Wednesday, December 15, 2010


First this post in incredibly overdue. This show took place in mid October...oh well better late than never.

So many times I have read on theatre blogs about education and collaboration. "We should be getting other parts of the school involved," high school teachers always seem to be saying. "We should take better advantage of our resources."

Recently I worked on a high school production that did exactly that. I had a great experience with the students and I would like to share it with you.

The production was of The Adding Machine by Elmer Rice. One of the main themes of the show is the interaction between men and technology, and the inability of the main character to cope with a world in which he becomes irrelevant, because his work can be done by a machine. Our director wanted to use projections, live video feed and other modern technologies to comment on this 1920's play.

I loved the idea and thought it was exactly the right direction to take the play, but also knew that the look we were hoping to achieve was WAY out of my league in terms of technical expertise. Fortunately the high school's AV club (called "tech team") was incredibly excited to get involved.

At the very first meeting as I described the concepts to both the theatre tech students and the tech team, the students were getting excited and suggesting new ideas that I hadn't even thought of ("during the Elysian fields scene could we project clouds and a blue sky on the acoustic tiles on the ceiling of the auditorium?" "Absolutely"). I told them what I wanted for each scene; they took the ideas and ran with them. We had live video feed onto projectors in two scenes, live video feed onto a tv screen in another scene, edited projections of both video and still images at all other times, and I hardly had to touch any it. A few of the students even moved from functioning as technicians to functioning as designers. They started to explore the meaning of the play and discuss how the projections contributed to the overall stage picture in each scene.

Our actors and theatre students learned a lot about the technology they were working with (both physically and within the themes of the play) and the tech students got to explore (and I think found a new appreciation for) art and theatre.

Overall the experience was amazing, and all we had to do was ask, the faculty advisor for tech team did the rest and was grateful, I think, for the chance to do something totally different with his students.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Take your Breaks

"Embrace your breaks" was a lesson that one of my professors tried very hard to teach me in college, and it is one I constantly try to learn, and one that I constantly struggle with.
In this business, he would explain to me, there will be times when things are insane, when you go weeks working 15 or 18 hour days, hardly see your friends or family, and don't even have time to clean your home, do laundry or cook a decent meal.
There will be other times when you have nothing to do, no pressing concerns and no upcoming deadlines. You have a choice in the down times. You can let them stress you out, spending all of your time trying to find projects, worrying over small details; or you can relax. Take the time off to do things you have been missing. Make time to hang out with friends, sleep in, cultivate your interests outside theatre, enjoy life.
I find myself feeling guilty because I know other people are working. My boyfriend leaves for work at 6:45 every morning. When I am in one of my busy periods I tend to leave with him, or soon after. Today I slept in until 8:15 and I was feeling horribly guilty about it. I should have been doing something with that time, right?
The truth is no. From the beginning of September through the third week of November I worked my butt off. I opened 8 shows in 10 weeks, hardly saw my friends and family, ate most of my meals on the run and worked until 10pm most nights. Sleeping in is exactly what I should have been doing. And if I slept until noon that still would be okay (though I don't think my body would let me do it). This business asks a lot from you and takes a lot out of you during the crunch times. If you don't embrace the down times you will burn out.
I worked with someone in the summer of 2006 who predicted my burn-out. "There's no way you keep going like this," he told me, "you are going to burn-out hardcore. I give you five years tops." There have been times I have worried he was right. There have been times when I kept going just to prove him wrong (which I admit is silly, I doubt he even remembers the conversation), and there are times like this morning when I know he was right. Not that I am planning on quitting, but times when I realize it's not that I can't keep going and have a long and successful life in the theatre; it's that I can't keep going like this. I have to take my downtime. Find ways to relax. Spend time with my family and friends. Embrace the things that are important to me outside of work. Sleep in if I feel like it. The crunch times will come again soon enough.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

100th Post

This is officially the 100th post on my blog and I wanted to take the chance to thank everyone who has been reading. I wasn't sure what exactly this was going to be when it started a little over a year ago, but it has turned into a project that I am very proud of.

The blog has served a detailed record of my work, at times it has even been a motivator to get me excited for certain projects ("I can't wait to get this done, it's going to make a great blog post."). It has also served as a great place for me to think through and solidify some of my opinions on theatre, props and art. One of the most important ideas I have explored on the blog, and one I have become very passionate about in the last year is the need to share ideas, thoughts and knowledge, or, as my mantra has become, "build fewer cages, drop more keys". The theatre is a small community and I aim to make it even smaller by making connections and helping fellow artists.

If you're new to the blog, and want to check out some of the highlights, here are some of my favorites.

First, the basis of everything else, and the posts to read if you are interested in doing this, My Process Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
I've had two posts on the role of women as minorities in the scene shop, and in other leadership positions in the theatre.
And some of my favorite projects Skeletor part 1 and part 2, Zulu warrior sheild and magic spear, magical book of life,  Sleeping Beauty's chaise,  lollipops, Magic wands for the Blue Fairy and Glinda, french fries, hour glass and a smushed plum.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to email me with questions, requests or ideas. I want the blog to keep growing and expanding over the next 100 posts and would love to have you along for the ride.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Bottle Rockets

Sometimes the simplest tricks can be the most magical. Making these bottle rockets come to life was a brilliant collaboration between props, lights, sound and some very talented actors.

We started with the bottle rockets (made of a cut up drinking straw and a thin dowel from Michaels wrapped  with red duct tape)

 The actor held the bottle rocket in the bottle and pretended to light it with the lighter.
When he let go, the bottle rocket dropped down into the bottle and disappeared. At the same moment there was a flash of light, the actors followed the invisible bottle rocket into the air and we heard the sound of a bottle rocket shooting. 
The whole moment was incredibly effective and magical, and after all of my crazy brainstorming of a million high tech ways to accomplish the trick, turns out all I needed to do was think simple and trust my collaborators.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Christmas Magnets

This in another one of my holiday projects. I started out making a set of these glass marble magnets for my boyfriend for a housewarming gift.
They were so easy and so popular with the friends who came to the house and saw them that I am now selling them through one of the local comic book stores.
They're really easy too, can be done with any images and use supplies that can be purchased at any craft store.
I start with clear flat marbles like these (lots of people put them in the bottom of fish tanks)
I then use the marbles to scan for the right image and trace them.
It is important to individually trace each image because the marbles vary in shape and size. After tracing I cut them out on my cutting matte with my exacto-knife. Because the marble curves in from where I trace I usually make my cut about 1/8" in from the line I drew.
I laminate the image onto the marble with elmers glue.
Attach the magnet to the back with a heavy duty adhesive.
I'm pretty happy with how they turned out.
You can make them with any images, but I found that the comic books were working by far the best. Clean lines, bright colors and interesting shapes. If I were to do anything else I would probably start looking at brochures, magazines or other media with high quality images.

Coasters for Christmas

Around this time of year things tend to slow down a lot in the theatre world. The Christmas season shows are all up and running (they usually open early or mid November) and the January shows haven't really kicked into high gear yet. It is the perfect time of year to use my crafting skills to make gifts for my friends and family (and this year I'm thinking of selling some too, more on that later).

One of my projects this year is resin coasters.
I have been saving bottle caps all year for this project, it helps that my friends drink a lot of interesting beer.
I bought these resin molds online for pretty cheap (don't cut corners here, the chemical reaction as the resin hardens will cause it to stick to or melt your mold if you aren't using one designed for it).
The next step is to spray on a mold release and let it dry (if you don't let it dry all the way the mould release will float to the top of your resin when you pour it in, where it will be useless)
Next I pour out the right amount of resin
and mix in the hardener. I do this in disposable cups with disposable spoons to make my life easier.
I pour a small amount of resin into the molds, arrange my bottle caps on top, check underneath to see that they are straight and then fill the molds the rest of the way.
The resin takes a few hours to harden all the way through, and then I pull them out.
And as an added bonus I am becoming much more comfortable and skilled with using resin (which is really great for fake drinks, but I have messed up multiple times in the past when I didn't measure parts correctly).

Monday, November 15, 2010

smushed plum

In the upcoming production of Cherry Smoke at The Side Project theatre in Roger's Park, one of the characters is supposed to be rubbing a piece of fruit on her skin. I needed a piece of smushed fruit that was believable in a small space, and was comfortable for the actress to press against her skin without getting her messy (the show moves very quickly scene to scene and she wouldn't have much time to clean herself and get back on stage.
The director decided she wanted the fruit to be a plum so I started out with a rubber racquetball.
I cut a whole in it and painted it dark purple.
For the inside of the plum I used wax. I figured it would feel smooth and slip easily across the actor's skin without leaving a residue. 
I bought two candles that were approximately the color of the inside of a plum. 

I melted the yellow one into the ball first and then used the red on top in a hope to duplicate the correct coloring.
I don't know if the yellow ended up having an effect at all, but the end result is still pretty convincing.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


For the hourglass in Wizard of Oz we were looking for something interesting, a little creepy, but most importantly plastic.

Apparently the last time they did the show they had a beautiful glass hourglass that shattered all over some poor little girl in the front row during one of the performances. There were no injuries, but it was certainly not something we wanted a chance to repeat.

I found these two purple plastic bottles in the floral section at Michaels. They were simple little spray bottles, they came in multiple shapes and colors and were only $1 each.

I filled the bottles with colored sand. I started with red sand and it was far too dark, it was almost invisible inside the dark plastic bottles, I switched to white and it worked much better.

I created a cap inside the mouth of one of the bottles using epoxy putty and slowly adjusted it until I got the right speed and amount of sand flowing through it. Once the inside piece was adjusted I attached the two bottles together using more epoxy putty making sure to get a good seal (the last thing I want is sand leaking out all over the place).

For the stand, I started with two basic plywood circles and three pieces of dowel. I had been hoping to find some bats or gargoyle-ish figurines to use on the corners, but was coming up empty after visiting multiple Halloween and toy stores.

For plan B, I bought a few packages of sculpy bakable clay

and made a set of snaky twisty pieces. I collaged them onto the corners.

I painted the whole thing a tarnished antique gold.

The piece turned out looking pretty good, and more importantly, sturdy.


I wish this cyclone was my idea, but it's a re-creation of the one that was built the last time the theatre did a production of this "Wizard of Oz." It's so cool though I had to share the idea.
It starts with a cone sewn out of a light-weight sheer fabric (I bought this grey georgette on sale at JoAnns). It has a pocket sewn into the top that I threaded a piece of flexible copper tubing into.
I built this cross-piece to match the circle at the top of my cone.
The copper tube screws onto the spokes and the dowel in the center fits inside the end of a large piece of PVC.

The cross piece slips easily in and out of the dowel for easy storage and assembly backstage.

In it's finished state the actor holds the 7' tall piece at the bottom and slowly guides it in small circles  The top and the bottom of the cone are much more secure but the center of the cone is free to move and swirl in a very cyclone-ish manner. 
The effect is very cool and I'm sure will be even more magical under stage lights.  
*Note- Sorry about the sideways video, I couldn't figure out a way to rotate it without reloading it. 

Monday, November 1, 2010

cuckoo clocks

It's funny how the same props seem to show up in multiple shows at the same time. I just did two shows that had large amounts of sand onstage. I hadn't used old wooden crates in months and now I have three shows at once that need them. And now I needed two cuckoo clocks for two shows with the same director. 

The clocks are completely different of course. The first clock is for the Wizard of Oz. It is supposed to be balanced on the headboard of Dorothy's bed and then it falls and hits her to knock her out during the tornado. 
We of course couldn't use a real cuckoo clock, if we really knocked Dorothy out it would be a short show. The director asked if I could build a clock out of foam. 
I bought some foamies from the craft store and set to building. I used this as my research image.

I used 1/4" thick foam for the base frame of the house.

I used 1/8" foam for everything else (it comes in many more color options)
Everything was attached with hot glue.
And then I coated the entire piece with some watered down elmers glue, tinted with a little bit of brown paint.
And glue in a Styrofoam birdie to top it all off.

The second clock I needed was for It's a Wonderful Life- The Radio Play. I rented a clock from an antique store and the man there carefully wrapped the clock in layers of newspaper and bubble wrap. Unfortunaely neither he or I knew how a cuckoo clock should be packed and when I went to take the clock out I discovered that the chains had come off of the cogs on the inside of the clock and the stress of sitting on it's back had ripped the fragile paper of the bellows (the little paper accordion-type things that push the air through the whistles and makes the cuckoo sound)
I had the luckiest night ever though. I looked up clock repair on google maps. I found the phone number of a repairman about 5 miles away. I called and he told me to come right over. I got to his house at 6pm, he reattached the chains, replaced the bellows, and oiled and tightened everything. I picked the clock back up at 10 pm and he charged me the cost of parts and a pair of tickets to the show. 
The clock looks beautiful, and it sounds fantastic!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Another Magic Wand

This magic wand is for Glinda in the Wizard of Oz.
The director wanted it to be larger, almost like a baton, but still magical, and sparkly.

I used this wand as my inspiration.

For the base of the wand I bought a short, thin copper tube from Home Depot.
I added a plastic prism I bought at the craft store to the end and secured it with epoxy putty.

After securing the stone I wired up the circuit. I used a 3V watch battery, a small toggle switch and a large LED bulb. I made sure I had long leads on the wires to and from the bulb so that the switch and battery could be on the bottom of the wand and the bulb could go as far up the tube as possible. When I flip the switch, the LED lights up the entire prism and the the glow looks almost magical, because you can't see the light source. 
To get the natural vine look on the outside I used layers of hot glue.
And I used a large amount of hot glue at the end to secure my switch and to help hide the switch and battery.
After that I painted the entire thing gold and added some more rhinestones (because who doesn't want more sparkle)

Here's the full finished wand, I know I would have wanted one when I was ten.