This post sponsored by Universal Foam Products—suppliers of styrofoam and EPS products.
In this article, Christine Trench talks about styrofoam in stage design. What is it and how do you use it effectively?
I love using styrofoam because it’s so versatile and easy to work with.
Styrofoam Brand foam (blue board) from Dow is typically only available in sheets ranging from ¾” to 4”. But because of the way Dow does things, you would need to buy whatever the retailer had in stock unless the retailer has distribution authorization from Dow.
Expanded polystyrene foam (EPS), the white material, is readily available in sheets, blocks, and shapes. It is available in 6 different densities, depending upon the application and can easily be ordered from a company like Universal Foam Products or purchased at Home Depot (available only in 1″ sheets).
What can you use styrofoam for?
Free Standing Units:
If you will be making units that stand on the floor or the stage floor, you will need some kind of heavier frame, like a wooden frame with a stand or bracket at the back. For an example see the cathedral windows, below.
Styrofoam is light enough to hang from the ceiling or stage rigging using fishing line or some similar invisible cord. If is swings, (and you don’t want it to) simply attach some more fishing line to the bottom of it and attach (or weight) it to the floor as well as the ceiling.
Styrofoam is also good for temporary decor around the church building, not just staging. It can be used for kids rooms, foyers, etc (as long as it is in a place where it isn’t being touched, as it breaks easily).
What are the best tools to use on styrofoam?
Really, the only tool that I have found useful to use is a small (narrow blade) X-acto knife. Heated knives do not work well due to the fumes it creates and melting. So even if a store advises you to use that, remember you are not doing small crafts. You’re doing large stage sets and you will find the heated knives unhelpful there.
The best type of adhesive to use with foam is Great Stuff or Enerfoam. It is very easy to use craft pins (rather than tape) to secure cord, wire, or other materials that you have glued to the foam by sticking them in at an angle (on the unseen, back part of the scenery). Pins hold better than tape (which sometimes comes off under the heat of stage lighting). Most paints will work with styrofoam, as long as you first use an undercoat.
Examples of styrofoam in stage designs:
Here are some things I have used styrofoam for:
Christmas in the City
This city-scape was made entirely of styrofoam, with a small wooden bracket behind each unit to make it stand upright and secure on the floor. I used grey undercoat and then used metallic paint applied with paint rollers to make it more reflective to the LED lights. Then I simply added cotton-wool and some spray snow for effect.
Dr. Seuss Christmas Trees
These were simply white styrofoam with a light wooden bracket behind for the stand. LED stage lights were positioned to shine on them (they reflect well, especially the smooth-surface type of foam). They changed color as the lights changed.
These were mainly a wooden window frame with back bracket. In this case, the styrofoam was cut to look like large sandstone blocks (and painted with a water-based craft paint two colors to create a marble/sandstone effect). Then it was glued onto the wooden frame in sections, to create an old cathedral window effect.
Our kids workers used heavy duty styrofoam to make this treehouse effect at our sign-in station for kids church. They used X-acto knives to cut it, but they used heated knives (with face masks) to score the foam to create the wood/bark effect, covered by a thick craft paint.
There is so much more that could be done with styrofoam than I have tried, and because it is so versatile, you only need to use your imagination to come up with other uses for it. Have fun, and don’t forget to share your discoveries and projects so that we can benefit from your experience as well.
Christine Trench and is from Scotland but has lived in Canada since 2009 with her family. She is the head of scenic design at Gateway Alliance Church in Edmonton, Alberta. She’s married to Martin Trench and has two lovely daughters.