Originally published July, 2012.

A curved balustrade railing unit in a scene shop.  It has marble texture in gray tones.
The balustrade
A side view of the same balustrade.  It is set up on saw horses.
Side view

I am designing the summer season for  Papermill Theatre with North Country Center for the Arts in the White Mountains of New Hampshire this summer.  The second production of the season was Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, directed by Kevin Hill, with Erik Anderson as the Technical Director. 

Kevin specifically asked for a curved balustrade unit that could be moved around the stage by performers.    This did not want to be simple wooden spindles.  It really needed to be the kind of big, cement balustrade that would be present at an upscale hotel on the Mediterranean in France.  This particular season is short on time and money for building.  

This is our first season in our brand new facility.    Lathing  Styrofoam or wood was not an option, and any kind of ready-made product that I found was too expensive.    Then I had the idea to use soda bottles and water bottles.

Orthographic drawings of the balustrade being discussed.  Top, front, and side views have been drafted with details and instructions.
AutoCAD Drawing of the balustrade

This is the plate I drafted for the balustrade.   Below is the detail of what I imagined.   I suggested to Erik that we line up plastic soda bottles and water bottles using dowel rods or conduit, skin them, and then paint them to be balustrade.

Line drawing of how to put plastic bottles together.  The balustrade spindles should be dimensional and about 3" in diameter at their thick parts.  Plastic soda or water bottles are suggested.  Conduit or dowel can run down the middle to provide a center axis and support.

This is a part of the process.   Erik rounded up the right numbers of bottles and built the first spindle.   He covered the spindle with pantyhose as a skin, which clung well to the countours of the pieces.    

Once he built the first spindle, the rest were easier.

Photo of individual balustrade spindles being constructed on a table in the scene shop.
Wooden dowels run the length of each spindle inside the soda bottles. Panty hose covers the entire spindle, creating a continuous skin.
A photo of the balustrade covered with pantyhose before it was painted.
Closeup of the paint on the pantyhose covering.  There are some spots where the first coat did not quite cover completely.
The first coat of paint on the pantyhose might not coat the pantyhose sufficiently.

Jill Hibbard was the painter for this production.   The pantyhose was a little too porous, and required several coats to get it to form a good skin of paint.     Tights might have served better, but I am not convinced that they would have clung as well to the shape.

The final product was light-weight, inexpensive, and time-efficient.    I can imagine making an assembly-line in a shop that turns out a lot of these in the course of a day.    

A screen capture of ready-made balustrade for purchase online.  It is four feet wide and has four spindles.  It costs $234.20.
2012 pricing online
A photo of the final balustrade unit in performance.  An attractive couple is dancing on a checkered floor in front of it.
The bottle balustrade in use in performance.