Crow Puppet Revisited

Crow Puppet Revisited

For the holiday show at Triad Stage in Greensboro, we remounted the production of Snow Queen we made last year. I had built a number of puppets for the show which only requited minor adjustments and maintenance, but I wanted to completely rebuilt the crow puppet. He went through so many iterations and modifications last year as we tried to discover what worked best, so the end result was a hodge-podge of cobbled-together parts and mechanisms. He was difficult to maintain and he broke frequently.  When I knew we were remounting this production, I budgeted in a complete rebuild of the crow.This time around, I was able to order more appropriate and precise materials, rather than assembling it with whatever I could find at the Home Depot.

I made a video showing the inner mechanisms of the puppet and how it is operated:

You can compare that to the puppet I made last year. The rod is now two pieces of aluminum which sleeve together, rather than two pieces of PVC pipe which bend and wobble. I abstained from using any string this year, which always stretched and lost tension, or broke completely. Most importantly, I planned the construction out so the parts were completely modular, and everything could be taken apart with bolts, screws or Velcro. The crow last year was a bit of a nightmare when it came to maintenance, because a lot of the pieces were permanently attached to each other, so it practically required laparoscopic surgery to fix anything that broke.

Podcast with Buist Bickley

Head on over to the “In 1 Podcast” site and check out this episode with Buist Bickley. Buist is fairly new to the New York props scene, but he has already served as production props supervisor (the Broadway term for “props master”) on a number of high profile shows: Other Desert CitiesThe MountaintopAct OneMothers and Sons, and many others.

The podcast is a little over two hours long, but you learn so much about working as a props supervisor in New York and on Broadway shows. Buist talks about how he gets hired on new shows, and what the beginning of the process is like. He discusses when he likes to put the real props into rehearsal (“as soon as possible”).  He divulges his favorite places to go shopping and how he manages to get things shipped as quickly as possible.

I learned a few things as well. I did not know that the props person is also responsible for providing rehearsal scenery. Buist talks about the intricacies of dealing with unions, and how once he gets to a theatre, he is no longer allowed to touch any of the props, or in some cases, even set foot on stage.

The episode is filled with so many more tidbits and information. Buist talks about his favorite designers to collaborate with, his favorite materials to use, and how he got started in the business. And check out the other episodes of “In 1″ as well, to learn more about your favorite Broadway designers.

A Friday Cavalcade of Links

Stage Directions magazine has a great feature on Faye Armon-Troncoso this month. In “The Actor’s Propmaster“, we get a look at how she got started, some of the show’s she has worked on, and what she has learned. I got to work with Faye a bit when I lived in New York City, including assisting her in the production of Merchant of Venice mentioned in the article.

I love this visit to the Fiberglass Animal Farm. FAST Corp in  Wisconsin is responsible for most of the giant animals and other roadside attractions you see around the US. If you pass a giant ear of corn on the side of the road, it was probably made by them.

Smooth-On has a great FAQ on solving one of the main problems with molding and casting in the props world: how to make paint stick to your plastic castings.

I know a few props people who sometimes work on the balloons in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, so I really enjoyed this article which looks at the 1920s puppeteer whose inflatable monsters changed Thanksgiving.

Finally, this past Thanksgiving, I had a little article written about me in the local paper: “Props master Eric Hart: This guy wrote the book on making props for plays.”

Drink on the Stage, 1903

The following is taken from a 1903 article in the Evening Star newspaper:

Drink on the stage often brings suffering to the actors, as in most cases a substitute for the genuine article is used. Who does not recall the scenes on the village green where the bustling innkeeper comes on with his little pitcher, ready to fill the mugs of the joyful villagers? From his wee pitcher he pours an endless stream of liquor without having to replenish the stock at the cask. And in the meantime the lads and lassies join in the inevitable drinking song, waving their cups about with no attempt to prevent the audience from seeing that all their inspiration comes from nothing more substantial than thin air. This sort of thing prevails in comic opera, but in more pretentious drama the illusion must be maintained.

In most theaters whisky is barred, but the red-nosed villain is allowed to partake of a disagreeable concoction composed of water and brown sugar. And where the play has a long run, the actor gets to looking forward to the drinking scene as one of the penalties of his profession.

When beer is the article demanded, the property man is sometimes allowed to bring in a bottle or “can” of the real article. But where a great number of persons are to drink, a makeshift is generally resorted to. The tops of the mugs are stuffed with loose cotton batting to simulate foam.

Champagne is represented by another unpleasant concoction, and tea and coffee are frequently merely imagined, for the actor can place the spout of the pot down into the cup, so that the audience is unable to tell whether a beverage is being poured out of not.

Stage fruits are usually made of cotton molded into the desired shapes, and then glazed and painted. In “Jim Bludso” a barrel apparently full of apples is introduced. The barrel is empty except for a single layer of cotton apples on the top, and the whole affair weighs only three of four pounds. Of course, where fruit is actually eaten on the stage the real article is cheap enough to be used.

Taken from The Evening Star (Washington, DC), February 28, 1903, page 25.

Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies