Creating the Chandeliers

by From Alison Mantilla
My Fair Lady at Lincoln Center Theater
My Fair Lady at Lincoln Center Theater

Alison Mantilla is a freelance prop supervisor and oversaw the props for the Lincoln Center production of My Fair Lady with a scenic design by Michael Yeargan. Mantilla walks us through the build for the chandeliers in the embassy ball scene at the top of Act II.

For my work on My Fair Lady, I think our most interesting prop, and what I was most proud of, are the three chandeliers that are showcased in the embassy ball at the beginning of Act II. Scenic designer Michael Yeargan had designed these elegant chandeliers that were 42-inches high by 42-inches wide by 11-inch deep. The biggest hurdle with them was just trying to figure out how to do it initially, and what materials we could use.

We mostly created the chandeliers in house, except for the underlying structures of them. Those were built out of PVC by The Specialists Ltd., a prop fabrication house. The reason we did it almost entirely in house was because everyone was quoting us an arm and a leg. The design was so detailed. So, we just figured out a way to do it ourselves, which was a lot of work, but in the end, we saved a couple of thousands of dollars.

We started by building a mockup of paper and wood of what the structure would need to be in order to support the acrylic rods. We knew that we could do everything in-house with the exception of the PVC frame; we didn’t have enough labor to do that. The frame normally would have been made with aluminum, but it was suggested to use PVC to keep costs down. It was the frame we mounted the acrylic rods and appliques onto. The frame was spray-painted silver. 

Cut to Fit
Colored Acrylic Rods

Then came the acrylic rods that hang down to create the shade of the chandelier. Michael had suggested acrylic rods, and we then went to see what colors they came in and hoped that they had them in certain colors already, so we didn’t have to color the rods. We bought a couple different colors and tested them with light behind them to see what would work or would look the best.

We ended up buying pre-colored rods in three colors that worked the best—purple and pink, along with clear. The acrylic rods were then cut to specific lengths; there were 20 different lengths of rods for each chandelier. This was a tricky process with all the variations in size; we made a guide to make it a faster process. We took some time in planning it all out, so it didn’t take longer than it needed when we got to cutting.

Going Round the Bend
Detail mold 
For the details at the top, we took wooden millwork that I bought online, made a mold, and cast the pieces out of silicone rubber. For the castings, we lucked out with them just working. We did use a material that was too rigid at first, so we went back and found something with a little more give. We chose rubber so the finished pieces could bend to the curve of the chandelier frame. The rubber detail pieces were sprayed chrome. 

Heavy with Details
Placement of detailing
Once the rods were installed, we then screwed the rubber detail appliques onto the frame. Then we added crystal beadwork detailing. Each chandelier weighed about 30 lbs each. It took about two weeks to completely finish them. The detail appliques took my assistants and I about four days. It took the crew close to a week cutting all the rods. We then handed the chandeliers off to the lighting department who put in strings of three or four lamps—depending on the lengths—inside the rods.

Happy Designer, Happy Prop Team
The finished Chandelier
In the end, Michael loved them. Before we placed any of the appliques, we had him come in a lot—he’s very good about being on-hand and looking at things. So, once we put the rods on, we showed him and asked him to take a look at our suggested placement of the appliques and he would point out where he wanted them mounted. In fact, those are his hands in the pictures, holding the appliques up. He was very happy with how they came out and loves them. I love them as well. When those chandeliers come flying in as part of that scene, it gets me anytime I see the show!  

Building the chandeliers was a group effort, working with Mantilla was her props assistants: Liz Frino and Jessica Ayala; the props crew who put them together: Rudy Wood, John Ross, Will Coholan, Charlie Rausenberger, and Norm Frith; house production propertyman: Karl Rausenberger; the production management team: production manager Paul Smithyman, associate production manager Kevin Orzechowski, and assistant production manager Polina Minchuk.