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Our Hayes Theater Mural: Behind the Curtain

By Rockwell Group

Rockwell Group recently renovated the 100-year-old theater Hayes Theater—the smallest on Broadway—to create a modern, approachable design vocabulary for its new owner, Second Stage.

Our biggest design move was to transform the auditorium with a pixilated environmental mural over blue ombré walls. Read on for details about our inspiration and process.

The mural is a massive, hand-painted "half-tone," which typically uses dots that change in scale and density to create a cohesive image. Instead of using dots, we designed an organic 62-character font, or glyph, that rotates and warps throughout the mural. Developing a shape-shifting glyph (that we called "Leopard") was central to bringing a high level of craft to the project and (handily) it helped us hide imperfections!

After being primed, the walls were painted a single color of the lightest blue. Each color of the ombré was then airbrushed to the wall based on our exact elevations.

Francois Boucher's Bacchus and Ariadne tapestry inspired the mural.


A reproduction of Boucher's "medallion tapestries" were originally hanging in the Hayes when it was known as the Little Theater in the early 1900s. We decided to re-collage a Bacchus tapestry for the mural and add "Rococo" clouds in the spirit of Boucher (1703-1770).

We pixelated the Boucher tapestry to create a sort of modern reproduction process, honoring the fact that tapestries were designed specifically to be reproduced.

Rosco Super Saturated, a theatrical scene paint, was used for the imaging portion of the mural.

Each glyph has 3 or 4 sides and contains scalar difference. Each time a glyph is used, it rotates and warps.

After the walls had dried, low-tack adhesive-backed mylar stencils with the glyphed image were applied to the wall.

Another inspiration was Joseph Urban (1872-1933), an Austrian-American scenic designer, illustrator, and architect who designed vividly-colored sets for the Metropolitan Opera and the Ziegfeld Follies.

We created the stencil-ready art using VectorRaster and the Leopard glyph font. The vectorized art had defined edges and could be easily cut with a laser.

Columbia University gave us access to the complete Joseph Urban set design collection for our research.

Sometimes the glyphs were painted on using a roller, and sometimes they were finished or perfected using a stippling brush. (Joseph Urban factoid: He painted his immersive theater scenes in shades of blue with a spattering or pointillist technique.)

The concept of a modern theater is significant for Second Stage, which is dedicated to contemporary works of theater by living American playwrights with an emphasis on women and minority writers. It was also significant for Winthrop Ames, who founded the Hayes (originally named the Little Theater) in 1912 and produced contemporary plays with political and social relevance.

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