Friday, September 20, 2013

"Miracle" Set Dressing

Miracle on South Division Street, is set in a Buffalo, New York kitchen. The largest part of my job was set dressing. We needed this kitchen to feel lived in. Like it was a part of a home that these characters had lived in their whole lives.

There aren't a lot of specific projects to show you here, but I wanted to share the pictures with you. Partially to show the level of detail that should be considered to make set dressing feel real, and partially because I'm really proud of it and want to show it off. 
The majority of the food in the pantry was donated by members of the company. We placed boxes out in multiple locations for people to put things in, and my intern collected them daily and cleaned out things that needed to be cleaned.
 The sideboard was found on craigslist. It was filled with nice china from stock, the cookbooks were from the thrift store, and the strawberry jars were filled with real rice, sugar and flour. 
 The photo wall in the hallway was a combination of stock photos, images sent to us by the actors of them as children, and of their families, and pictures of the designers and their families to fill in the blanks.
We ended up needing to hang the photos three times. Once my assistant did it, but it looked pretty sloppy. Then I did it, and thought I was doing a much better job making the spacing even finally we did it together and created this arrangement. It turns out it was very important to continually have someone stepping back to look at the larger picture, which was impossible to do with one person, standing up close, holding the frames and screwing them in.
 I included this other shot of the same wall mostly just to show the little glade plug-in in the wall outlet.
 The photos on the outside of the fridge were also of the cast, designer, director and our families. Some of the magnets were purchased, some were found at thrift stores, and some were created by searching stock and craft bins and attaching anything small and interesting to a magnet with hot glue.

 Any cabinet that was opened during the action of the show had to be fully dressed. The audience saw very little of what was inside as the cabinet only opened for a moment, but it was important that the moment felt as natural as possible.

 The costume designer helped me pull a couple jackets and coats from stock that could have believably belonged to the characters.
 We added Buffalo Sabers and Bills "stickers" to the window on the back door.
 Most of the containers inside the fridge were also donated. The jam jars were just ball jars filled with scrap fabric and water. I also used casserole dishes and a bowl covered with tin foil to fill space.

 The butter in the previous image is just a slice of upholstery foam tucked into the butter dish
 My favorite pieces on this shelf are the recipe box and junk bowl (filled with keys, some buttons, a few screws and bolts, tic tacs and nail polish) on the top shelf
 Other than the herbs and the curtains in this photo, notice the windchime outside the window
 The cookie jar is part of a subtle strawberry theme in the kitchen. I find it helpful to pick a theme like this to help direct my set dressing purchases, and to give a set some personality.
 When set dressing, I think there should always be some pens (this time in a jar with the american flag), and a pad of paper or two by the phone.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Slice-able Cheese and Sausage

For Miracle on South Division Street, the characters were supposed to be preparing a small lunch of pepperoni and cheese, and fruit salad. The actors ended up eating parts of the fruit salad, which I will explain in another post, but the cheese and sausage just needed to be sliced up and look real.

To achieve this effect, without the giant cost of providing a new block of  cheese and a new pepperoni nightly, we used clay
. I purchased nice, plastalina modeling clay from Blick for the project. Plastilina brand plasticine is advertised as never drying out. I wanted to make sure that our clay was in no danger of drying out or getting crusty during a 40 performance run.
  I took two colors of yellow and two colors of brown.
I ripped the clay into small pieces and then pressed the pieces back together to get a mottled more natural color/texture
Of course, the packaging is what sells so many pieces of fake food.
We wrapped the clay in plastic wrap, and secured it with sticker labels that we printed to be used nightly. We had enough labels to use one per performance, so the actor did not have to worry about ripping them, and the stickers were able to hide and secure the loose ends of the plastic wrap, making the wrap look much more professional.

On stage, the actors were able to unwrap both pieces easily, place them on their respective trays, and slice into them with standard kitchen knives. 

After the show each night, the run crew can just press the clay back together and smooth out the seams before adding more plastic wrap and another sticker. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Fake Chicken Carcass

This prop was for a production of Miracle on South Division Street, at Peninsula Players Theatre in Door County, Wisconsin.
For the epilogue of the show, the characters are in the kitchen, and the script indicates that there are bits of cooking mess around to indicate the main character is in the middle of making soup. The director wanted a chicken carcass, draining in a colander, over the stock pot; as if she had just finished boiling the carcass for a homemade chicken stock.

Here is the carcass I made

And here is how I made it:
I started with a basic skeleton made from a couple pieces of lauan and dowel rods. I looked up some basic images of chicken skeletons to give me a basic guide. 

 Next I added a layer of Crayola model magic clay to give the chicken some meat and muscle. 

 Third, I soaked strips of muslin in elmers glue and wrapped them around parts of the chicken. The idea was that this would provide some different surfaces for the next, liquid latex step, to stick to. I am a little unsure of whether this step made any difference to the end product, or whether it could have skipped. 

Finally the chicken was coated with 6 coats of liquid latex (full disclosure, my intern, Ross, did this step while I was out shopping one day). 
 The latexed chicken was dusted with some Design Master, glossy wood tone spray, which, if you've read many posts on this blog, you know is the best way to give something that oven-baked look.
 Finally, I took a knife, and began to cut into the chicken, using my fingers to tear away at several of the cuts.
 Each cut exposed the layers underneath the latex skin,
 and slowly began to give them impression of a baked chicken, that had been picked clean of most of it's meat, and then boiled.

Monday, September 9, 2013

"Do their notes first"

This lesson/rule comes from Sarah Hughey, a friend and fantastic lighting designer who I have worked with on numerous productions.

The rule is simple; When you are working on a show, especially during tech, you will likely have a long list of notes you would like to complete. On that list, you will have notes that you took yourself for things that you would like to work on/improve, and notes from the director, actors, and maybe other designers and collaborators. When it comes time to start crossing the notes off your list, always take care of notes given to you by others before the notes you took on your own.

The reason for the rule should be obvious. If a director or other designer sees the same problem several nights in a row, after a note has been given, it begins to make you look bad. People can get a bad impression regardless of how many other notes have been completed. You want to be the person who completes notes quickly and efficiently, and who never has to be asked twice.

As obvious as the rule seems when typed out, I was terrible at this before Sarah explicitly explained it as one of her personal rules. It can be very easy, especially when the notes others give you are small or simple, to push them to the bottom of the list in favor of larger or more complex notes that will take more focus.

Now, I have begun to employ the rule (sometimes needing to say it out loud to remind myself).  I take care of the notes from others first, especially if they are simple. And when I am unable to complete the notes from others by the next rehearsal, I make a point to let them know how progress stands on that specific task, and when they should expect to see it completed (often this involves waiting on shipping, or waiting for the weekend until a store is open on Monday).