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How Trees Grow (and Glow) in Lilly Theater's MULAN Jr.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"39730","attributes":{"class":"media-image","typeof":"foaf:Image","style":"","alt":""}}]]Abigail Copeland is the Scenic Designer and Artist in the Lilly Theater. She's also the Stage Manager—the person who helps keep the actors and director organized. She loves being able to create a new world in the theater every few months for visitors to experience.

When you think of ancient China, what do you see? Towering mountains, flowering gardens, sacred temples? The story of one girl’s journey from villager to hero is set among these elements. In our latest production, Disney's MULAN Jr., Mulan travels from her home town to a military camp, then through the passes of gigantic mountains and finally to the Imperial Palace. How could you possibly fit all of these locations onto one stage?

The answer is what scenic designers call a “unit set.” This is a set that never changes but serves as a neutral background for all the action of the play. For Mulan Jr., the unit set has focal points that can represent many places. These include a temple arch, rocky ground, and a cherry tree with an ornamental pond. You might recognize the tree and pond as a setting from the Disney movie. 

Since you can’t get a cherry tree to grow inside of a theater, we had to create one from scratch. This involved a multi-step process beginning with a wooden frame. On top of this we added Styrofoam which was then carved into the shape of a tree. Since Styrofoam is not a sturdy material, we coated it with a roofing compound. This allows the actors to climb on the tree without damaging it and gave it the texture of tree bark. After this it was painted and the cherry blossoms were attached. The "glow" that you see is actually just the regular theater light projected on the tree. The production will have other objects that light up…but those are a surprise!

Every set for the Lilly Theater takes about one month to design, one to two months to plan for budget and materials, and six to eight weeks to build and paint. There are three full scale productions during the year which run for six weeks. Each of these productions has original sets, costumes, and lighting. But so far, Mulan, Jr. is the most technically advanced show the Lilly Theater has done. We hope you'll enjoy the show!

See Disney's MULAN Jr. in Lilly Theater, Tuesdays through Sundays, June 24–August 3!

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Categories: Arts and Humanities, , Theater
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