Creating a Life-Size Pirate Ship for Blackbeard the Musical at Signature Theatre

Photo Features   Creating a Life-Size Pirate Ship for Blackbeard the Musical at Signature Theatre
Scenic designer Paul Tate DePoo III goes behind-the-scenes of his wild, shipwreck-inspired design at the Arlington, Virginia, theatre.

When D.C.'s Signature Theatre artistic director Eric Schaeffer commissioned the world premiere musical Blackbeard, he knew he wanted to push the boundaries of the Signature’s newly flexible space—which meant elevating the scenic design for the production to an unprecedented level. Set entirely on the titular conqueror’s ship, every aspect of Paul Tate DePoo III’s set implies mystery, daring, and grandeur.

“We wanted a shape that looked like the wake of a ship that had just crashed through the theatre,” says DePoo. Built on site, Blackbeard’s ship inhabits both levels of the Signature Theatre’s Max Theatre space, enveloping the audience in the pirate’s race to escape the British and raise an army of undead sailors.

But DePoo’s design began as a hodgepodge model of plastic scraps, old models from previous productions, jewelry pieces, and more. DePoo and his team—including his associate Kaitlyn Peterson, technical director Rob Shearin, a troop of carpenters, welders, and artisans, props duo Kate Brittingham and Pam Weiner, and painters led by Katherine Baldwin—then collaborated to unearth the precise materials to replicate a full-size version of the idealized mini. “There are endless elements on the set now: foam, PVC piping, exhaust ducts, steel and wood shop scraps, cheesecloth, ropes, gates, skeletons, old sails…” DePoo lists.

Combined with traditional scenic elements, DePoo utilized his set to create the effect of a ship sailing rough waters and the story of the world’s most infamous marauder. Flip through the gallery below for the reveal of DePoo’s full process, the mystery objects hidden in the set, the sophisticated painting techniques used to create the marbleized sea, and more.

Directed by Eric Shaeffer, with music by Dana P. Rowe and a libretto by John Dempsey, Blackbeard plays the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, through July 14. Click here for tickets and more information.

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