See Thru

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See Thru

Postby Chris » 04 Feb 2011, 23:35

The Punch show as we know it sprang from the streets. The earlier fairground puppet shows where Punch appeared were largely marionette shows. The very nature of street work, a potentially large gathering of people standing in a small area, dictated the design of the booth. It had to be easily transportable and when erected the people had to be able to see the puppets. The puppets were held high above the showman's head so they could be seen. The booth was built round him so that he couldn't be seen.

The practice of hands above head continued when the shows moved to the seaside and with the huge crowds the Punch shows enjoyed it was necessary to be as high as possible. Many seaside shows were not only worked hands above head but also the fit-up was built on a platform to raise the little actors even higher.

In recent years conditions have changed. We rarely work on the streets, we rarely work to really huge crowds, and the majority of our audiences are seated and often on the ground. This has meant that a lower playboard is desirable and so many of us have changed to working hands in front of face. The performer stands behind a scrim backcloth and works the puppets in front. This allows the performer to see the puppets and also to see the audience. Despite the limitations on movements many of us have come to prefer this style of working.

The above is just a preamble to what I hope will prove an interesting thread. Among those of us who work this way there are some who paint their own backcloths. What I would like is contributions describing how you go about it. What kind of materials do you choose, what kind of paint or dyes do you use, how do you attach your cloth to the fit-up.

This is a topic where there must be many variations, and there must be many tips of value you can offer. Who will start the ball rolling?
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Re: See Thru

Postby Benjie » 05 Feb 2011, 11:59

Thanks for posting this thread Chris, I am interested to find out what material is best to use. I just got two lovely painted screens but unfortunatly you cant see through them!
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Re: See Thru

Postby johnstoate » 05 Feb 2011, 16:12

Ooh... Goody! - Finally a sensible topic to have some fun with! :D ...Now, where to start.... Benjie- Does this backdrop of yours have any biggish bits near the centre such as windows or a fireplace painted in? - If it has you may be able to cut out part of the design and stick some suitably coloured 'gauzy' material on the back to create a sort of 'viewing port' without losing the main pictorial effect. - just a suggestion for your consideration. My own backdrops are almost invariably plain black, and usually cheesecloth or similar, I find that the simplest way to find suitable cloth is to visit a supplier with a friend and hold up various samples to see how clearly you can see through them, whilst your friend advises on how well you can be seen. The point to remember here is that when working 'Hands in front' it is always best to have the top section of your booth as light-proof as possible behind the playboard so that you can't be seen by the audience. Thus the material used for the backdrop must be suitably opaque as to obscure Oneself from the audience, yet transparent enough to allow as clear a view as possible from within, which then allows for better interaction based on the movements of the people 'out front'.
Another point which should be given serious consideration here is the tension of the cloth. I find that there are two ways of achieving this; Either by having the backcloth stretched onto a rigid frame (Like a picture) which is not always practical. Or (My preferred method) Having the backcloth mounted onto a 'spring' curtain wire at it's top edge with a length of light chain stitched into the bottom to keep it taught, This also stops it from blowing back into One's face when windy. (You can use a stick, elastic or a curtain wire in the bottom edge, but I find that this tends to interfere with One's arm actions)
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Re: See Thru

Postby Chris » 05 Feb 2011, 20:28

There is some initial information on this subject already posted on the site Benjie, I presume that you'll have looked at that?
http://www.punchandjudy.com/handsinfront.html
But that's just my take on the subject I'm sure some others will have quite different methods and much better ones.
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Re: See Thru

Postby Miraiker » 05 Feb 2011, 20:32

I have given up on see through windows ever since I discovered the delights of Aida.
For those who are not initiated in the delicate art of cross-stitch, Aida is the material on which cross-stitch pictures are woven. It comes with holes at regular intervals - 16 holes per inch is my preference. If your paint is not thick enough to clog the holes up then the whole picture is see through. To make sure of this I use diluted silk inks to paint the picture. These have the added advantage of being fixed with an iron so that the colours don't run if it gets wet.
I agree John, that if you already have a scenery on something else, it's a good idea to add a window if possible.
The top is fixed on a wooden bar which has leather straps to go round the top side bars and heavy duty press studs to keep it in place. The bottom has tapes at either side which I tie off to a cross piece on the booth.
Our beach booth however, has a wooden bar across the bottom too. it is held to the booth with wing nuts. This is necessary as the wind at the seaside means that the scenery would be permanently wrapped round the face otherwise. It is a bonus that it makes the scenery taut enough for the stones to bounce back off it at the person who threw it. (This is Clacton beach, I'm sure other beaches don't attract this type). The added disadvantage is the number of times you bang your head on the bottom bar - trust me, you never learn.
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Re: See Thru

Postby Benjie » 06 Feb 2011, 20:04

Thanks Miraiker, was just what I was looking for. And as I remember you can see very clearly through the back of your screen.
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Re: See Thru

Postby Richard Coombs » 07 Feb 2011, 14:46

Good Luck with it Benjie.
Miraker is right : Aida is widely avalable , local craft or haberdashery shops will either carry it as a stock item , or be able to order it easily ( and you will know exactly what you are getting).

Mind you , you are lucky if you have such shops on your high street- so many Hight Streets are just Gap . Coffee Shops and Chain Stores. But thanks to the Internet , you can order Aida from somewhere , and be sure of getting something that will do the job when it arrives.

But if you are even more Lucky , and have a Proper Fabric Shop near you , I would recommend going in and doing what johnstoat suggests : actually holding fabric up in front of your face to see if you can see through it.

That way you might find a material that is a bit easier to paint than Aidia.

I did this , and then made a simple wooded frame , ( a bit bigger all round than the Scenery was to be ) .. and stretched out the cloth , with bits of masking tape first , then a stapler to get a nice tension . ( you could use tacks , small nails or drawing pins if you dont have a staple gun )

After painting it is then easy to cut it out of the frame with a stanley knife , before turning the edges over to either glue the hems , or sew them ( even lightly painted fabric will go through a good sewing machine , if you have say a needle for jeans and denim )

However wide the holes or gaps in the fabric ( be it Aida or muslin or scrim , or whatever) ..the best advice I can give is to paint as if the holes were not there.. just paint as if you had blank paper.

Very diluted acrylic is what I used , and when dry , some extra touch up and lining with very fine permanent makers.

But experiment with what paints you have on a scrap bit of fabric ...and Have Fun !

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Re: See Thru

Postby James » 07 Feb 2011, 15:05

You can get away with using a very see through back cloth or gauze if you have a good blackout in the booth behind you. If your head has no light shining on it then it wont be seen.

Most canvas lets light in, especially when you're working outside on a sunny day (I think we get four or five of them a year now) so you will need to add extra fabric to the sides, and ideally top of the booth, running down to the level of the bottom of the back cloth.

A material worth trying is black towel. You'll find it easier to buy them as ready made towels from a large supermarket/matalan/tk maxx etc and then cut them up, rather than trying to find black towelling. These can be attached with velcro to the booth, letting you use them to mop a sweaty brow in the heat of summer, and then remove them for a quick wash every now and again.
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Re: See Thru

Postby Trevek » 09 Feb 2011, 14:07

James wrote:You can get away with using a very see through back cloth or gauze if you have a good blackout in the booth behind you. If your head has no light shining on it then it wont be seen.


Ah, I learned that by hard experience. I was doing a show in Glasgow in an indoor market. The booth had quite thin material and I was under a light in a stall area. A couple of wee neds were watching the show...

"Luk, he's on his ain in there..."
"Aye, an' he's a baldy, too!"

Next show... black light insulation and a head scarf!
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Re: See Thru

Postby johnstoate » 09 Feb 2011, 16:25

I think I've mentioned in the past that I find a very usefull material for roofing booths is the rubberised canvas stuff they use to make air beds,(The 'lilo' Inflatable type) This gives you,(When cut and opened out) a fairly lightweight material that is both light and water proof. By extending it to form a flap at the back to about the level of the playboard you completely remove the possibility of being seen through the blackcloth. The downside,(There's always a downside :( ) - It's a bit warm on a hot day!! - But James' Towel Idea could fit nicely for the sides!
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Re: See Thru

Postby James » 09 Feb 2011, 18:17

Martin Grundy used the same lilo material as John, and it creates nice scalloped edges to run along the side of the booth.
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Re: See Thru

Postby cobaltblue » 09 Feb 2011, 21:50

This has been a useful subject as a recent member of this site ,it has helped .As i have had trouble in finding suitable material for a backdrop,and would love to give the booth more interest.
Always some help from experianced profs, again thank you.
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Re: See Thru

Postby CvdC » 10 Feb 2011, 00:35

I once made such a booth as this.
The sides were lined with black curtains. I lined the back of the booth's cover with black from the roof to the same level as the stage. For the roof I used plain white canvas that was water proofed. Then I lined this with black fabric from the backdrop back to the rear of the booth. The idea was that the area behind the backdrop would be in darkness while allowing light to come through the canvas in front of it- solar stage lighting.
I happen to know that tents in the 19th century were lined with green baise. Canvas on the outside green baise inside. Now in early Punch booth's this may have also been the case to stop light because there are references to green baise in some descriptions.
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Re: See Thru

Postby Chris » 10 Feb 2011, 21:29

Green baize might have been used because being a type of felt - ie non-woven - it will be lightproof. However for an outdoor booth it would be far from satisfactory since it absorbs and holds water.

Today it is very easy to lightproof your booth. Simply go to your haberdashers and buy curtain lining which is expressly made to line fabrics to make them lightproof.
With indoor booths, if you employ front lighting, lightproofing behind the backcloth isn't so important. The rule is that there must be more light in front of the gauze than behind it.

This was how the old theatrical transformation scenes were worked with light being faded from one set of lights in front) to those behind giving a wonderful fade through effect from the front painted cloth to the three dimensional scene behind.
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Re: See Thru

Postby CvdC » 10 Feb 2011, 22:26

Baize is in fact a woven cloth that is "napped" and so resembles felt. The idea seems to be the water proof (polished) and checked fabric goes on the outside and the baize inside for light proofing.

Have you ever used sharkstooth gauze? I gather this is what they use in theatres for the effect you describe above.
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