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How we built the drums for Coriolanus

While working on the score for STC’s production of Coriolanus, Composer/Sound Designer Mark Bennett came across two 30-gallon oil drums that STC already had in storage and asked STC’s props department to make him two more, using larger 55-gallon drums.

STC’s Lead Props Artisan Chris Young was up for the challenge.

It wasn’t Chris’ first time building drums like this. In fact, several years earlier he had built the 30-gallon drums that Mark initially liked for Coriolanus. At the time, Chris remembers, the plan was for the actors to carry four of the drums onstage during STC’s 2005 production of The Tempest but the set design’s steep slopes made it impossible so the drums never appeared in the show. Two were sold and the other two were kept in STC’s storage space and used periodically in sound effect recordings. They finally made their STC mainstage debut when they were played during STC’s 2008 production of Julius Caesar.

To get the 30-gallon drums ready for Coriolanus, Chris added caster wheels so that the members of the cast could easily roll them on and off the stage. Then he focused his attention on the bigger project of building their 55-gallon counterparts.

Chris purchased the 55-gallon drum bodies from James T. Warring Sons in Capitol Heights, the same store from which he purchased the 30-gallon bodies years ago. His first step was to add a support ring made out of 1/4″ steel, the silver piece seen here.

Chris ordered 22” bass drum heads for the 55-gallon drums, which would create a different sound than the 18” tom heads that he used in the 30-gallon versions. Chris needed to insert a piece of wood to slightly reduce the diameter of the steel drum and ensure a snug fit for the drum head. The drum heads, tensioning rods and claws and hoops came from DrumMaker.com; the company’s owner helped Chris find parts and get them to delivered after they figured out that the parts he needed were not available from a supplier within the U.S.

The drum head required eight tensioning rods, which Chris had to evenly space around the circumference of the drum. He carefully measured the intervals in centimeters using a fabric tape measure, marking them on the drum.

After confirming that his measurements were precise, it was time to weld. Chris attached tubes to hold the tension rods.

Pieces of metal can get very hot. Don’t try this at home.

Chris tested out his work so far. Success!

Next, it was time to weld on some feet so that he could add wheeled casters to these drums too. Chris chose to add three casters to each drum so that after the actors wheeled the drums onstage, they could lock two of the casters to keep the drum in place for the scene. Chris also angled the casters so that the drums would tilt slightly back toward the person playing them, which would help the sound of the drum carry throughout Sidney Harman Hall.

To add extra support for the drum head, Chris inserted a wooden body wrapped in muslin. The muslin was glued to the wood to keep it in place.

The drum head was inserted. After masking the heads to help keep them clean, Props Painter/Sculptor Eric Hammesfahr painted the drums.

And after two days of work, the drums were complete!

Come listen to Chris’ drums be played in Coriolanus, now at Sidney Harman Hall through Sunday, June 2, 2013.

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