Tag Archives: deer

Fabric hinges

Deer from Shakespeare in the Park

I spent the early part of the summer back in New York City working on the first show for Shakespeare in the Park. As You Like It, directed by Daniel Sullivan and designed by John Lee Beatty, required a dead deer corpse that could be carried around the stage.

Fabric hinges
Attaching the pieces with fabric hinges.

Jay and Sara had already purchased a urethane taxidermy deer form, which was waiting for me when I arrived. I proceeded to chop it apart at the joints and reattach them with fabric hinges (using left-over canvas from the tents we made for last year’s All’s Well That Ends Well).

Creating the spine
Creating the spine with rope and foam.

The spine needed a bit more flexibility. The deer was going to appear on stage as if it had just been shot, and then one actor was going to hoist it over his shoulders and carry it around fireman’s style. I used several pieces of rope to give a semi-flexible span between the front and back half of the deer, while a big piece of upholstery foam was added to help it maintain some shape and volume.

Eric Hart sewing
I am sew good at this.

I also carved the neck out of upholstery foam. I wrapped the foam in fabric, sewed it shut and glued it to the rest of the body.

Attaching the pieces
Attaching and articulating the pieces.

The photograph above shows the deer all jointed and floppy and ready to be covered in fabric. Yes, that is pantyhose on the legs; I added them to give further support to the legs while maintaining full flexibility.

Gluing on the hide
Gluing on the hide.

It took three separate deer hides to completely cover the whole body. I arranged them as best I could around the deer so the fur coloring, direction and length would match the hide of a real deer. Real fur has so many variations throughout, whereas fake fur would just make the whole thing look like a giant stuffed toy. Jay bought me a bottle of “Tear Mender”, which is a latex-based adhesive designed for fabric and leather. As the back of the hide is essentially leather and the body was covered in fabric, the glue made a really strong but flexible connection.

The hooves were also purchased from the taxidermy supplier. I had to drill out the bone a bit on top so I could slide them onto the threaded rod which ran through the urethane foam cast legs.

Head and face
The head and face.

We also had some glass eyes for the head as well as plastic ears from the taxidermy supplier. I patterned some fur over these ears, but they were deemed “too stiff” after the deer’s first rehearsal. Luckily, I just had to reopen the seams and pull the plastic parts out; the fur maintained the shape pretty well on its own.

The deer also got a nice open head wound. We had a separate set of antlers that the actors danced around with, and the scene opened with the antlers already removed. I mixed various colors of acrylic mixed with epoxy to give it a permanent “wet” look.

Raphael and the Deer
Raphael and the Deer.

I had Raphael, one of the other prop artisans, pose while holding the deer. He moved fairly decently, though the joints between the legs and the body were a bit stiff-looking. Some of the transitions between the different hides I pieced together were a bit rough when viewed up close, but on stage under the lights, he looked amazing.

Macready and his Deer Skin

This is the final excerpt from a magazine article in Belgravia, an Illustrated London Magazine, published in 1878. It describes the history of props in Western European theatrical traditions up to the late nineteenth century. I’ve split it into several sections because it is rather long and covers a multitude of subjects.

Stage Properties by Dutton Cook, 1878

When Macready produced ‘As You Like It,’ with great completeness, at Drury Lane in 1842, he was anxious to procure a real deer-skin for exhibition in the forest scenes, and by way of illustration of the song ‘ What shall he have that killed the deer?’ The Duke of Beaufort seems to have gathered that some difficulty had arisen in the matter. Macready enters in his Diary: ‘The Duke of Beaufort called and inquired of me about the deer-skin I wanted for “As You Like It.” He very courteously and kindly said he would send to Badminton, and if there was not one ready he would desire his keeper to send one express. It was extremely kind,’ concludes the tragedian, evidently deeply touched by the ducal interest in a stage property.

Only one word more about stage properties.

Mr. Three-stars, the eminent tragedian about to appear for the first time upon a provincial stage, made express inquiries concerning ‘the acoustic properties’ of the house. Thereupon the anxious property-man rushed into the presence of the manager. ‘We have not got all the properties yet, sir; Mr. Three-stars wants the acoustic properties.’ ‘Get them at once, then; let Mr. Three-stars have everything he wants!’ was the prompt reply of the energetic manager.

(Dutton Cook. “Stage Properties.” Belgravia, vol. 35. 1878: pg. 293.)

Drawing and deer hoof

How to make a deer butt

In a previous post, we saw a deer butt which Natalie had built several years ago make a reappearance in a current production of A Lie of the Mind. I asked her to share how she constructed it.

Drawing and deer hoof
Drawing and deer hoof

She began with research and preparation. Without that, you can easily waste your time building something which is not quite right. She found a taxidermist who agreed to let her come to his shop and show her some techniques. She was able to make a series of detailed drawings to work from; she also scored the back half of a deer hide (as well as the foot pictured above). As you can imagine, with all the deer heads you see mounted in hunting lodges and man caves, there’s bound to be some left over rear parts.

Layup of solid wood pieces
Layup of solid wood pieces

She decided to construct it out of a solid chunk of wood for strength, durability, and realistic weight. With her drawings, she cut the wood into their rough shapes before gluing them up layer by layer.

Cutting away at the wood
Cutting away at the wood

Once the form had dried together, she began rounding down all the edges to blend it into a  seamless piece. She also carved in musculature for added realism; since it would be covered with a hide, she exaggerated the lines so they would still show through the thickness of the material.

Completed wooden deer form
Completed wooden deer form

With the form completed, she tested it for strength. The legs are fairly skinny, so she added a bit of metal rods in the thinnest areas for reinforcement.

Painting the exposed parts of the deer
Painting the exposed parts of the deer

Natalie painted the hoofs and mangled parts because they would not be covered by fur. Again, the research and reference materials showed her exactly what it should look like. She had also spoke with the taxidermist about what colors would be showing on the exposed innards.

Attaching the deer hide
Attaching the deer hide

She began attaching the hide to the form using Barge. The hide came split down the bottom center so it was a flat piece. That meant it had a seam along the bottom and down each leg, which she had to treat carefully to keep it from becoming too prominent or noticeable.

Completed deer butt
Completed deer butt

With enough practice, you too can produce props as deer as this!

Deer Butt

Deer Butt

Last Monday, my wife and I saw A Lie of the Mind by the New Group up at Theatre Row.

Deer Butt
Deer Butt

We went because Natalie had her deer butt in the show. She didn’t make it for this production though; she made it at Ohio University over seven years ago. Matt Hodges, the prop master for the current production, found it in his search for a deer butt; it just so happened he was in our shop around when Tom Fiocchi, the prop master at Ohio University, told Natalie that someone had bought her butt. Thus, I was able to score some tickets, and Natalie was able to see a prop from her past.

Remember kids; build a prop well, and it can live for years to come!