Friday, April 30, 2010

In Appreciation of Actors

At one of the theatres where I work, rehearsals are held in the same giant warehouse that holds props and costume storage and the small shop/workspace. It can be a pain at times becuase I really can't use the power tools when rehearsals are going on during the day, but when I am sitting and doing small craftwork and painting and anything else I can do quietly, I get to listen to rehearsals.
I love listening to really good actors rehearsing. The show they are rehearsing right now is a fairly fluff musical, but even something this straight forward takes really hard, very exact work on the part of the actors. Over the last week I have listened to discussions of vaudeville and the origins of some classic jokes, discussions of the how to deal with playing  an actor in a show within a show, and endless working of comedic bits. In order to work one joke the actors may run through the moment again and again, experimenting with which word gets the emphasis and where to put a pause. They may work 20 minutes on just three lines, but honestly, I find that 20 minutes of rehearsal almost more interesting than seeing a fully staged production.
Often as a technician, I run into people who don't understand what I do and assume that I wish I could be an actor. The truth is I love what I do, and can't imagine doing anything else, but also, I wouldn't want to be an actor. What they do is really hard work. Actors face rejection after rejection and have to stay confident. They have to work every day to maintain their voices and their bodies so that they are ready for any requirements of any role. They put their emotions on the line night after night in front hundreds of strangers, and they have to make it look fresh and new even if they've been doing it 8 times a week for 2 months. I could never do what they do, I wouldn't want to, but I have a huge amount of respect and appreciation for the actors I work with.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Dessert Trays

Another quick dessert post. This time I had to do two trays of pastries. There was quite a bit in stock, but much of it was poorly made and looked incredibly fake. I pulled out the best pieces we had and then made up a few new pieces to make it all look fresher and a little more colorful.

I cut some small blocks of 1 1/2" foam and iced them with light weight joint compound.

I also cut some thin strips of 1/2" foam into a long finger shape. I gave them all a smear of icing on top with the same joint compound.

I sprayed the tall cakes with an off white spraypaint to give them a more buttercream look. Then I took some fake blackberries I found in stock and glued them on top to add some color.

I painted the fingers a chocolate brown and left the icing white.

To add some more color to the tray I took some old fake strawberries, dipped them in that same chocolate brown paint and let them dry.

If I was more patient and had thought through things more I would have painted the fingers before adding the icing, and I would have added paint to the icing before spreading it on the cakes.

To freshen up the old pieces I washed them off and sprayed some of them with a gloss sealer to make the colors pop a little more. Still, the trays ended up being pretty impressive.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Get moving!

So just a short post today. I'm a little double booked this week one show has it's first preview Thursday and another has it's first preview next Wednesday. I promise some more substantial posts soon but for now I thought I'd share one of my favorite motivational mottos,

Leap, the net will appear

Especially in the arts I feel like if you are waiting around for a guaranteed plan, for safety, predictability and reliability in life, you're going to be waiting forever. Instead, when an opportunity comes along you need to take a chance and go for it. I may not always know where I'll be in two months, but if I have to trust that hard work pays off, karma comes back around and good friends will always be there when you need them. It may be safer to pin down a day job and always feel like I have a solid backup plan, but it's also far less exciting, and I'll certainly never change the world by playing it safe. It's much more fun to leap and (at least so far) I have always found a net right when I needed it.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bake Sale

This was just a quick fun project for "Spelling Bee." One of the characters enters with a tray of candy and snacks to sell for the PTA. I bought real fun size candies that are going to be thrown into the audience, but I needed some home baked items to round out the tray. I turned to one of my all time favorite materials, Crayola model magic. It's a really easy to work with, superlight, foam-type clay. It is also air dry (no need to bake, and stays flexible and kinda squishy even after it has cured. It's a little expensive for big projects, but for small things it's a great material to play with.

I mixed together some brown and "bisque" and "terra cotta" and made a nice golden cookie color. that I rolled and squished into cookies, then I added little flecks of brown for chocolate chips.

For the brownies I rolled out a large thick section and then cut it into pieces with my matte knife to get a good clean edge.

After that I dusted all of them with with a coat of Design Master Glossy Wood Tone spray paint (mentioned earlier in my favorite things) to give them a buttery baked look.

And as Anna Warren of Fake-n-Bake says "It's 90% presentation," so the look was completed by wrapping my baked goods in cellophane.
I was especially proud when the production manager asked me if I was going to have to bake new ones every week!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Diamond in the Rough

Recently I was reading an article on a blog called The Playgoer about the marketing of theatre. The writer was exploring the marketing of theatre in the age of mass produced culture. Essentially his point was that music, movies and visual art all seem to make their money in mass production. A movie, even an indie film, takes a lot of money to get made, but then can be submitted to festival after festival, licenced out to TV networks, sold on DVD and continue returning on its investments for years. The only theatre works that tend to do this are mass marketed musicals like The Lion King and RENT. How do we compete in a world where we take our culture with us? Where you can send a link to a friend on youtube or hand them one of the earbuds on  your ipod and say "here, this is that thing I was telling you about."
He finishes the article by saying "I'm not saying theatre will die if it can't reproduce itself.  I'm not saying it even can reproduce itself.  But it will basically always be a loser artform in this economy--i.e. this country.  And I mean "loser" in many ways."
As I was reading the article I started wondering if the solution might not be in embracing the difference. What if we thought of our art the way jewelers think of precious stones; the more rare it is, the more valuable it is. In that sense theatre might be the most valuable of all arts becuase the experience is one of the most rare. I like to believe that a theatre performance is a new piece of art every night. Every night the show is different, it grows and changes, the actors bring their emotions and their experiences of the day with them to the theatre each night. Every night something unpredictable and never before seen is around the corner. As a member of the audience you are experiencing something that will only ever be completely shared by the others who are in the room with you on that night. The bond created by the shared experience of going to see a play with someone is something that can't be cheapened by 1 million views online or parodies on SNL. It will never be overplayed on the radio or end up in the bargain bin at the used book store.
We need to find a way to market theatre as the rare jewel that it is. Here's an idea, please feel free to use it. I imagine an ad campaign with the heading "Theatre, you had to be there." The campaign could feature artists, directors, designers, actors and theatre goers talking about some of their favorite, most exciting, most unexpected moments during a performance. The point being, any night something unforgettably wonderful like this could happen, but in order to experience it, you have to be there.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Laser Gun

This laser gun is another prop for The DNA Trail. The character who uses it is a very over the top, almost cartoony scientist. The look I was going for was somewhere between Saturday morning cartoon and B-Movie. I found the top silver piece almost by accident. It was a part of a game I saw at Salvation Army called "Lazer Bounce" I bought it hoping it would contain real lasers, it didn't, but the shape of this piece seemed perfect. The bottom gun pieces came from a toy gun I picked up at the dollar store that I cut the back off of. I attached the two pieces together using a two part plastic epoxy. 

The laser lights are simply two laser pointers that I ordered on Ebay. I chose these specifically becuase they came with interchangable heads that could project the laser as different images. Most of the designs were silly (hearts, happy birthday, signs of the zodiac...) but I found two sunburst style designs that were what I needed. 

I cut holes behind the "barrel" of the gun and slid the laser pointers in. Initially I laid them flat, but reaching the button to turn them on, while keeping a hand on the trigger was difficult.In the end I placed them at an angle, with the button pressed against the inside wall. from there I could push the end of the pointer in, which functioned as a lever, pushed the button against the inside wall and caused the laser to light.

I taped out some of the original colors I wanted to keep and then spray painted the whole thing gold.

We had some trouble later becuase the actress had two many things in her hands. I created an improvised holster out of a coat hanger, some epoxy putty and the nylon strapping left over from the subway handles. Another reason not to throw anything away.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Stage Blood

Mostly I am posting this blood recipe here becuase I don't want to ever lose it. I had my computer crash a couple months ago and couldn't find it in any of my backed up files. Luckily I was able to find the original posting I got it from on the proppeople. com discussion board. So here it is for your records.
"I was browsing thru the latest, and I noticed that a few of you have blood in your future. Everyone claims they have the best recipe, but I really really do!! I got this from the wardrobe dept in Banff many moons ago. It's completely edible (as long as there's no diabetes issues), and it never never never stains. Not even linen! Not even the stage floor that's painted flat white! Honest!! And it looks FANtastic.
There's 2 ways to make this recipe. The basic instructions are for a very fluid, syrup-y blood, good for fx that need to run thru tubes, and make puddles. If the blood needs to be applied to skin, use 4 times the dry ingredients and reduce the recipe on low-med. heat until it looks like grandma's-too-thick-to-eat-gravy. Keep in mind, it will be a bit thicker when it cools.
2L corn syrup
500mL chocolate syrup
2 cups water (1cup cold tap water, 1cup hot tap water)
2 tbsp (heaping) corn starch
3 tbsp (heaping) Coffee Mate (this is what makes it washable!!! don't know just does!!!))
15 mL red food colouring
3 mL yellow food colouring
Mix corn syrup and chocolate syrup together in large pot on high heat.
Use 1 cup cold water to rinse out syrup containers. Then dissolve corn starch in water. Add to pot.
Use 1 cup hot water to dissolve Coffee Mate. Add to pot.
Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.
Mix in food colouring (I tend to use more than the recipe calls for).
When cooled, it can be stored in containers in the fridge for weeks at a time.
Makes approximately 3 litres, and is great on ice cream!"

After using this recipe pretty consistently for the last year or so I have a couple of edits. First if you are reducing it on low heat be very very careful to watch your pot, it boils over quickly and is a huge mess to clean up. Second, on the subject of cleanup, the instructions are, so far, correct; I have never had it stain anything. It can, however be a huge pain to clean up. It is sticky and sugary, you will need some sort of cleaning solution (lysol wipes worked well for small messes), and you will have a really hard time if you dare to let it dry before you try to clean it up. I don't really feel like you need the yellow food coloring, I even wonder if a touch of blue would be better. I also never measure my red food coloring, I just use 3/4 of one of the one ounce McKormick bottles you can buy at the grocery store. 

This was the blood that I used in the "blood fountain." In larger amounts and close up it looks fantastic. It hasn't read as well for the couple times I have used it for a "actor enters with blood smeared all over his hands" moments. When it gets spread too thin it doesn't have a strong enough color.

If you have a favorite blood recipe I would love if you would post it as a comment. We could all use more tools in our arsenal.