Rehearsal Cubes - for Acting

Introduction: Rehearsal Cubes - for Acting

A cube by any other name is a cube but this is a rehearsal cube.

They are used as stand-in props to help block out or act out a scene. There are endless combinations and with a little imagination, they go a long way. Stack up two cubes for a table. Use one as a chair. Put three of them together on the floor to make a bed. Turn one up so the open end is facing the audience to act as a TV set or cupboard. Use them as podiums or soapboxes to stand on. Stack three, two, then one to make a staircase or represent mountains. The possibilities are limitless.

Caitlin's gifted program at school has interaction with TADA! Youth Theater performing arts program which sends out a "consulting" team to help classes write, produce and perform their own original play or musical. TADA! does have a catchy theme song that grows on you, I must say. Her school is fortunate to be able to provide such enrichment to those fourth and fifth graders in their daily course of study.

I had volunteered to build six cubes to help with this year's production, a musical with "King Tut" as the theme. (No, Walking like an Egyptian is a pop culture thing). In researching what was needed I found that commercially built cubes or modular set pieces are quite expensive. Many other starving artists and production companies have always rigged a few up. There are these acting cubes but with my limited budget, frugalness and having volunteered to do this for the benefit of the kids, this is what I came up with.

I will add more pictures later if I can to show the cubes in use or abuse.

Disclaimer: Any references to brats, preteen monsters, or similar are meant in a loving way.

Really, these are the best bunch of kids in the world. They just need to be yelled at once in a while. That's entertainment.

**** updated September 2016

Be sure to check out the last step which is a build gallery of new rehearsal cubes built for the Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics High School in Bronx, NY for their theatre arts program.

Step 1: Give It All You Got...

The requirement was to build six cubes each measuring 18" on the edge. Stacking 2 cubes gives about the right height for a table or counter. One cube is the right height for a chair or a few pushed together to make a bed.

I needed to design and build something that was strong enough to stand on and take the abuse of 8-10 year old ragamuffins aspiring actors. These cubes will be pushed, kicked and banged around on stage.

It was suggested to make the entire "apple crate" out of 3/4" thick plywood with additional 2x4 cleats to reinforce the structure. This would have been quite expensive in materials cost and the end product would have been quite heavy for kids to carry or move around. It would have to be made semi-indestructable but I knew I could do better. I had some scrap 1/2" plywood in the garage that I could use. I only needed to get some stick lumber to complete the project. I would use pocket-hole joinery to create some face frames to use in the sides of the cube and topped off with a sturdy plywood platform top face to stand or sit on. An additional cleat would reinforce the top from sagging.

For the supplies needed:

A whole bunch of various woodworking tools. The more power tools you have, the easier it will be to finish but you could still do things the old-fashioned way with just hand tools.

  • Jigsaw or circular saw
  • Power miter saw (some call it a "chop" saw not to be confused with a cutoff saw or hack saw)
  • Drill with various bits
  • Drill Driver or Impact Driver (putting in all the screws by hand would be arduous)
  • Various measuring tools (T-square, measuring tape, try-square, pencil/markers)
  • Power sander of any type (can use sandpaper, rasp, wood file, edge rounding tool)
  • Power air or electric brad nailer or hammer and brads
  • Pocket-hole jig and pan-head pocket-hole screws
  • Lotsa glue, wood glue and if you have it polyurethane glue
  • Sheet plywood, mdf, paneling
  • 1x3 lumber (I remember having about twenty 8-footers)
  • 1x2 lumber for the platform reinforcement

Step 2: Measure Once, Cut Several Times, and Again...

Cut out your top panel where you will be able to stand/sit on the cube. It should be 18 inches square. This size varies according to the size of your modular blocks. It could be 24 inches or 16 inches to make the most out of 4 foot by 8 foot sheet goods.

Note that once you have a square panel, you can base all of the measurements off of that and not use a ruler for the rest.

Measure a piece of 1x3 that will become the upright legs of the cube. It will be 18 inches less the thickness of your panel.

Cut out 8 pieces for each cube to be made. You can set up your chop saw with a stopblock to speed up production. All you need to do is to push the lumber up to the stop and cut. No need to measure the length and mark each piece.

Step 3: Need a Leg to Stand On...

Start gluing together 2 pieces lengthwise for each "leg".

Create an "L" shaped piece by applying glue along the entire edge of one piece and butting that against the face edge of the other piece. Tack with brads along the face resting on the edge. Allow to dry completely.

Step 4: Face Off...

Place 2 leg pieces on the face panel. I want the cube to be strong by having an "offset" placement of the pieces of wood as the legs.

You can see better in the pictures on how to place one with a wider face and one with the thinner face on the panel. Do that to measure for the piece that will go inbetween for the top and bottom brace. If your top panel was cut perfectly square, you should now be able to cut 8 pieces for each cube with the same measurement.

Step 5: You Need to Screw It Up...

I used a Kreg pocket hole jig. This is a device that clamps a piece of wood and lets you drill a hole at an angle. A special stepped drill bit that looks like a smaller diameter drill bit on the end of a larger diameter drill bit is used. It creates a flat bottom hole with a pilot hole for the pocket-hole screw which has a head that acts like a washer to keep the screw from penetrating deeper. The screw is screwed in perpendicular to the piece of wood to be joined. The pocket that is created lets you screw into the other piece of wood making an incredibly strong joint. This method replaces other methods like doweling or using biscuit joining.

I prefer it for its speed and ease of use.

Drill pocket holes in both ends of all of the top and bottom crosspieces. You have to keep in mind which way your grain goes so that the screw can dig into crossgrain for the strongest joint.

Let's see, 8 holes per face x 4 faces per cube x 6 cubes. You also need that many pocket-hole screws.

Start assembly of one face frame for the cube. Glue is not necessary when using pocket screws and pocket hole joinery but I glued each joint for added security. The pocket hole screw draws the pieces together so tightly it will make a perfect joint if you have cut your wood cleanly and align the pieces well. It is self-clamping.

Step 6: Get That Boxed-in Feeling...

Methodically put together the rest of the cube. I found it was easy to put together face frames for opposing sides and then connect it together.

Step 7: Top It Off...

Once you have the cube "frame", glue on the top panel and tack with brads. I used a thin line of polyurethane glue all around to add the top. It fills a little uneveness you might find if the top pieces were not perfectly aligned when it was put together.

CAUTION: Polyurethane glue (Gorilla Glue brand and others) is messy. It will stick to everything and there is really no solvent to clean it off. It expands and oozes as it cures so don't use a lot. It is good stuff. Buy in small bottles since once it gets exposed to air/moisture, it will start curing in the bottle and you will waste it.

Cut a 1x2 piece to fit inside inbetween the top crossbraces of two opposing sides of the cube. It should run along the middle of the top panel as a support brace to keep the top from flexing. Drill a single pocket hole in each end of the piece. Glue along the edge to the top panel and screw in at each end.

Step 8: It's Only a Front...

I did not have enough thick plywood to make another solid face of each cube so I cut out leftover panels of masonite and 3/8" luan plywood to fill the opening of one of the cube faces. You can build up with smaller pieces. These were composed of two layers with the cuts made so that the backing piece would bridge the any gap in the front for strength. The lamination was glued all over when the two pieces were put together. Glue edges of the panels with polyurethane glue to attach to the face frame. Tack with brads.

Allow everything to completely dry. Inspect the cube for any errant brads that may be sticking out. Bash in with a hammer to set any spikey brads.

Round over all edges with an edge rounding tool, rasp, file, surform tool, and power sanders.

Fill in any large gaps or imperfections with wood putty or a drop of polyurethane glue that you will sand to finish later.

Prime the cubes. Sand lightly to get rid of any raised grain. Paint in a hard-wearing gloss black enamel. I used a silver paint marker to add DO NOT STEP HERE warning on the front face panels.

Step 9: Time to Act...

Now pack up the car to drop them off at school. Six of these cubes approximate the floor space required of five adults in the car.

Let 'em have at it.

I'll update later with stuff I will probably make for the stage set.

Public Service Announcement follows:

Please become a patron of the arts in any little way, every little bit helps. And support your schools and art programs in whatever way you can. Our kids depend on us to enrich their lives as they do us. Thank you.

Step 10: Updated - Build Gallery

The theatre arts director for the Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics high school found this original instructable for rehearsal cubes and contacted me to help them build a set for their school program.

It's been a long time since I built the rehearsal cubes for Caitlin when she was in the 6th grade as she is now starting college. I am still a believer in supporting our schools in whatever way we can so I volunteered to build another set of rehearsal cubes. The design was beefed up a bit to take into account that more adult sized students would be using them. There is two 3/4 plywood sides and a face frame for the bottom end. You can sit or stand on either panel so no need to worry about placing this side up when used.. There is a diagonal rib piece inside reinforcing and joining the two plywood panels.

Since I wanted to build this at the lowest cost for the school, I got a sheet of CD plywood sheathing and used 1x3 furring strips instead of 4S grade lumber. It was just a little more work using wood filler to patch the open knots in the surface and repairing some joints where the pocket hole screws busted out at an angle in the thin wood but worth the effort for money saved. All the edges were rounded over with sandpaper or the random orbit power sander. That prevents catching any splinters during use and keeps the delamination of some rough plywood layers down.

For a set of 8 finished rehearsal cubes, I used a full 4x8 sheet of plywood and maybe another 1/4 to half sheet composed of plywood leftovers which I biscuit joined to make all the needed 18"x18" square piece panels. I had the lumber yard cut my big sheet of plywood into three pieces(2x4,3x4,3x4) so I could get it home in the car. I could make the final cuts later.

I used up a batch of two dozen 1x3 8 foot furring strips/building studs.

and throw in about 400+ pocket hole screws.

The students will paint the cubes black to be used as a professional theater prop. It makes me happy that the school will be getting good use out of them.

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    16 Discussions


    Question 8 months ago on Step 6

    How long did it take to build all 8 boxes?


    Answer 8 months ago

    Oh, that was made so very long ago in an unheated garage in the winter but it may have taken a good weekend. Nothing really complicated to do and just waiting for glue and paint to dry. It helps to have a power saw and a template to cut all the pieces. Then it’s just assembly line production. I now have an air compressor and brad nailer which would have sped things up. Use good wood if you can and invest in the biggest pocket hole tool you can get since you will definitely make more stuff with it. Good luck.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Can you make these in a rectangular shape? Needing to mimic storage trunks.


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Sure you can. I had made everything cube shape because I would set one measurement on the chop saw to cut all the pieces easier. If you were going for a rectangle, I would still put in some center braces like you are putting together two cubes side by side to retain the strength if you were to stand on it. The top would be a longer piece of plywood. For a storage trunk sized piece I don't think you will have any problems in just expanding the cube shape. Just test it out when framed up and you will know if you have to reinforce it some more. Good luck.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Not knowing any thespians, nor having been one (besides a little experimenting in college) I (foolishly) thought the cubes were soundproof boxes that you put your head in in order to rehearse lines or sing or something of that nature, without driving neighbors or other thespians up the wall before the production even opened. After viewing your ible, I like your idea better. Hahaha yeah, I'm a fool, but one day I'll make an instructable that will benefit fools like myself. Of course they won't know it at first glance and it will be entirely useless to normal people. But if I can help one person to see as I see, I will not be alone. We will. Nicely done.


    11 years ago on Step 9

    It's nice to see others using this box method! I just stage managed a production of "Nickel and Dimed" this past spring with a local college troupe in Indiana and our basic set/props were something akin to this - but rather heavy boxes. Needless to say, the boxes did wonders and helped make sets for every scene or were simply stacked to the sides if necessary (our director's vision was very Brechtian, so absurdity and outlandish props were the goal). They built all the boxes (although I think one was previously built as a type of trunk so we just had to paint it) extremely sturdy to take a beating though, so you could stand up any one of them without fear of falling.


    Reply 11 years ago on Step 9

    Thanks for sharing. These cubes got a workout at their production. The kids were commenting who had the best idea of arranging the cubes when they were choreographing or marking the layout? The other class stacked them 3 - 2 -1 in a pyramid shape tower. The singers sat on each plateau. Other times they were used as "solo" risers to get the main players up from the crowd. They were used as vendor stands in the marketplace scene. I did make a treasure chest prop out of cardboard/hotglue/gold paint. I should put up a pic.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    These look robust, I can see them kicking around for years. They'll be some kind of legacy L


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    They are rock-solid if you jump or sit on top of them. I've used the pocket-hole-screw method on a variety of projects and they have held up quite well. I'm pretty proud of how they turned out considering it was designed as I went along looking at my lumber pile and wondering if I will run out of material putting me way over budget if I need to purchase more.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    We use those in drama class... Nice job, I would never have thought of making my own!


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks, I guess you improvise without them but always nice to have.