Delphine recently directed her students in an adaptation of Aristophanes’ The Birds, and asked for some help with the scenery. In the play, birds and humans collaborate to build a city in the clouds. So we spent a lot of time thinking about what a hybrid bird-human architecture would look like. After charretting through some options we came up with the design below, which could be easily and quickly and inexpensively made from some construction-grade 2x4s.

While we were using construction 2x4s for the structure, but given how this object came about within the world of the play we wanted the materials to feel neither completely manufactured nor completely natural. I was interested in working with a drawknife, which allows you to quickly and sculpturally shape wood, being just a very large, very sharp blade with handles on it. So this was a good opportunity to pick one up on ebay:

it’s just a big sharp blade with handles

I flattened the back, fixed the loose handle, and sharpened it, and it cuts like a dream:

To emphasize the cutaway portions, we first treated the 2x4s with a pickling stain, which is a traditional “whitewash” treatment that lightens the wood while still leaving the grain visible. The cutaway sections thus appear darker in contrast:

Test fit of the vertical legs, after carving with the drawknife

And then one Saturday morning we put it all together:

Assembled on a test piece of plywood, without the lashing or branches applied.

After disassembling and re-assembling onsite, we applied some scenic branches, which were scavenged from trimmings courtesy of SF Parks and Rec. If you explain that your wife is a teacher and she needs this for her kids, people are happy to help you with the oddest of requests.

Assembled and placed on stage
Detail of the through-peg and lashing construction

We were very happy with how performative they were, especially considering the entire superstructure consists of seven 8′ long 2x4s. The units could be pushed together to make an arch, separated slightly to make an enclosure, or placed on either side of the stage to create a frame. At the beginning of the show, while the audience is entering they are overlapped and pointing outward creating a mysterious tree:

Hope you enjoyed reading!

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