PNB’s Scene Shop


PNB’s Production Shop has been in existence since 1975. Their first home was in the boiler room of Home of the Good Shepherd in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood. There they stored Nutcracker sets and other minimal scenery and lighting equipment. Most construction work at this time was done in personal garages or company studios. The production staff also relied heavily on friends in other theater companies around the city. In 1980, they moved to their first warehouse, one half of the old Ballard Ice Arena. It was primitive, but provided them with seven thousand square feet in which to work.

In 1986, during the filming of Nutcracker, the shop moved to a new warehouse in Fremont, which was formerly home to a moving and storage company. Initially, they occupied the ground floor, an improvement of three thousand square feet over their previous location. In 1987, they built the set for Romeo and Juliet with the help of Pierre Cayard of the San Francisco Opera Shop. That production was such a huge undertaking that it necessitated the acquisition of the upper floor of the warehouse. This added space has made construction of such works as Firebird, Cinderella, Carmina Burana, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream possible.

Creating Sets and Props

The creation of a set is a highly collaborative process involving the artistic staff, choreographer, designers, and technicians. The most useful tool in this endeavor is a model or models constructed to facilitate discussion. Props and scenery are difficult to create because they must not hinder the choreography in any way. Lighting, set, and costume designers must work together to achieve a unified whole. The best set is one born of such a collaborative effort.

What Goes into Building a Set?

Materials are determined by the nature of the design. Wood, metal, and plastic all have their advantages and use of each is determined by structural demands. PNB is fortunate in that the same people that build the scenery in the shop operate and install it in the theater. This can make scheduling tricky. The shop has to work to budget their building around the home season and the touring schedule of the Company. They do most building in the summer if they are able to get the designs. However, because of this intermittent process, some shows, like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, can take a year to build. The only thing that separates the amount of technical creativity the shop has with each set is the amount of money allocated for each work, which does vary.

Facts About PNB Productions

  • The two most difficult projects undertaken by the shop were the Nutcracker Toy Theatre and the giant wheel in Carmina Burana.
  • The Nutcracker Christmas tree was made in a Boeing flight hanger of materials used in airplane construction and weighs 950 pounds.
  • Over 115 props are used in Nutcracker.
  • The shop produces 200 pounds of snow created from fireproof paper for the winter scene of Nutcracker.
  • 37 stage hands work backstage during each Nutcracker performance.
  • The crew installs over 1,000 miniature light bulbs on the Nutcracker Christmas tree.
  • The giant golden wheel in Carmina Burana that pivots over the stage is twenty-six feet tall and weighs 2,450 pounds.
  • Cinderella’s filigreed 23-foot carriage took two carpenters six months to build.
  • One of the twelve scenic drops in Cinderella was painted by a computer.
  • The chandeliers, pewter and china in Cinderella were found in antique stores.