Faux Neon Sign for Lysistrata Jones


Theatre Simpson–Measure For Measure–Fall 1992

This is a follow-up to the Lysistrata Jones set design entry a couple of weeks ago.  One of the locations that is represented in the musical Lysistrata Jones is the Eros Motor Lodge.  Early in the design process we discussed representing this location with a large neon sign element.  I have done several such signs over the years.  One of the common strategies that I have used is to create a simple light box with cut-out letters and shapes representing the neon tube.   We used this technique for a 1992 production of Measure for Measure.  Set in a dystopian alternate present or near future, that production featured signs  with non-English words on them.  If memory serves Nogen translates as “Nude” in some nordic language.  Similarly Flicka, Kiz and Divka translate as “Girls, Girls, Girls” in three different languages.  We used a Cut-Awl to cut the letters out of lauan and constructed otherwise light-tight boxes with incandescent lights in them to provide illumination.  Color media such as is used in front of theatrical lighting fixtures provided the color.  In the case of the “Flicka Kiz Divka” sign three separate compartments and three separate electrical circuits  permitted us to  “chase” the three words.


Theatre Simpson — Twelfth Night — Fall 1997

We employed a similar technique for the 1997 production of Twelfth-Night (set in a conjectural 1950s era cuban dance hall called “Club Illyria.”)  In both cases the neon lettering is of unconvincing as neon and more closely resembles other styles of illuminated sign.  Other experiments using plastic tubing inserted in the lettering cut-outs for a dance hall sign for a production of The Glass Menagerie and a reproduction “Corona” beer sign for a conceptual production of Cosi fan tutti were more successful in emulating the look of neon.

NeoflexAfter learning of a product available from Rose Brand called Neoflex,  I became intrigued with the possibility of creating for Lysistrata Jones a much more authentic-looking neon sign than those achieved up to  this point.   The Neoflex product also appears to be available from the manufacturer Cii through an online site.

ErosDrawingAas the design evolved, however, I found that I needed about 64 feet of one color  and approximately 80 feet of another.  At  $13 per foot (the price from cii) the cost of this  product would be over $1800.  This price tag was  far beyond my budget for this element of the overall set design.  Even with this product out of the question, I was determined to find a way to move forward with the overall idea.

I turned my attention to standard style colored rope lights. Several companies sell rope lights in the colors that I hoped to use.  I bought the Red and Amber RedRopeLightrope light in rolls of #150′ for below $100 per roll from 1000bulbs.com.  With the addition of some of the needed accessories (clips, power cord connectors, etc) I was able to buy the necessary  supplies for around $350 including shipping (which was $80).  I chose to use 120 volt  incandescent versions of the product to permit our lighting designer Rick Goetz to run chase effects with the letters E-R-O-S (the name of the Motor Lodge) and with the words “Motor” and “Lodge”.  I also wanted it to be possible to run them on the dimmers so that if there was a need to balance the brightness between the two colors, the lighting designer could do so.  As it turned out, this did not become an issue.

Eros 1212.jpgSenior student Josh Zieman took charge of the construction of the sign.  Since the rope light can only be cut in 2′ incriments he had to plan the cutting and circuiting of the rope light carefully, weaving it in and out of holes drilled through the lauan face of the sign to achieve the desired results.  He used a combination of accessory tracks to achieve straight runs and clips for curves to hold the flexible tubing in place on the sign face.  However, we found that simple white zip-ties were also essential in achieving the proper results.


The finished sign,  appears in the photo above.  The crooked angle was a design choice. The compromise in material from Neoflex to rope light is not particularly visible in the photo.  In person, the compromise was more apparent.  One day, budgets might support the far superior Neoflex product.  In the meantime, the rope light option permitted us to build the scenic element instead of cutting it!

Meanwhile, that’s enough for now! Have fun!  But be safe!




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