Shiver Me Timbers: The Making of Mutiny on the Sea Witch (Part 3)

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Coxswain Pierce (Jonathan Blair) at our ship’s wheel.

Any pirate worth his sea salt needs an excellent pirate ship to navigate the Seven Seas. A sturdy, well-appointed vessel was key for anyone who chose to ply a trade on the ocean. But pirates throughout history weren’t known for building their own ships. Many famous pirate vessels, such as Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge, were stolen from other companies or countries as part of the pirate’s plunder. The cast and crew of Mutiny on the Sea Witch weren’t able to raid the seas to acquire their own ship, so we had to build our own. Keep reading to learn more about how we designed and built the amazing pirate ship set of our latest Master Mystery Production!

Shiver Me Timbers: The Making of Mutiny on the Sea Witch (Part 3)

Designing a set is a bit like putting together a puzzle. Except you are the one creating the pieces. Your stage has a built in set of parameters you need to follow. Somehow, you have to create scenery that fits the dimensions of the stage with room for all the actors and the blocking you intend them to do along with all the story elements necessary to complete the plot. Not only that, but sets are designed to be temporary. A set had to move into the venue, do its job, and then move out as efficiently as possible.

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For Mutiny on the Sea Witch, we needed a pirate ship. Building a whole ship onstage is a difficult task and not something we had the budget or time to do, considering we also wanted to be able to move this set into position easily. So we designed the set to be modular, a series of individual set pieces designed like puzzle pieces. We could mix and match and move these pieces about the stage to make it fit whatever configuration we needed. So instead of needing to build an entire ship, we created two individual masts with sails and crow’s nest, a working ship’s wheel, a flag pole with custom Jolly Roger, a bridge, a captain’s quarters, a parrot perch, and a bow complete with figurehead. Playing around with the position of everything created our Sea Witch, Cutlass Kate’s fearsome pirate warship.

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Mast with sails.

Building the requisite parts for the ship required large amounts of creativity. Director Daniel Stallings designed the modular idea of the set, but it took the talents of Set Construction Head Michael Stallings to bring the pieces to life. He was ingenious in his re-use of objects to create the ship. Crib spindles became the ship’s wheel. Canvas drop cloths and sewer pipe transformed into a ships mast and its sails. A styrofoam mannequin head became a figurehead for the Sea Witch. We were experts at recycling and “upcycling” many household objects into an amazing pirate vessel. With the skills of our scenic painter, Skeleton Key Winner Margit Stallings (who also served as our legendary costumer for the show), we were able to make the set look much more realistic with wood grain and brass detailing.

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The Sea Witch figurehead.

One tricky detail we had to sort out was how to create multiple locations out of a static set, which is a set that doesn’t move or change during the course of a show. We created a series of “zones” onstage and in the audience that represented different areas of our pirate world to suit the needs of the script. A bridge represents “land,” often specifically Charleston Harbor. The deck of our pirate ship is represented down the center of the stage, starting at the sails and tapering to a point at the bow with the figurehead. and on the opposite side of the stage, backed by a small wall, is the captain’s quarters, complete with desk, charts, and secrets. Polly’s perch serves as a bridge between both the deck and the captain’s quarters. Finally, pirates will get to explore a deserted island by emerging into the house with the audience and walk among the seats, searching for their treasure.

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Detail of cross painted on sail by Margit Stallings.

All these details may seem overwhelming, but they are the sort of details we have to think about when designing a set as complex as a pirate ship and the world around it. A lot of though was given to placement, design, and ease of movement to make an effective theatrical world while still holding onto the magic and mystery of the Seven Seas. Now that you’ve learned about the Sea Witch, get ready to set sail and stop a mutiny as Mutiny on the Sea Witch opens Friday!

And don’t forget your tickets! We don’t want to set sail without you!

–Master Mystery Productions

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