Sticking Not Stuck

Simon Ford takes notes in front of the Rainbow Arbor, where a “Red Sea” scene will be.

I took this photo of our graphic designer, Simon Ford, as he jotted notes in front of the Rainbow Arbor, where a “Red Sea” scene will be.

Following up on my last SkirBlog post, I wanted to share more about the design of Exodus Steps, but time, time, time! We’ve been working away at it late, late, late. The story’s so big, and the Skirball campus is so full of possibilities, we’ve gotten carried away with ourselves. This is going to have to be fast.

Since agreeing with the Skirball we were going to make Exodus Steps, we have (cutting out all the tedious administrative/visa waiver stuff that no one wants to hear about, least of all me):

  1. Re-read the book and identified all the must-have, could-have, and don’t-need scenes.
  2. Written a draft script.
  3. Decided who needs to say how little to make the story function and have some degree of character/humanity. (Remember, we’re cutting all the text into vinyl speech bubbles, so no one is allowed to soliloquise.)
  4. Thought about what objects the audience needs to see/interact with to tell the story and make the thing look attractive. (As in most movies, we’d like the story to be told by sight and action rather than words.)

    Footsteps in the courtyard, ready to be followed.

    Footsteps in the courtyard, ready to be followed.

  5. Designed most of the props, including feet. As this is the eighteenth edition of the Steps Series we have a fairly extensive archive of designs from previous shows so cow, sheep, dog, and horse footprints don’t need designing. Simon Ford, our graphic designer, has created a new line of footwear for Exodus Steps as we aspire to show gradations of social class/wealth in ancient Egypt through the footprints—which admittedly is a little ambitious (the Sherlock Holmes stories were amongst our inspirations for the series).

Below is my “diary” of how things are progressing:


  • We arrive and agree on logical places to put different scenes around the campus.
  • We get approval to work in all the spaces we wanted to work in.
  • We check the vinyl order to make sure we have all the colours we need (each main character has their own colour and “extras” share colours).


  • We pace all the scenes out, plotting what each of the character’s actions are going to be and counting the number of feet and hands that have to be cut out.


  • Simon sets to work on the computer lining up everything that needs to be printed out.
  • I lead a workshop for teachers at Skirball in the morning, and then retreat to the cellars in order to cut out all the speech bubbles for the show.
  • I spend the rest of the day peeling vinyl not needed from around the speech bubbles and taking out all the lettering from within the speech bubbles (in our design the gaps within the vinyl create the wording). This takes a very long time and gives me a crick in the neck.
Vinyl shackles and footwear waiting to be placed.

Vinyl shackles and footwear waiting to be placed.


  • Kiki from the Skirball joins us in the cellars cutting out all the rest of the vinyl and peeling off unwanted bits.
  • We put transfer tape on the complicated vinyl cuts—this tape sticks to the front of the vinyl allowing all the delicate pieces to stay in place whilst the backing paper is removed. The whole lot is then stuck in position and the transfer tape delicately peeled off, leaving perfectly aligned vinyl in place.
  • We use a long, wide corridor in the basement to lay out the vinyl scene-by-scene for easy access tomorrow.
  • We generate a filing system for feet and hands of all colours—left and right—and commandeer a Skirball cart and load it with the filing system, decorator’s tape, scissors, knives, application squeegees, and all the vinyl needed for scene 1.
  • It’s 17:30 and getting gloomy but we decide to install scene 1 in Founder’s Courtyard anyway to get ahead of ourselves. It takes us three hours and isn’t quite finished when we decide to leave (lots of toes still have to be added to Miriam’s bare feet and some ducks need to go on the water). It’s too dark to see the scene very well. Crawling around on the floor leaves us both stiff and groaning like the old men we are becoming. We are ready for a cold beer and some food.


  • We arrive on site in bright sunshine. Scene 1 looks great in the bright, clear Californian sun. Our spirits are high for today and tomorrow when the serious sticking is to take place.
  •  I leave Simon to get to work whilst I sneak off to write this and give a talk to Skirball staff about the show so they can help visitors get the best from it when we are finished and gone.

    Scene 1 – Exterior Sunny Courtyard

    Scene 1—sunny exterior courtyard

Enough! I have work to do!

This post was written by James Yarker, Artistic Director of Stan’s Cafe. Exodus Steps at the Skirball, opens to the public March 1.

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