EVA foam. What is it, how can it be used, and can it be useful for you?
Here at The Academy of Arts Logos Theatre, we have been finding new ways to utilize this material in almost every department. From puppetry to costumes, to props and armory, it’s even found its way to some of our set pieces, as Justin Swain (Logos Puppet Master) says, “Once you know how to work with foam, your options are limited only by your creativity.”
But what is EVA foam? A very technical answer is that it is a soft yet durable polymer of ethylene and vinyl acetate. A more real world answer is that it is the foam mats that they put in gyms and nurseries, and the material cosplayers use to make armor and swords. We sat down with Justin Swain to talk through some of the ways we have incorporated the material into our production process across departments, and some of the reasons why we have found it to be such a versatile material. (For a more in depth glimpse at Justin working with the foam, make sure to subscribe to the Director’s Guild and follow along with Justin’s tutorials!)
Relatively inexpensive: Suppose you need armor for your upcoming production. Hiring a metalsmith or buying pre-made armor is above almost everyone's production budget, and it's heavy and uncomfortable. But with EVA foam, you have a lightweight, flexible, and durable armor that doesn’t break the bank and still gives you a very convincing looking armor for the stage. Pro Tip from Justin: Warming up the foam and then pressing aluminum foil into the warmed foam leaves a metal like texture on the top that can then be painted and distressed to look like real armor!
Less extreme learning curve: It takes years to learn metal working, woodworking, set design, etc. but foam is an incredibly forgiving material. It can be cut, glued, heated and shaped, textured, and painted. If you make a mistake, or cut a piece that is too large or small, the consequences are far less extreme than with other materials, because you can always cut or glue or heat it into the shape you need.
EVA Foam is safe: Even a dulled blade or the sharp edge of a piece of armor can present a danger if your performers aren't being careful. But you can’t exactly slice someone open with a piece of foam. While stunt weapons ought not make contact with a performer (if your performers are doing their jobs) having that extra measure of safety knowing that it isn’t going to hurt them even if it does touch them is a wise precaution. (Take a look at the Director’s Guild to watch Justin make a piece of armor out of EVA foam!)
Can be used for scenic purposes: In recent years, we have utilized EVA foam more and more to provide that final layer of texture over our set pieces. While you can’t build an entire structure out of foam, once you have the bones of the piece, the foam can be used to provide the outer facing. Unlike wood, which is heavy and requires a great deal of expertise to carve, EVA foam can quickly be shaped and carved into different patterns and designs. It can be curved and textured to look like the outside of a stone pillar, heated and stamped to look like a brick wall, and cut, glued, and screwed down onto almost any structure to provide a flexible outer layer that is soft, flexible and durable.
More durable than styrofoam: While styrofoam is also lightweight and relatively easy to shape and work with, the durability can present a real problem. It requires expensive chemicals and special equipment to hardcoat it, and let’s be honest, the mess that is made whenever you are working with or carving styrofoam is rather extreme.
At the end of the day, there are many options to choose from when it comes to producing excellent props, sets, puppetry and armor for your upcoming production, but we hope that some of these insights can help open your eyes to EVA foam as another cost-effective, flexible solution to your production needs!
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