Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Skeletor Part 2

Skeletor's chest plate is based around a fleece zip up vest, worn backwards, that I found at the salvation army. It has a plywood sternum and ribs made of bendy plywood. The "bones" are attached to the vest by screws, which go through into small pieces of wood on the inside of the vest. Between the vest and the ribcage are strips of scrap fabric that were sewn into the collar line.
The hand is made of small sections of dowel rod which have springs wrapped around at each joint. I nailed the ends of each finger to a small square of wood, and from there attached two dowel rods for the wrist bones. This forearm was then sewn to the top of an old gardening glove (one of the best ways I have found to attach fabric to a rigid wood, plastic or metal is to "sew it on." Drill small holes along your rigid piece and stitch through these into the fabric) . Fishing line was then tied through holes at the tip of each finger bone, and sewn into the tip of the glove fingers. This allows the actors to manipulate the skeleton fingers while his hand is hidden inside the sleeve of the robe.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Skeletor part 1

For a gothic play called "The Castle of Otranto" we needed a ghost. It was decided that the ghost would be played by an actor and I set about making him into a human puppet. His costumes consists of a head piece, a chest piece, a hand and a cloak over it all.
To make the head I took an old plastic skull and cut off the front to turn it into a sort of mask. I built a headglove for the actor (You build a headglove by starting with a plastic grocery bag on the actors head then wrapping it in layers of masking tape, it has a level of suction to it because of the plastic inner layer and the custom fit. It and can therefor hold some very heavy mask and other head pieces). I embedded floral wires in between layers in order to wire the plastic skull to the front. springs were screwed to either side of the hinged jaw and a piece of tie line attached underneath. The actor can pull the tie line to move the jaw down and the springs pull it back up, making the ghost talk.

Full Monty Car

There is a car onstage in the Full Monty. The designer didn't want a fake car or a cutout. I went to the junk yard. I am constantly surprised by how nice people can be, and how eager they are to help with my ridiculous requests. The man at the junk yard drove us around in a van with no doors, taking us car to car until we found the one we wanted. We agreed on a price, and then the junk yard cleared everything out of the car for us (everything under the hood, all fuel lines, everything in the back seat...), and had it ready when our tow truck, belonging to a friend of the theatre, arrived.
Once we got the car back to the theatre we needed to cut it down so we had only what we needed. What you see in the image is what there was. We cut the car just behind the drivers door, and then lengthwise at about 5' from the drivers side. We masked the open sides of the car with deuvateen. The car was then installed onto a 4x8 platform (with extra framing) and set with knife guides into the tracks on the stage.
Lessons learned- We should have had them remove the windshield as well; if you do not have the proper tools removing a windshield is a long, painful, sticky tar mess. The hood will not support itself; we had to weld an extra bit of frame to support the passenger's side before we did the lengthwise cut. A sawzal will do the rest of the cutting, but it takes time and we ruined/bent/dulled about 6 blades in the process so budget for that.

Cell Phones

I was doing a production of "Fires in the Mirror" and all four actresses were doing a monologue together, which contains a cell phone. This meant that I needed four matching cell phones circa 1991 which is all but impossible. I ended up using four very similar cordless phone receivers I found at thrift stores. Old cell phones and more recent cordless home phones are not all that different. The moral of the story though is save your cell phones. Recently I have been asked to provide cell phones for numerous shows and no one has them in stock yet. Technology is going to start showing up more and more in scripts as it becomes more integrated into our culture. Unlike other household items though, we don't keep out technology around in the same way. Broken laptops and cell phones don't end up in thrift stores or garage sales the way coffee makers and couches do. I have started telling my friends and family to save all their own cell phones and laptops for me, and it's already come in handy more than once.


I was having a terrible time finding a "flagon" for Macbeth that matched the one in the director's head until I came across this one at Hobby Lobby. Finally one that both he and I liked! Then it rolled off a table while being washed and the handle shattered. Though the handle was beyond repair, the whole find was not a loss. I sculpted a new handle from epoxy putty (two part putty, looks like clay, available with the adhesives or in the plumbing aisle in any hardware store) and wrapped it in leather strapping to hide the putty handle.
Only after fixing it did I look again and realize that I could have sculpted a handle onto almost any vase and created a similar effect. Next time.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Bolster Pillows

For a production of Macbeth I had a small budget and a lot to get. the show was set in 10th century Scotland and the director wanted to have all the actors leaning on fur covered bolster pillows. I started doing some research on pricing and in order to buy the bolster pillows and furs to cover it, would cost me upwards of $150. Instead of buying online I took pillows that were already in stock, rolled them and bound them with gaff tape. I then took stock fabric and sewed sleeves to slip over the rolled pillows to smooth the lines.
To get the furs I posted a wanted ad on freecycle and one on craigslist asking for old tattered or unwanted fur coats (I figured that with real fur going out of fashion people would have coats they no longer wore). From those two postings I received 10 fur coats from generous people around the city. I was able to cut them into organic looking shapes and tack them onto my bolster pillows with a curved upholstery needle. They ended up looking pretty good.

By the way, if you have never been on freecycle you should check it out at Sign up for the group in your city and receive postings with items that people are wanting to get rid of and post items that you're looking for that others might want to throw away (and it always helps if you can give people a letter of donation from your organization for tax purposes)


I'm starting this blog to create a record for myself of my projects within my freelance theatre work. I plan on following mostly props projects to start. I will post links to research, photos of progress and explanations of the problems that I encountered and how they were solved. I also hope to post other theatrical challenges and solutions outside of the props world, both in other technical aspects of theatre and in the business of theatre.