Saturday, June 26, 2010

creative swords

Sometimes I look rediculous wandering up and down the aisles of a hardware store. "What are you looking for ma'am?", "I'm not sure, but I'll know it when I see it." I will search all over trying to find something that is the right shape to form the base of something I'm creating. Sometimes the answer isn't so obvious, but with practice you can learn to see the shapes you need.

I am currently helping with some special projects on a production of Once on this Island. The actors in the show are all supposed to be storytellers, and all the props are supposed to look like they might have made them themselves. The props are supposed to look like they were made by "skilled and creative people, but without much money or time" (sounds a bit like my job on every show).
A few days ago I made these swords. They were a quick project, but they turned out fantastically and they are a perfect example of the props skill of finding the right shape.

The props master for the show bought several of these rakes on sale for $3 each. He brought them in and told me that he was going to turn them into swords. I didn't see it. Then he started to cut the wires holding the prongs on the rake. I was super impressed.

Take a look at the sword. The result was so simple, but super effective. We added the guard by twisting fabric scrap from one of the costumes and threading it through the hole created when we removed the longer cross-piece.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Pinocchio's nose- Part 1

I'm working on a production of Pinocchio and have been challenged with making a magical nose that can grow and shrink on demand. It had to be operated by the actor, and there's nowhere to hide any tricks because the theatre is in the round. The director also mentioned several times that she didn't want too big a mechanism on the actor's face (apparently the last time they did the show the rig that they had on the nose was so large that it distracted from the actor's face)
I decided pretty early that I wanted the nose to telescope like a miniature version of those old cheap plastic collapsible sword/light saber toys. The trick was to find a way to control the telescoping action. I did a lot of research into pneumatic and motor options until my roommate Adam gave me the perfect answer, cable.   The system works very similar to bike hand breaks. The wire can push and pull around corners and being a mechanical solution isn't subject to the same types of problems as motors or pneumatics.
This prototype is made of posterboard with masking tape to hold it to the face. I used picture wire attached to the tip piece of the nose, run through the nose, across the face (which will be partially covered by a mask), over the ear and down through the actor's costume to his pocket where he will be able to push and pull the wire to extend and retract the nose. 
The challenge right now is to find the correct material to build the nose from. I need something light, thin, as seamless as possible, and fairly smooth so that the pieces will slide easily. Right now I think I'm going to try sculpting a nose out of clay and then using that as a base to create my hollow cone out of paper mache. I'd love your advice though. Do you know of any products that might achieve a better result? I'm particularly concerned about something that will hold up over a long run.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Open Office and a Record Album

I am poor. I scrape by a living working freelance (I am not complaining, I get to do a job I love), but that does mean that I run into problems finding the tools I need sometimes. Many of the theatres I work at have very tight budgets and no tools of their own, which compounds the problem. And the point of telling you this...I can't afford PhotoShop. Eventually it is something that I need to purchase in order to make paper props, but for now I have to borrow from friends or find other options.

Recently while working on The Drowsy Chaperone I found a great new option, "Open Office-Draw". On you can download a full office suite; write, calc (spreadsheets), draw, and impress (slideshows), completely FREE. It is all very compatible with microsoft office software, or to make double sure others can view your work, you can export your documents as PDFs incredibly easily. The album cover for The Drowsy Chaperone needed to be nice enough to be seen by the audience as close as 5 feet away and the director wanted real production shots to be included.

With the Draw program I was able to insert photos easily, manipulate text, size the documents to exactly the size of the album I was covering and export them as PDFs that I had printed at Kinkos. And I was able to do it all incredibly quickly too. I took the photos during tech on Tuesday and was able to have everything done by the first run on Wednesday, and that was with learning a new program. Totally worth the price!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Computer Problems

Sorry I haven't posted anything in so long. I'm having some computer issues (actually writing this post on a borrowed computer), but everything should be back to normal soon and I'll be back telling you about some exciting projects including a nose for Pinocchio that grows and shrinks and a Bi-plane that assembles on stage in seconds. 
Until then here are some links to some fun/interesting blogs I've been reading lately:

Apologies to Meredith Wilson A word about play selection and audience selection
Fans Ignite the Engine  On the difference between patrons and fans
Who writes it, Who reads it Over on 2amtheatre, a great post about connecting to your community

And if you're up for a laugh- Eric and Andy's Reviews you can Iews I can't get enough of these guys!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Props shopping hack

I think I've mentioned it briefly before but I would like to share one of my favorite tricks for shopping. One of the worst feelings is when a prop comes up on a list, you know you've seen it somewhere, but you don't know where.
It is so frustrating to be thinking "where was that Amish furniture store I passed last month" and not be able to remember and not be able to find it online.
To help myself eliminate these frustrations I take note of any interesting places and stores in the moment. I always have business cards in my purse, so I take out one of my business cards and write on the back the name of the store, address, phone number, what types of things they stock (especially for antique stores), store hours or any other relevant information. I store all the cards in a file so that when that prop comes up I can go into my file, find where the robot hobby store was and maybe even call them before driving there to see if they have what I want. It has made a giant city like Chicago seem much smaller and more manageable.