Since I founded my satirical newspaper, the Atlanta Banana, I have been trying different combinations to get just the right live show component to complement the writing. We’ve held shows at music venues and art galleries, and they’ve been great fun. But I spent many years working in theatre — from my late teens, through college, and as a job — so I wanted a real theatre space.
I investigated a lot of Atlanta’s options for performance spaces, and it was rough going. No one was particularly interested in my show unless I could afford to pay enough to rent the space outright. There’s not a lot of money in comedy writing, though, so the budget wasn’t there.
Beyond the financial concerns, I hoped someone would understand what I was trying to do, get excited about it, and agree to join up with me to make something great. It was a long search, with some disappointing moments, but I found those people at the Village Theatre.
Have Show, Need Desk
I have a lot of friends in technology, and from them I learned about the idea of iteration. Software folks don’t try to write a fully complete piece of software. It’s impossible to write “complete” software. If you try, the landscape will change before you can get your vision to market and you’ll be holding years worth of work that is useless.
What they do instead is try to get a viable product into user’s hands as fast as possible then continually refine it.
I had my show and the help of some brilliant — not to mention hilarious — men and women from Village. After many weeks of rehearsal, we put on a dress rehearsal and a “soft opening,” of our show and they worked. I knew I had my viable product. Now it was time to iterate and refine.
How to refine? Well, what do my heroes have that I don’t have? A budget for one thing. A team of top notch writers for another. But there’s one thing just about every show host has that I knew was within my grasp: a desk.
Granted, I’ve been out of the set design game for a while now, but I have a garage, some tools, and one of those look-at-me-I’m-creative Moleskine notebooks, so I set to work drawing some plans.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t read any of that crap. But I figured if I built a foldable wood frame I could throw an Ikea desk top on it and then add some touches to fancy the whole affair up some.
First, I put the frame together out of some 1×2″ lumber I bought at my local big box home improvement store. It took me some searching to find five pieces of this wood that weren’t bent to hell and back.
Then I added some 1/4″ plywood — a.k.a. “luaun” — to the outside and attached the sides to the front with some hinges. I considered using canvas but decided I wanted the stability of the plywood.
I also screwed up, because I didn’t account for the thickness of the front panel in the design of the sides. They were meant to fold flat, but they don’t. You won’t be able to tell I screwed up when the desk is in operation, but it’ll be a little less pretty in its folded-for-transport mode. Damnit.
Here’s the work so far with the fancy white tabletop I picked up at Ikea.
Then I spent some time sanding the plywood and filling in holes with Bondo, or as I came to know it when I was working for a guy who fixed up old houses in Atlanta’s Midtown area: restoration putty.
After some more sanding, I had the desk bottom looking pretty smooth.
Now that I had the desk bottom ready for some artwork, I set to work fancying it up. My original idea was to use a projector to show an image on it, then hand paint the image. If there’s one thing my years in set design have taught me, however, it’s that I am a completely crap detail painter.
Instead I measured the desk and created some artwork in Illustrator to wrap around all three sides.
I found a local Fedex and used their large format printer to print the image in black and white, then trimmed it to size using a utility knife and an aluminum cutting fence.
That done, I taped the artwork to the desk base, trimmed it to fit the sides, and then attached it permanently with some spray adhesive.
Here’s the artwork going onto the base.
And here’s the base with the artwork applied and the top resting on it.
Now I needed to focus on the practical use of the desk. I wanted it to look great, but also be collapsible so that it could be easily moved around. Village has a lot of shows going on, so they don’t want my set pieces cluttering up their stage all the time.
I needed a way to get the top centered on the base in the right place every time, so after some measuring and drawing I added these locating blocks to the underside of the desk.
Then I added these draw hasp closure things to secure the top to the base. This phase still needs some work because I want the desk to be completely solid and it’s not quite yet, but it’ll work for version one. Then we’ll iterate.
With the desk top attached to the base, it was time to move into the home stretch: making the desk look as fancy as possible. I wanted it to look a little heavier than it actually is, and I also needed some room to hide some under-desk electronics, so I added some molding to the three audience-facing sides of the desk top.
Of course, I screwed that up the first time. What’s the saying? Measure once, forget about it, then saw like hell? That sounds right.
Once I got the molding applied, I used some white silicone sealer to fill in gaps, hide screws, and hopefully make it look like a cohesive unit. I tell you, it’s all fun and games being a hairy beast of a man, until you’re working with white silicone sealant and you have to stop every two seconds because a piece of your pelt is stuck in it.
For the next phase, I ordered some LED strips with color capability from Amazon for about $25. I have used these strips before as under-cabinet lighting in our house, and they remain Sweetie’s favorite home improvement project that I have performed.
I used white ones under the cabinet, though, and I wanted color ability this time. I also ordered some connectors that were supposed to make bridging two pieces of the LED strips into a very easy process, but they didn’t work at all. I ended up just using massive gobs of hot glue and some cable management things I had.
It ain’t pretty, but it’ll work, and no one will see the underside of the desk.
I’m pretty pleased with the results. Here’s the desk with the glowing top on it.
And here’s what it looks like all (mostly) folded up.
Last but not least, the video evidence of the desk in action.
I’m pleased with it. I hope you’ll come see my show Atlanta Explained if you’re in the area. In the meantime, we’ll be iterating.
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