Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Egg carton spiders

This project, for the children's show Click Clack Boo, at Lifeline theatre feels like it belongs on Pinterest more than on my blog. In this play the animals on the farm are planning a Halloween party. I was a little confused about how to proceed with the decorations for the party at the end, until I happened across this picture. 
Of course! Cow, Pig, Hen and Duck would use the supplies they had around the farm to make the decorations. 
I made a couple of these milk jug ghosts, made some paper chains, with jute rope twisted through them, and then had the idea for these spiders. 
 First I cut a 12 egg carton in half. 
 I left the center two egg spaces whole and cut the outer four into strips to make the legs. Scissors worked well on this Styrofoam egg carton, for the recycled paper ones I found that a sharp exact-o knife or box cutter was a better tool. 
 I painted my spiders black, 
and then added googly eyes, because everything is better with googly eyes. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Reusable "wax" seals

For Northanger Abbey, at Remy Bumppo Theatre, we had a series of letters (it seems like all Jane Austen plays have lots of letters) The director asked that all of the letters have wax seals on them. 
 To make the wax seals I started with sheets of circular label stickers from the office supply store.
 I added hot glue to the top of each sticker, creating a rough outline of the circle and filling in randomly in the center, then painted them with two coats of red paint.
 Once everything was dry they were easy to remove and stick to the letters. 
It was also fast and easy enough to make that I was able to create four full sheets. There were plenty of spares to leave with the stage managers to stick to new letters if the old ones wore out. 

*side note- I always try to create multiples of paper props to leave with the run crew as paper can be easily damaged or destroyed during the run of the show. I also often email digital copies of the paper props as an additional backup measure. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Blood Jam

I'd like to take a moment to recommend a relatively new company producing fake blood for stage and film, using a unique recipe. The company is called Gravity and Momentum and their product is called Blood Jam. They are a local Chicago company, headed up by Greg Poljacik and Chris Yurwitz.

On a recent production, I decided to take a chance on something new, I'd been hearing a bit of a buzz around about a new blood that people wanted to try, but hadn't specifically talked to anyone who had tried it. I read a few testimonials online, was impressed by the ease with which people claimed the blood washed out, and decided that a show with a white painted set, where the actress in the white cotton dress gets coated in blood was a good place to test that.

I ordered a gallon of the blood jam. The costume designer and I tested the blood on some scraps of fabric and were very impressed. On the first preview, when the actress walked out onto the stage, we were disappointed, the yellow light was reacting all wrong with the colors in the blood. As the director told me in notes, "I wasn't sure if she'd just murdered someone, or if a cat had peed on her." Not the reaction you want.

I called up Greg and asked him what I could do. The blood needed to be darker and more opaque. He immediately offered to make me a whole new gallon in a darker color to suit my needs, and offered some advice on adding a few drops of green food coloring to the batch we had, in order to adjust the color until a new batch could be created. The adjustments worked fantastically, and the new batch I received two days later looked even better.

Also to the delight of the costume and set designers, we have yet to see a stain on either the costume or the set after a full week of previews.

After working with the blood, and hearing from many others who knew Chris and Greg about how awesome they are, I wrote Greg to ask a few more questions. Here are the questions and his answers.

I heard from someone at Oak Park Festival that you taught yourself chemistry in order to figure out a way to make an edible, non staining blood. Can you tell me a little be more about how this came about? Where you went to for information? 

I still remembered the chemistry basics from high school and I looked up information needed to fill in gaps as I experimented. I had worked on a show where I claimed I could make a blood that was edible and washed out (before I created Blood Jam) and was extremely embarrassed/humbled when I realized how truly tough that is! I went through and played with every known recipe out there. It didn't make sense, however, that it couldn't be done. So I put together some ideas and would chase each one down to see what happened. It took a full year of non-stop failure till I finally, accidentally, created the recipe for Blood Jam. It was a process that built on the successes and failures of each previous experiment to capitalize on what worked/didn't work and why. The best way to learn the practical side of chemistry!!

I went all over for info. I asked people, searched the web, read blogs and interviews of other blood makers, looked at other blood products, and tracked down product info from companies to figure out the chemical pieces I needed. Some stuff was hard or impossible to find so I had to infer many pieces and extrapolate info from one area and trust it would hold true for what I was doing. Much of the chemistry came from trying to understand what I had created after the fact! The original hypothesis would work (or not) and I had I figure out why the result was doing or not doing certain things before moving on. Fun and frustrating at the same time!

How do you two know each other, and what gave you the idea to partner on this venture? 

We have been close friends for eight years. My wife met Chris first through theater friends. Our close circle is considered family, when I told them what I was working on, none were surprised id be tinkering with this sort of thing, and everyone wanted to help in some way (and everyone definitely has!) Chris was able to financially get the company started and his business sense is what keeps the company grounded. He likes to say he is the Gravity and I am the Momentum (our company is Gravity and Momentum LLC). Without his grounding I would have flown in too many directions after the next project interest and ran the company bankrupt real fast!

What's next? Any new products in the works?

The immediate goals for the blood is to continue to tweak the color so that its the perfect blend for thickness and for when it gets thinned out. We nailed the washing/edible obstacle but the color obstacle is still quite difficult to get. Small adjustments one way or the other can make the blood look too brown, purple or orange when thinned out. Ideally we get it to the sweet spot where it looks like a nice, real red when first deployed and settled to a realistic dried bloodbrown over time.

We are also continuing to tweak the powder so its able to be applied to the skin more easily and discreetly. The powder works wonderfully for caplets, and would be crazy cool as a water activated effect on skin!

I am also playing with Fire Gels and starting data research on the effect of performance on the actor and audience. (See why Chris is vital! All over the place!). This is on top of still teaching, doing stunts and choreo! Soo, it may be a while till we finish but we planning on being around for a bit.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Edible Thai Noodles

For Broken Fences at 16th Street, we needed a few take-out dishes of Thai food. For three of the four dishes used thin strips of torn muslin, added beads or torn up paper pieces of different colors, and tossed them with some glue and a couple drops of food coloring. 
One of the dishes, however, needed to be edible. The director suggested rice, but with no microwave or stove that is easy to access at this particular theatre, I knew it would have been too much work for the ASM to prep something the actor would feel okay about eating nightly. 
Instead I decided to make a noodle dish. 
 I bought lots of small corn tortillas (bonus- super inexpensive) and cut them into this strips. 
layered and piled into the tub they look pretty convincing. They looked even more convincing when the actor got a few on his fork to eat them. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Quick appetizers

For Broken Fences at 16th Street Theatre, I needed a small tray of appetizers. They didn't need to be anything specific, no one ever interacted with them (aside from one character bringing them out and setting them on the table) and the audience never got a close look at them. 
I needed something quick, easy and most importantly, cheap. 
At the craft store I purchased one bag of beige Model Magic, and several small bags of pom-pom balls, for a total price of $7.
 I molded the model magic into log flat strips
 placed the pom-poms along the strips, 
 and then rolled them up. 
from a distance on the tray they worked perfectly. I think next time I will try with strips of felt for a slightly more uniform look. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

This is my job- fake crack pipes

We all know that Google keeps track of our searches in order to try to create a detailed profile of who we are, and what are preferences are. I often wonder what they must think of me (I also wonder if I am on any government watch lists based on some of the things I have researched). 
For this show, I needed crack pipes. A fairly easy search sent me to several websites detailing how they could be made. One sent me to ask for a "straight shooter" at a liquor store. It is apparently a narrow glass tube, that I guess is used to mix up some types of cocktails, the liquor store had no idea what I was talking about, and I felt very awkward trying to explain why I needed this thing even though I didn't know what it was used for. 
 Next I went to a smoke shop/head shop. I explained that I wanted a narrow glass tube that would be the type that crack smokers would use to turn into a crack pipe. 
The conversation involved lots of verbal gymnastics as the clerk at the store tried to help me while still saying over and over that he didn't know what I was talking about. "I would hope that no one would use anything I sell for such a thing. We only sell items intended for smoking LEGAL tobacco products. These small glass tubes over here look a bit like what you are describing, but see how they are meant to fit into this PERFECTLY LEGAL hookah?"
I filled the glass tubes with steel wool (the website I found suggested copper brillo pads that would turn a silver-grey color when heated) and used a lighter to burn the end of the tube. 
 It turned out pretty well (maybe a bit too much steel wool after looking for more 
research images). But totally believable in the moment.