Scenery: Flats


J. Michael Gillette. Theatrical Design and Production, 4th edition. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company. 1999. Chapter 9: Scenic Production Techniques

1. What is stock scenery?

Stock scenery is standardized rectangular flats (including door, window and fireplace flats) which can be easily assembled into a set. Because they are standardized, they can be quickly repainted and used in another production. The use of stock scenery can reduce the set budget for a show to the cost of paint.

2. What are the standard heights of the flats in a stock set?

12, 14, and 16 feet. Units over 16' in height are difficult to handle. Probably the most commonly used set height is 12 feet.

3. What are the standard widths?

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 feet. Walls wider than 6 feet are assembled from two or more flats.

4. What is the standard width of a stock door, window, or fireplace flat?

5 or 6 feet.

5. What is a backing flat?

Two or more short flats representing the adjoining room, placed behind a door or arch unit. Backing flats are normally 8 feet tall.

6. Sketch the rear elevation of a stock flat. Label the stile, rail, toggle and diagonal brace.

Link to a Rear Elevation (a PDF file) of a stock
  • Standard flat,
  • Door flat and
  • Window flat.
Note the top and bottom rail are cut the true width of the flat. The length of the stile and toggles are reduced by twice the width of the lumber. For example: the 2 rails of a 5x12 flat built with 1x4 lumber (which is 3 1/2" wide) would be cut excatly 5'0"; the 2 stiles would be cut 11'-5" and the 2 toggles would be cut 4-5"

7. What is the typical size of the "hole" in a door flat?

3' x 7 foot. The "hole" is normally centered in the flat.

    A window flat?

3' x 6 foot. The bottom of the window is usually 2' above the stage floor.

    A fireplace flat?

3' x 3 foot.

8. What type of joint is most commonly used?

Reinforced (with the corner block or keystone) butt joint. Note the corner block and keystone is set back approximately 3/4" (the thickness of a flat) from the edge of the stile and rail

9. How many toggles should there be in a twelve foot tall flat?

Two. Toggles are typically placed on 4' centers. An 8 foot backing flat would have one, a 16' flat would have three.

10. How many diagonal braces should be used in a five foot wide flat?

Typically flats wider than 3 feet have two diagonal braces. Each brace is normally about 3 foot long. Note in the drawing above that both diagonals are placed on the same side of the flat.

11. How many linear feet of 1x4 are needed to build a standard 5x12 flat?

50 feet.
(2 * 5' rails) + (2 * 5' toggles) + (2 * 12' stiles) + (2 * 3' diagonal braces) = 50 feet.
Note I do not reduce the lengths of the stiles and toggles when I estimate the amount of lumber I will need to order. This is not a cut list.

A cut list for this flat would include...

    At $1.60 per board foot, what would be the cost of the lumber needed to construct this flat?
    How many yards of 80" wide muslin will be needed to cover this flat?
    At $3.80 a yard, what will be the cost of the muslin?
    What will be the total cost of materials to build and cover this flat?

13. Briefly describe the process in covering a standard theatrical flat.

    Note: Covering a flat with muslin is a two person operation.
  1. Spread the muslin over the flat. The cover should extend about two inches beyond the edge of the frame.
  2. Turn back the edge of the muslin exposing one of the stiles
  3. Using a throw away brush, "paint" the stile with Elmer's® glue.
  4. Starting at the center of the stile and working towards the outside corners, glue the muslin to the edge of the frame. You will need to use your hand to work the fabric into the glue.
  5. Repeat the process on the other side. The muslin should not be pulled too tight, there should be a slight sag.
  6. Glue the cover to the top and bottom rail. Again, start in the center and work to the corner.
  7. Trim the excess muslin with a utility knife.
    Notes:(1) I do not staple the muslin to the flat. (2) Glue the muslin only to the outside frame, not to the toggles or diagonal braces.

14. How long should you wait to prime a flat after it has been covered? Why?

24 hours. Why? Because it takes about 24 hours for Elmer's® glue (which is holding the muslin on the flat frame) to set.

15. How does a Hollywood Flat differ from a stock theatrical flat?

A Hollywood Flat (also known as a hard flat) is covered with 1/4 plywood or Luan (also known as 1/4" Mahagony Underlayment) instead of muslin.

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Last updated: August 25, 2007
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