your old paint to make a large bucket of "slop", then hand out rollers to your cast and have them slap a coat of slop on all your new luaun before constructing your set.   (Cardboard should also be back-painted for added safety).
Another simple technique for flat construction is stretched fabric on collapsible metal frames.  (PVC plumbing pipe also works).  You can strike these quickly and they don't take up much storage space.   This technique is often used by touring puppetry troupes.  
Every year a professional acting company from India does a comedy "sitcom" at my theatre, and they bring their entire set with them.  The modular folding metal frames simply collapse into suitcases!  The "walls" of the set are thin fabric sheets that attach to the frames with snaps.  The flats are very portable, yet solid-looking from the audience.
Other means of simple sets include small muslin backdrops that fold easily for storage; multi-scene pariaktoi that rotate to represent each location; and scrolling backdrop spindles. 
Of course, one way around using scenery at all is to use projections.  You can do abstract or symbolic representations of each of your locations by providing the audience with visual cues on projection screens.  However, projection systems can eat up your budget, and the placement of the screens can make things tricky for your lighting designer. 
But I guess my final suggestion would be for you to use fragmentary scenery.   If the show calls for a wall...then just telegraph "wall" to the audience by suspending a window unit or flying some framed paintings.   Or provide imaginary boundaries with free-standing door units, bookcases, or floor tile. 
Flats are over-rated.  Never underestimate the audience's ability to fill in the blanks. Smile
Good luck, and let us know how it goes.  -Dana

Mr. Lowell,
Lighting/Set Designer & Tech Director,
for the Linda Sloan Theatre,
in the Davison Center for the Arts,
at Greensboro Day School

Posted By: suzecue1
Date Posted: 8/01/07 at 9:13am
Originally posted by Mr. Lowell

Flats are over-rated.  Never underestimate the audience's ability to fill in the blanks. Smile
So, so true. My choice is Luaun when I must have flats, but I love the KISS (keep it simple stupid) "flat free" method.  The audience gets to use their imagination AND strike is SO much easier! Clap

So many few heads!

Posted By: whitebat
Date Posted: 8/06/07 at 11:06pm
We did set construction with cardboard... bottom line, with the amount of duct tape we used, plywood would have been CHEAPER.  I really like the idea of you loaning the flats back and forth to someone...  If you make flats in standard sizes small enough to fit in a truck it might work.  If you set the keystones (part of the framing) in by the width of the flats, you can fit them together at a 90 degree angle.  You can also join 2-3 flats in such a way they fold in on each other, if you have any storage space at all.

Posted By: biggertigger
Date Posted: 8/08/07 at 8:18pm
I am a traditionalist with muslin sets.  Yes there are various shows that I can use simple suggestive pieces, but then there are others that work better having an actual walled set. 
I know you said that you can't store them, but I am sure if you took the time to look you can find a place to store them.  Being in a small town we found that we have used various spaces, rental storage barns,  a cast member's old barn, the basement of a store.  The point being is that cost effective to use sets you can use over and over again instead of re-inventing the wheel.  You'll be surprised who as storage space for you (or even at a discount) if you ask around. 

The two greatest days in a theater persons life, the day you start a new show and the day the damn thing closes.

Posted By: Gaafa
Date Posted: 8/08/07 at 11:08pm
I'm a soft set bloke as well 'biggertigger' & still take the time & trouble producing calico [muslin] flats, even though I'm anciet I still find it more durable than that of TV hard flats.
Although depending on the production & location, I also use minimal representive pieces & projection.
Here are the parts that make up a flat, although it is a US site, it seems we use common terms for the parts in most cases?
[Which proves it does not always follow the adage of  'nations seperated by a common language'] -
I'm sure I must have worked with 'luaun' or at least met her at sometime or other?
But for storage, as suggested, it makes it easier by 'booking' the flats or having modular ones.
Using 'header, tail & jogger flats, to make up doors, windows & specials by adding profile pieces to basic 'stock' flats [eg.,  trees]. I have never had a great problem, even in the snallest of venues, with storage As all you need is a vacant wall & a nit of orginising.
I never use nails in setting up flat sets, only sash cord & cleats. To make up a walls, windows, doors. or  jioning the flats together. The only other thing I use alot of is flat loose pin butt hinges. -  as a quick & reliable method.
 One thing with foam it is a fire exelerant, as was witnessed at the Rock 'n roll rave fire in the UK, when a pyro effect got out of hand, Igniting the wall behind the band, which had foam used as acoustic insulation. The fire enveloped the crowd attempting to exit the building. The toxic fumes of the burning foam, killed most within 90 seconds.

Western Gondawandaland
turn right @ Perth.
Hear the light & see the sound.
Toi Toi Toi Chookas {{"chook [chicken] it is"}
May you always play
to a full house}

Posted By: theaterhelper
Date Posted: 8/09/07 at 1:34pm

Cardboard can warp and do weird texture things when you paint it, which can get frustrating very quickly.  If you want to attach anything to a cardboard "wall" you will definately want to add a framing piece behind it that attaches to other wood.  If you use luaun, you can simply add a wood block to the back of the luaun, screwing from the front, and then attach your wall hanging piece there... as long as it's not too heavy that will do the trick.

If there really is absolutely no way to store your set, even if you build in small modular pieces that would fit in someone's basement, you may want to contact other community theater groups in your area and see if they would be interested in buying your used materials from you at the end of your run... especially if you build your flats well and they are "regular" sizes that would be usable for another show. 
There may be other creative ways to "store" your used scenery.  I once had a series of 4x8 flats that we donated to a church.  They made some adjustments and used them as room dividers for their Vacation Bible School program.  We were later able to "borrow" those same flats for a different production. 
Hope that helps,

Shed some light on the dark side of theatre at

Posted By: Aimee
Date Posted: 8/14/07 at 10:37pm
Just another idea for storage. Maybe you can work out an space for program adverstisement....just a thought, hate to see all that work and material wasted.


Posted By: Ken W
Date Posted: 8/16/07 at 3:34pm
I like to use muslin as well.  But for pieces that are disposable, (though not always disposed) we use cardboard.  We have a moving company that lets us have their used boxes.   Mattress boxes work great.  Check around.

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