Building Ekho

September 11, 2012

Behind the Scenes, Body Beautiful

Yesterday marked the first full day of construction on the John Grade designed “trees” that will become the forest for Christopher Stowell’s re-imagining of the Narcissus and Echo myth that will be the centerpiece of our season opening Body Beautiful program in October.

These trees are constructed out of Tyvek (a material more commonly used to “wrap”  houses for insulation), plywood and string. Each tree is constructed from hundreds of individually cut, scored, folded and glued strips of Tyvek according to a complicated plan we are calling the “DNA” of the trees. Here’s what that DNA plot looks like:

Here’s a close up of the DNA plan:

As you can see, each strip has a different configuration of small holes and tabs that determine where it should go in the giant origami craft project that becomes an individual tree.

So how do many hundreds of little Tyvek strips, pounds and pounds of glue stick and some plywood rings get turned into this?

With the help of one genius artist, one director of production, several alert technicians and over 150 volunteers who will cumulatively log over 1600 volunteer hours to complete the project. Where do the volunteers come from? Well, in addition to our own board, staff and volunteer corps, this project has been made possible with assistance from the Portland Art Museum Docent Council, the PSU Architecture Department (as well as their sculpture and performing arts departments), Hands On Portland, OMSI and Milepost 5.
Volunteers work 4 hours shifts and are rewarded with $10 vouchers good towards tickets to Body Beautiful. Some also earn volunteer hours towards requirements at their organizations or workplaces.

Want a closer look at a “tree?” Here’s a few detail views:

This is the view from inside the “tree.” It is perforated to allow light into the tree and to allow light to shine from within the tree outwards.

Below you can see an exterior close up showing how the folded Tyvek panels are glued together to form the rings of the tree.

Here’s a little photo essay showing how the first construction day unfolded:

Here is artist John Grade working with OBT Board Member Sue Horn-Caskey to demonstrate how the strips will get folded and clamped together using office binder clips and glue stick.

Grade created stacks of hand drawn “jigs” that show the volunteer how to cut, score and fold the individual Tyvek strips. Although the process is fairly simple, it does take a steady hand and a fairly high level of uniformity in how the hundreds of strips are folded and assembled in order to ensure that they come together accurately into the finished project.

Here is a volunteer using the jig to cut the fine detail into the ‘tabs” of the strip. These tabs will guide how the pieces are assembled together, very much like the paper dolls you may have played with as a child.

Each table is color coded, with their appropriate tools, jigs and binder clips colored appropriately to help the tools stay in the right area for the work being done.

Each piece of Tyvek goes through a different process at different tables.

First they are cut and scored, with small holes added and tabs cut out.

Then they are folded on a special jig created for that purpose. Check out one of our scene shop experts (and annual Nutcracker child wrangler) Shari Goss as she works with a volunteer to demonstrate the folding process.

Here John Grade shows volunteers at the green table how to use the special curved jig to help them precisely align the folds for the larger segments of the installation.

OBT Board member Bill Hetzelson learns how to apply the clamps that hold the folds in place while the glue dries.

Here Grade assists a volunteer who is assembling the final components that will make the very top of one of the completed trees.

At the end of the day, here’s what the “green” tables work looked like.

Here’s the finished product from the “blue” table’s first day efforts:

The “red” and “white” tables ended here:

And here’s a look at the shop as a whole:

The build will continue for the next 12 days, with shifts beginning at 9 am and running through 10 pm. Interested in volunteering? You can learn more about the requirements and indicate your preferred shifts at our volunteer sign up page here.
See the results of this extraordinary effort at Body Beautiful, playing October 13 – 20 at the Keller Auditorium.

We look forward to sharing the results of this unique collaboration with you!

More about Body Beautiful  |   Buy Tickets

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About Trisha Mead

Connoisseur of vivid verbs, late night conversations, small batch bourbons and anything you can set fire to in a desert. Food obsessed grower of fine young men and fines herbs.Believes that no work of art is complete until the perfect audience is assembled to experience it. Hobby: creating the future.

View all posts by Trisha Mead

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  1. A Dancer’s Final Pre-Show Weekend | oregonballettheatre - October 9, 2012

    […] This is the time to perfect as best as we can, as dancers, as repetiteurs, as stage managers and as set-builders (a huge thank you everyone for your help and support! Check out photos of volunteers helping build the set of Ekho here). […]

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