Tag Archives: animal

Donkey Mask from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Nick Bottom finds his head transformed into that of a donkey, courtesy of the mischievous fairy, Puck. The donkey head is among Shakespeare’s most distinctive props, and has been on my bucket list of famous props to build. Recently, Triad Stage mounted a production.

"A Midsummer Night's Dream", Triad Stage, with Rebecca Hirota and E.E. Williams. Photo by Bert Vanderveen.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, Triad Stage, with Rebecca Hirota and E.E. Williams. Photo by Bert Vanderveen.

The mask was designed by our costume designer, Hannah Chalman. She designed masks for all the fairies as well, so we split the fabrication of the masks between the props and costume departments.

Continue reading Donkey Mask from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

Dragons and Geese in Opera, 1915

Edward Siedle, Technical Director of the Metropolitan Opera House, gives the author an account of some of the animals and fantastic creatures used on stage in the opera. I posted another selection from this article last year:

by Mercy Gorham

“To make the dragon in ‘Siegfried’ possible, two men in turn act as the front and hind legs of the creature and control the working of the mouth, eyes and ears. Two more are required to handle the wires which lower and elevate the head, beside the electrician who watches the lights in the eyes, the one who controls the vapor and steam proceeding from the dragon’s nostrils, and lastly the conductor, who has to watch the score carefully, so as to give the cue for the various movements of the dragon. The technical director himself attends to the side movements of the head.

“The bear in ‘Siegfried’ is worked by the property man. In ‘Koenigskinder’ the geese are real, and must be cared for when not on duty in a room of their own. Every day their wants are attended to, their bath kept clean. Though used but six times during the opera season, these aristocratic birds live on the fat of the land. There is one property goose that takes the crown away and later brings it back again, and this is operated by the property man.

“‘Lohengrin’ has its swans, ‘Rheingold’ its small dragon, ‘The Magic Flute’ its enormous elephant with howdah and Oriental draperies. While these are but minor illustrations of the inventive genius necessary to produce grand opera, they give some small idea of the tremendous responsibility resting on the heads of departments beyond the curtain line, the infinite attention to detail necessary, and the enormous labor, both mental and physical, required to give grand opera patrons the series of perfect stage pictures for which they pay and which they have a right to demand.”

Gorham, Mercy. “Grand Opera Beyond the Curtain Line.” The Theatre Magazine Jan. 1915: 41. Google Books. Web. 15 Mar. 2016.

Friday Prop Links

How to be a theatre animal prop maker – The Stage talks with Paul Robbens, who makes animals for companies like Royal Shakespeare Company, Royal Opera House, and Shakespeare’s Globe. Also check out “How to be a costume prop maker for theatre” if you can make it past the paywall.

QUAKE 3 Railgun Replica Prop – BricoGeek shares a video of how he constructed a real-life version of a railgun from the Quake 3 video game. The body is mostly 3D printed. The electronics inside are impressive, with lights and sounds taken directly from the game. I also love how well-thought out the assembly process was, leaving all the electronics accessible.

How U.S. Counterfeit Laws Impact Hollywood Prop Money – Here is a good history of how movie money evolved to remain legal under counterfeit laws. These hold true for theater as well; make no mistake, the Secret Service has paid a visit to more than one theater in this country.

Use a Vinyl Cutter to Design Stencils for Spray Painting – Make Magazine presents tips and tricks for creating paint stencils on a vinyl cutter.

This Insane Dungeons & Dragons Model Is a Work of Art – Ryan Devoto has constructed a vast and intricate fantasy world for use with Dungeons and Dragons figurines. Though I’ve heard some nerd criticisms that this model is not actually playable, you can still spend hours just examining every detail.

Props and Animals in the English Mystery Plays, 1906

The following comes from a 1906 master’s thesis by Allie V. Parks titled, “Stage Properties, Costumes, Scenery and Music of the English Miracle Plays” (see part 1 here and part 2 here). These were religious pageants performed in England from the 10th to the 16th centuries. I’ve reformatted the text a bit to make it a little more readable, since it is already challenging trying to decipher the Middle English text:

In the Crucifixion scene a cross seemed actually to be used. Chambers quotes on page 276 from “The Hall book of the Corporation at Leicester, 1504. Paid for mending the garment of Jesus and the cross painting“. In the Shakespeare Society Chester Plays, in the play ‘The Histories of Lot and Abraham’ p. 59. here the Messenger doth offer to Melchesadecke a standinge cupe and bredde, and again on page 61, Here Lotte dothe offer to Melchesadecke a goodly cupe. Undoubtedly a cup was part of the properties in this play. On page 72 Abraham is directed to “kisse his sonne Isaake, and bynde a charchaffe aboute his heade“. Page 49 of the same edition, in the ‘Noah’ play, the following directions regarding the building of the Ark occur: Then Noye with all his family shall make a signe as though the wroughte upon the shippe with diverse instruments, and after that God shall speake to Noye, sayinge,

This direction would seem to show that a sort of pantomimic performance was gone through with and not any real work in the Ark building.

I found one reference to the use of straw, on page 370 of Chambers ‘Mediaeval Plays’ in the accounts of the Trinity House at Hull, Yorkshire: “Straw, for Noah and his children ijd.”

The stage directions for the use of animals are very few. The Chester Plays of the Shakespeare Society give on page 74, Then let Abraham take the lambe and kille him, and on page 150, Then the kinges goe downe to the beastes and ryde aboute. It seems hardly probable that Abraham really offered a lamb in place of his son, but he may have gone through the motions of doing so. This is the only stage direction in any of the cycles which might lead to the supposition that a lamb was really used for the sacrifice.

I have already quoted the directions for the use of horses on page 150, Then the kinges goe down to the beastes and ryde aboute. There is one other reference to the use of horses on page 253 of this edition of the Chester Plays, in ‘The Entry Into Jerusalem,’ Here Cryst rydyth out of the place; The animal may have been an ass; there is nothing to indicate what animal he rode upon.

There is one stage direction regarding the use of fowls in the Coventry cycle. This occurs on page 178 as follows: and ther Mary offery the ffowlys onto the auterre, and seyth.

Parks, Allie V. “Stage Properties, Costumes, Scenery and Music of the English Miracle Plays.” Thesis. University of Illinois, 1906. Internet Archive, 29 Oct. 2013. Web. 18 Oct. 2016. <https://archive.org/details/stagepropertiesc00park>.

Elephant Puppet Heads

Last week I showed you the Lion Puppets I made for Triad Stage’s Beautiful Star. Today you can see how the Elephant Puppets were done.

The idea was similar; they were designed to look like a giant papier-mache head with a flowing fabric body made of silk.

Stack of foam
Stack of foam

I made this one from a stack of insulation foam sheets. I cut their outlines and did some beveling with the hot wire cutter before attaching them together. This helped establish the proportions and maintain some symmetry.

Someone in the shop told me that Spray 77 would work well to stick them together. I thought it would eat into the foam, but I was surprised when I tried it. It attacked the foam a little bit, but it made a pretty strong bond.

Shaping with a rasp
Shaping with a rasp

I began shaping the foam with a mix of snap-blade knives and surform tools. I also tried out one of my newer purchases, a saw file rasp. It is made up of a bunch of criss-crossing saw blades, making it very aggressive in removing material. It is completely open, though, so all the foam passes right through rather than clogging it up. Very nice.

Carved elephant head
Carved elephant head

The finished foam piece may look a little funny, but that is because it doesn’t have a trunk or tusks. The trunk was going to be a piece of silk which the actors can manipulate, and the tusks would be separate pieces of Wonderflex. This piece of foam was now ready to use to make Wonderflex shells for the head.

Wonderflex head
Wonderflex head

I covered the foam piece in aluminum foil so the Wonderflex would not stick to the foam. I’ve tried other methods, like coating the foam in plaster or using Vaseline as a mold release, but the aluminum foil is so much faster and easier. The Wonderflex does not pick up enough detail for the texture of the aluminum foil to show, and it peels off the back of the Wonderflex piece pretty easily.

Painted with tusks
Painted with tusks

I had a set of bull horns in stock which I used as a form to make the tusks out of Wonderflex.

Elephant puppet. Photo by Lisa Bledsoe.
Elephant puppet. Photo by Lisa Bledsoe.

My assistant Lisa made the ears, trunks, and legs out of China silk. During the performance, the elephants flew down on a line from the catwalks and hung there. The actors could grab a stick that was attached to their trunk to make the trunk dance around.