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Scenic Art Studios Paints Broadway's Iconic Backdrops

Behind the Scenes at a Newburgh Art Factory

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Scenic Art Studios founder Joseph Forbes examining the painted backdrop for the American Ballet Theatre production of "Whipped Cream." - PHOTO BY LAWRENCE GREGOREK
  • Photo by Lawrence Gregorek
  • Scenic Art Studios founder Joseph Forbes examining the painted backdrop for the American Ballet Theatre production of "Whipped Cream."

Driving along North Water Street, you catch a glimpse of the Regal Bag Building, a hulking 19th-century factory on the Newburgh waterfront. Its nondescript industrial exterior conceals a hub of artistic and artisanal enterprises, including its top-floor tenant, Scenic Art Studios, which paints most of the scenic backdrops featured on Broadway. Recent shows Scenic Art Studios has fabricated backdrops for include "Hello Dolly!," "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," "War Paint," and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." Founded in 1994 by master scenic artist Joseph Forbes, the company moved to Newburgh in 2014 after fires at locations in Norwalk, Connecticut and Cornwall. The 15,000-foot-studio is a wide-open space, dominated by backdrops on the floor being worked on by scenic painters wielding long paintbrushes. One week it's a road show of "Beauty and the Beast," next it's "Romeo and Juliet" for the Joffrey Ballet, and after that, a set piece for Lady Gaga's latest tour.

Despite predictions as early as two decades ago that painted theatrical backdrops would go the way of the dodo as digital imagery became more culturally pervasive, Scenic Artist Studios is thriving, having created backdrops for 32 of the 38 shows currently on Broadway. "We're bombarded by digital images 24/7," says Forbes. "We go to the theater to see life, to see something made by a human hand, to witness magic." Visit Scenic Art Studio's portfolio to view more of their work.

Backdrop for Miami City Ballet production of "The Nutcracker" for designers Isabel and Ruben Toledo; lead artists for Scenic Art Studios, Richard Prouse and Irina Portnyagina. - PHOTO BY LAWRENCE GREGOREK
  • Photo by Lawrence Gregorek
  • Backdrop for Miami City Ballet production of "The Nutcracker" for designers Isabel and Ruben Toledo; lead artists for Scenic Art Studios, Richard Prouse and Irina Portnyagina.
Backdrop for the American Ballet Theatre Broadway production of "Whipped Cream" for designer Mark Ryden; lead artist for Scenic Art Studios Michele Corn Farrell. - PHOTO BY DANA WALKER
  • Photo by Dana Walker
  • Backdrop for the American Ballet Theatre Broadway production of "Whipped Cream" for designer Mark Ryden; lead artist for Scenic Art Studios Michele Corn Farrell.
Learn more about the Newburgh waterfront and the city's history.

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