For almost a century, the Happy Canyon Pageant has been performed in conjunction with the annual Pendleton Roundup held in September.
In 2001, the pageant's board of directors hired a playwright to freshen the script, which was essentially unchanged since the pageant's inception. The outdoor multi-tiered theater set needed a make-over as well.
North Carolina writer Kate Brighton took on the challenge. During one of her daily Pendleton commutes, she spotted my then just completed Look Out RV Park murals. With less than two months before the pageant's opening night, Ms. Brighton contacted me. It's your color sense, she said, adding that my use of purples and blues in the shadows was "exactly what's needed under show-time theater lights."
The stage is approximately 180 feet across, not counting wing walls which are also painted as part of the pageant's enviroment. The ground-level first tier is actually two stage sets in one. The signs above each store front are dropped down during the opening act of the pageant.
A landscape setting painted on the reverse of the signs meets with another half-wall (which later drops to the ground as a boardwalk in the pageant's later acts) completes the setting.
The second, third and fourth tiers are painted as landscape and are unchanged throughout the pageant.
One of the many stage store fronts I created, working around inconsistencies in the stage construction. Above and behind is the second-tier stage, which I painted to look like native rock walls, complete with painted waterfall. Visible beyond the second-tier (and lit by the late afternoon sun) is the fourth-tier stage painted canyon walls.
The photographer's shop (RIGHT) is painted to look like brick, while the woolen mill (BELOW) is simulating native sandstone. The bricks were "laid" with a several passes of a sponge, a slightly different color each time, on top of an initial mortor color that covered the entire surface. The sandstone was painted as a series of washes, again on top of a mortor color. A final splatter of dark flecks completed the stone texture.
All surfaces, including the doors, are flat. I painted the doors to look like they had recessed panels on them. One creates the effect of weathered green paint and the other varnished wood. The porcelin doorknobs are also painted on.
What's an old west town without a jailhouse and a blacksmith and livery stable?
The livery stable wall
is flat and not recessed
more than a few inches
back from the angled
wall on which I painted
a faux door.
RIGHT: The set contained plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor, such as the mortician named "Slim Stack."
Other humor was accidental -- unplanned by the playwright --- like the dark humor of having the mortuary flanked by the restaurant and the bank. On the other side of the restaurant is the livery stable. No health department concerns here!
RIGHT: Another faux native stone, this time the illusion is basalt rock. The jail house was also done as basalt.
RIGHT:The door to the Chinese Laundry. The playwright's research turned up the Chinese lettering that would indicate opium was sold at the premises --- a practice that was common and legal in the 1800s.
This photo also shows an example of the illusion of clapboard I was able to create on a totally flat wall. The shadows, including that along the left of the door molding, were painted in. Of course, I had to be consistent with shadow placement throughout the entire set.
BELOW: Doors were generally flat rectangles of plywood that I had to paint convincing textures, door knobs and key hole plates on. The saloon's swinging doors were no different. I created imaginary slats and hinges to simulate the look of the real thing.
RIGHT:Another waterfall, this one was constructed of metal sheets and designed to have water actually flow over it and into the concrete pool at its base. The water level in the pool during performances reached to the water "surface" and "splash" zone that I had painted.
When this photo was taken, the staircase to the right (as viewed) was not buildt yet. Once it was completed, I painted it to look like a boulder cliff leading down to the pool.
Happy Canyon Pageant multi-tiered outdoor stage set
The expanse of the stage is difficult to photograph and present in a web page format.
I have posted a sampling of what I did. Another aspect of the project that cannot be adequately shown here has to do with the fact that the first-tier stage set --- or, more accurately, the stage floor --- is also a bull-riding arena.
Yes. You might want to read that again. Bull-ridng arena.
As a mural artist, I expect some unusual work environments. But when the wind kicked in the day the bull dirt was delivered and piled in huge mountains on center stage, I must admit it was the first time I'd even painted in a sand-storm. Oops, I mean dirt-storm. That aside, I found the project challenging, fun, and educational.
ABOVE: At center stage on the first tier (ground level) large gray metal doors led directly to the convention hall interior (at the end of the pageant, the audience is invited into the "Happy Canyon Dance Hall" shown here pre-pageant. I painted the doors to imitate the appearance of wood and also created the "brick" walls. Although I'm not a sign painter, I designed and painted all the signage above each "building" on the set --- all free-hand, I might add. For several I used a letter style that had the flavor of the late 1890s.
Click on images to see the entire stage set end to end. You will also be able to see some of the upper tiers, which were landscape painted to imitate rocky rims (bright sunlight washes out this area in the photo---the pageant, however is performed after sundown.)
And last but not least, what is a stereotypical "old west" town without a place to toss your hat, get all scrubbed up and perhaps have a little "conversation" too!
Goldie's Palace was designed to stand as a "two-story" structure that allowed performers to stand on the second tier and peer out the second-floor "windows" of Goldie's Palace. A scene called for a "dramatic" (and very comedic) fire rescue.
Like all the other buildings on the set, this one was a flat surface that I painted to give the appearance of a particular material (in this case, clapboard siding.)