How to Make Scary Trees for Scenery

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From the Haunted Forest in "The Wizard of Oz" to the ominous, lifeless oaks that stand as constant reminders to audience members of the horrors to ensue in Arthur Miller's "The Crucible," menacing, bloodcurdling trees add context, mood and symbolism to a stage. Create life-like or even highly expressive trees easily out of the same type of plaster used in children's crafts. Small theater groups and schools can appreciate the economy of plaster set construction and enjoy getting the whole group in on the tree construction.

Things You'll Need

  • 3/4-inch plywood
  • 1-by-1-inch boards
  • Saw
  • Hammer or drill
  • Nails or screws
  • Wire mesh
  • Wire cutter
  • Staple gun
  • Muslin
  • Plaster of Paris
  • Acrylic or tempera paint
  • Paintbrushes
  • Cinder block or sandbag
  • Cut a semi-circular plywood base with a diameter that measures the desired size of the base of the tree trunk.

  • Create a tree armature affixed to the plywood base out of several lengths of 1-inch by 1-inch boards. An armature creates the basis for the tree and should roughly reflect the desired shape of the tree, including the trunk and any forking branches. Make use of exaggerated angles in the "branches" to create an overall craggy, menacing quality. Connect the lengths of boards with nails or screws.

  • Shape cut pieces of wire mesh around the armature to create the tree's form. The size of the wire mesh pieces depends on the size of the tree. Start at the trunk base with a mesh width that matches the measurement of the front of the semi-circular wood base, and a mesh height of approximately 1/4 to 1/3 of the tree's trunk. Keep the trunk shape semi-circular, so that the back of the tree prop is left as an open cavity. Shape the wire into trunk forms by bending the lengths of wire mesh into bowed shapes by hand.

  • Staple the wire to the front edge of the semi-circle. Build the wire up the trunk, reducing its diameter gradually, then move to the branches. Make subsequent sections increasingly smaller to allow for the tapering of the tree trunk.

  • Staple the mesh to the wood armature at several points and twist the ends of pieces of wire mesh around the wire of subsequent pieces to connect them.

  • Cut a stockpile of muslin strips measuring approximately 2 to 3 inches wide and 8 to 12 inches long.

  • Prepare a bucket of plaster of Paris, and allow the strips to soak in the mixture for a few minutes.

  • Apply two to three layers of plaster-coated muslin strips over the wire mesh in intersecting, horizontal, vertical and diagonal directions. Smooth the surface of the first layers by hand.

  • Allow the first layers to dry before applying an additional two or three layers; allow those to dry.

  • Paint the tree in blended shades of brown acrylic or tempera paint.

  • Place a cinder block or a sandbag into the cavity at the back of the tree prop, on top of the plywood base, to weight and stabilize the tree.

References

  • Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images
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