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Friday, December 15, 2006

Stage Fever: How to Make a Portable Backdrop

The stage beckons many of us storytellers and often we wish we could always count on having a stage. How often have we performed with a busy background and the performance suffered for it?

One way to create a focal point for the audience is for the storyteller to make a portable backdrop.

Inspiration came from Professional Storyteller Dianne de Las Casas in her book "The Story Biz Handbook, How to Manage Your Storytelling Career from the Desk to the Stage".

Dianne uses a 7' X 8' backdrop from PVC pipes and fabric. I emailed Dianne and she responded, "I have different backdrops for different shows. Some are made of a felt-like material, some are hand-sewn or fused with appliques and others are handpainted on muslin. . .. I love my backdrops. They add such pizzazz to my show and really make me stand out in a crowd."

There are many ways to make a portable backdrop so I will share what has worked for me-- two 6'X6' panels that connect together in a 90 degree angle.

Items You Need:
  • 24 PVC pipes of 3' length, 3/4" diameter
  • 2 "X" connectors, 8 "T" connectors, 8 "L" connectors to fit 3/4" diameter (see picture)

  • 10 yards (1 bolt) of fleece/fabric
  • 4 strips of 2 1/2' of Velcro with sticky-back--stiff side only
  • 4 strips of 2 1/2' of Velcro WITHOUT sticky-back--fuzzy side only
  • Package of premium ties made of plastic and stainless steel locks (12" length or more)
  • Travel golf bag to store items
Tools You Need:
  • Scissors
  • Sewing Machine, Thread, Pins
  • Measuring Tape
1. Go to a place like Sprinkler World or Home Depot to get the PVC pipes. Have the place cut the long pipes into 3' segments for it will save you money and time. Then pick up the "X", "T", and "L" connectors to fit the 3/4" diameter.

2. When buying the Velcro, make sure you grab the sticky-backed kind as well as the kind without the sticky-back. The Velcro must be sewn to the fabric and the stickiness can ruin many needles and possibly the sewing machine. Yet, the stickiness is great for the pipes.

3. Depending on the kind of fabric you choose for the backdrop, the fabric could be expensive. Normally, fleece is $6.99/yard and 10 yards of fabric is needed. I bought my fleece at $1.99/yard and the Velcro during Black Friday and it cost me $18.88.

4. A travel golf bag is ideal to carry the backdrop due to the many handles, straps, and wheels on it. I found mine at Wal-Mart for $29.97.

1. Take the 10 yards of fabric and cut off a 1-foot section. Lay the 1-foot section aside. Go to a wide hallway or spacious room and fold the 9 yards and 2 feet in half. Making sure there are no wrinkles and that ends meet, fold the fabric in half a second time. This will give you four sections of the same size.

2. Cut both ends of the folded fabric. Then take two of the same-sized pieces. Line them up together the long way. Pin these ends together and prepare to do a straight stitch to seam these ends through the sewing machine. Each 6’X6’ panel will have a vertical seam in the middle for a vertical seam has a more professional look than a horizontal seam.

3. Repeat step #2 for the last two same-sized pieces.

4. Notice that there is a stiff and a fuzzy side to the Velcro. Take the sticky-backed fuzzy side of the Velcro and center it along one PVC pipe. Repeat the process for three other PVC pipes.

5. Open up one of the fabric panels with the seam facing up. At the top of the fabric and three inches away from the left side of the seam, place the Velcro one inch from the top and perpendicular to the seam. Pin the Velcro down so as to sew a straight stitch through the Velcro and into the fabric. Then, have a mirror image with the Velcro three inches away from the right side of the seam. Pin Velcro and sew to fabric.

6. Repeat step #5 on the second fabric panel.

7. Take the 1-foot section of fabric and cut six 1-inch by 1-yard pieces. I prefer to use fleece because the ends do not unravel like other fabrics.

How to Set-Up the Portable Backdrop:
1. Lay one of the fabric panels on the ground with the seam and Velcro facing up. The Velcro on the fabric indicates the top of the panel. Taking your shoes off, walk to the center of the fabric and place the “X” connector. Place a pipe in each one of the ends of the “X” connector. Now take four “T” connectors and place one on each of the open ends. Make sure that two Velcro-covered pipes are also used for the top to match the Velcro on the fabric. Use four “L” connectors for the corners. Connect the pipes and connectors until it looks like the picture.

2. Fold the Velcro on the fabric so to stick to the Velcro on the two pipes. Go to the bottom of the panel and fold the remaining fabric towards the center. Next, fold the extra material on the left side towards the center. Finally, fold the extra material on the right side towards the center. Near the top and the center I have cut a 1” long slit on the right side of one fabric panel (about 3” in). I also have cut a 1” slit on the left side of the second fabric panel (about 3” in). The two sides without the slits will be the edges that will be the center of the portable backdrop. For both of the fabric panels at the bottom, I cut two 1” slits on either side of the seam. All the slits are places for the fabric strips to enter in order to secure the fabric better to the pipes. Tie fabric strips to pipes
through the slits as shown in the pictures.

3. Repeat steps #1-2 for the second panel.

4. Have another person hold vertical one panel while you hold the other panel so that you create a 90-degree angle. Take three plastic ties and tighten the two pipes together at the top, center, and bottom. The portable backdrop should now be freestanding.

With your portable backdrop, you will always have a stage to bring you into the spotlight.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
Professional Storyteller
Co-Chair of Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance
(801) 870-5799


Dianne de Las Casas said...

Great job, Rachel! Thank you for sharing! Having a backdrop is so cool, isn't it?! Happy Holidays!

Dianne de Las Casas

Tim said...

great "how-to" article!

FYI you can also find cable ties made of velcro, so you can re-use them.

I've used a three-panel backdrop before, looks like this: \_/ but it required sandbags to stand up, especially as the obtuse angles between the center and side panels got larger.

Professional Storyteller Rachel Hedman said...

With the backdrop, I could feel the excitement of the audience even before I was introduced.

I will continue to look for ways to improve my backdrop. I like the cable ties of Velcro idea. Also, I will make other fabric backings that may be less of a fuzz magnet than fleece. (Of course, tape can get the fuzz off quick.)

Thanks to Dianne and Tim for your comments.

Dale Gilbert Jarvis said...

Hi Rachel, great post! I'm a storyteller working in Newfoundland, Canada. I love the backdrop idea, and I'm certain it is something I could use. It is great to find useful content like this!

Professional Storyteller Rachel Hedman said...

I'm glad that others can benefit from this article. Thanks, Dale for your comment. I wish for more professionalism of storytellers. The more ideas we share with other, the stronger the art's influence will be on local and global levels.