Tag Archives: fake food

Friday Click Links

Friday Click Links

Follow along with the story of Twan Baker, the prop baby who has been in two Broadway shows and over half a dozen regional theatre productions. He is kept and cared for by a growing family tree of actors and writers and has his own adventures.

Steve Hoefer has been writing a series of beginner’s guides to various tools, and his latest is on drills and bits. If you’ve ever grabbed a spade bit to drill through metal, please stop and read this guide first.

I’ve been watching some videos of the Creature Technology Company lately, which makes massive animatronic creatures for giant arena shows. This behind the scenes look at the How to Train Your Dragon Arena Spectacular shows just what I’m talking about.

Finally, are you a fan of the Fake and Bake blog (a blog all about making fake food)? Anna Warren, the writer and a good friend, has branched out and started a company called Tactile Craftworks making handmade and hand-bound leather journals with etched details (among other things). They have just started a Kickstarter to produce an Atlas Series of journals, with covers of maps of either Milwaukee or Chicago. Head on over and check it out, and maybe pick up a journal or two!

All the Props Links

I have a new article up in this month’s issue of Stage Directions. I break down how we pulled off a fake knife-throwing trick for Triad Stage’s production of Wait Until Dark. Old pros know this trick, but it is always helpful to see a working model in action.

Fake ‘n Bake is back! Anna brings us a guest post by Ariel Lauryn on how to make a roast beef sandwich. There’s lots of pieces and parts that come together into a great prop which she built at one of my favorite puppet companies, The Puppet Kitchen.

Stagebitz has a great interview up with Gary of Twin FX. This UK-based effects and animatronics company has built everything from fire-breathing dragons to fifteen-foot-tall moving gorillas. What’s even more amazing is they build all of this for the stage, where it has to perform smoothly night after night, for years on end.

First Stage, a dynamite children’s theatre company in Milwaukee, is doing Shrek: The Musical. They show off how they make the ogre face, starting from taking a life-cast of the actor’s head, to sculpting and casting the prosthetic pieces he will wear.

Friday Link-opolis

Friday Link-opolis

Hello, internet. It’s been a pretty busy couple of weeks; Crazy for You (which I am prop mastering) begins tech this weekend. It has quite a large number of elements keeping me pretty busy, so I did not have time to write a blog for this past Wednesday. But I do have some fun links I’ve come across that should fill you with proppy goodness.

Anna Warren seems to be even busier than me over at Milwaukee Rep, but she has returned to write a new blog post, and it’s a cool one. She details how she molded and cast fried chicken out of latex and foam, using real fried chicken as the model.

The flip-side of molding and casting real food to make fake food is molding an object to cast it out of an edible material. This brings up many safety concerns, as very few molding materials and mold releases are food-safe. Smooth-on has a wonderfully-illustrated tutorial for casting edible items using a food-safe silicon putty.

I have yet to catch the TV series Face Off, in which special-effects makeup artists compete in time-intensive challenges (like Project Runway for the sci-fi set), but I’ve heard good things about it. Jamie Frevale interviews Rod Maxwell, one of the contestants on the show, about his work and what it was like “performing” that work on television.

Finally, just in time for Halloween, we have this video of a CNC machine which can carve Jack-o’-lanterns:

Fake Food: Making Edible Replicas

They used to solve this problem in the breakfast scene of “The Duke of Killiekrankie” by having the food made of candy which would melt rapidly in the mouth, and so not interfere with enunciation. The hashed brown potatoes, for example, were nothing but spun sugar, browned, which looked substantial enough to the audience, but melted away almost as soon as they touched the tongue.

– The New York Times, April 1, 1906.

I have previously written about making inedible fake food. A props person may also have to make edible fake food. What is edible fake food? Say a character needs to eat a peanut butter sandwich, but the actress playing that character is allergic to nuts; you need an edible replica of peanut butter that contains no nuts.

Props people make edible replicas for a variety of reasons. Most common is the above-mentioned allergy issue; before planning a meal, you (or your stage manager) needs to find out what the actors are allergic to, and any special dietary needs. An actor may be vegetarian or keeps kosher. Besides allergies and diet, actors avoid other types of food while on stage; milk and cheese, or sugary drinks, tend to affect the vocal chords in ways which many actors dislike. A prop master’s greatest challenge is when he or she needs to serve a massive edible banquet, and an actor is vegetarian, allergic to gluten, and lactose-intolerant.

Another reason to make edible fake food is cost. Characters on stage may chow down on what appears to be hundreds of dollars of caviar in a single scene. You need a more cost-effective solution if you want to keep your budget under control. In a similar vein, certain foods may be time-consuming or complicated to prepare. Remember, your running crew needs to prepare the food before each show in addition to their other pre-show duties, and if your production has matinées, they may have an even tighter schedule between the two shows. It’s usually better to microwave a turkey substitute for thirty seconds than to roast a real turkey for four hours.

Third, the food on stage may require special properties which the real deal does not possess. A common example is when a director wants the characters to eat ice cream, but does not want to see the ice cream melt during the scene. It’s a tricky feat to pull off under those hot stage lights.

Finally, an actor may need to eat something which is normally not edible. Edible flowers are commonly called for, as well as paper notes. Be prepared for anything.

It is important to keep the food preparation area clean, which means separate from any work areas. If you keep a stock of preparation dishes and utensils, these should be kept separate from your regular stock of kitchen props; you don’t want to prepare your food in a dish that was painted with a toxic paint for the previous show. Likewise, the food needs to be stored properly in between shows, especially if you buy a whole bunch at once for multiple performances. It should also go without saying that you should not attempt to reuse uneaten food from one performance for the next one.

Creating edible food is a little bit sculpture, a little bit painting, and a whole lot of creativity. It’s good to develop a sort of “base” of materials which are readily available, easy to work with, and can mimic a great deal of foods. Bananas, breads, and food coloring have been some of the more popular bases for props artisans for well over a century.

Bananas can be mashed to imitate a great number of foods, such as cream or ice cream. With the right coloring and toppings, it can even substitute for meat or fish. When sliced lengthwise, you have a decent white meat substitute for chicken. Yogurt and cottage cheese work in a similar vein, but because of the milk content, they are less-commonly used.

Bread can take on a variety of shapes. Brown bread with the crusts removed and cut to the proper shape can simulate chops and roast meat. I saw the head of properties at the Walnut Street Theatre create a very convincing Salisbury steak each night with just a slice of pumpernickel covered in cold canned gravy. Switch the gravy with fruit glaze or some other red jelly and you have a slab of raw meat. A whole loaf with the crusts removed can be shaped into a number of different forms. If you use a loaf that is at least a day old, you can even carve it somewhat.

Tofu is another kind of base which can be built on for any number of fake edibles. It has the advantage of being vegan, and in some cases, gluten-free, so it’s a great choice for tricky eaters.

Food coloring adds greatly to your repertoire of faux food creation tools. It can be tricky to match the color and opacity of your intended goal; luckily, everything is edible, so you can eat your tests and samples. Specialty baking shops will stock a greater range of colors and sizes, so you don’t have to try to create every single color with those tiny bottles of red, yellow, blue and green. You can also find culinary colors in spray cans, which are a boon for the more artistically inclined.

Fruits are a friendly substitute for many foods, and can be tastier for the actors than old bread covered in cold gravy. I used a fresh grape and a dried apricot for my appetizers in Timon of Athens. I’ve also heard of shows which used half an apricot for an egg yolk and a pared apple for a raw turnip. Watermelon with some brown food coloring makes a convincingly juicy slab of raw meat. Dried fruits such as prunes and apricots can be cut up, shaped and squished to resemble a variety of things, and are especially handy when you have that large banquet scene that requires a variety of edible colors and textures to appear sumptuous.

Sausages and other imperishable meats serve a similar purpose as dried fruits. With the skin removed, they can be sliced and carved to mimic all sorts of appetizers and side dishes.

Fake edible food is a great exercise for students and interns because it forces them to distill an item (the real food) to its most recognizable characteristics, and then come up with a simple and economical replication of those characteristics. It makes them think about the constraints of a show, such as preparation time, cost per show, shopping time, etc. Finally, most people do not create fake food in their spare time, so they can’t fall back on familiar materials and methods, such as carpentry or foam carving.

A knowledge of cooking, baking, and food preparation is helpful, as it can help you learn how to thicken or thin various sauces and liquids, or give you clues how to cut and shape different foods. A trip to a culinary or baking store is great as well, as you can find all sorts of icing bags, cookie cutters and food-safe molds to help you out. I read about a production in 1906 which used a mold of a chicken to bake a sponge cake that could be carved and consumed on stage. Now that’s a tasty trick!

Making toast

Food in Timon

Our production of Timon of Athens just closed yesterday here at the Public Theater. It was my first prop master credit at the Public. I’ll probably post some more about this show once I get back from USITT and can go through my photographs, but for today, I thought I’d highlight some of the food, both real and fake.

Making toast
Making toast

They needed a lot of toast, so I decided to make some fake toast to augment the real toast. I started off with a sheet of white floral foam the same thickness as toast. I cut it into triangles, rounded some of the edges and shaped them a bit to match the pieces of real toast I was using as reference. I needed to coat it in something to make a paintable surface, and I realized that wood glue would not only do the job, it would also serve as a good base color.

Final toast
Final toast

Raphael, one of our interns from last summer, was back on this show as an artisan. He finished most of the toast pieces. He arranged them in the pyramid seen above. Each night, BK, our props runner for the show, made several pieces of toast for the top of this pyramid and for another tray which held the caviar.

Caviar
Caviar

The director wanted an “obscene amount” of caviar during the banquet scene to showcase the ostentatious display of wealth which Timon indulges in. To cut down costs, we decided to fill a bowl with a mound of fake caviar and top it off each night with a real caviar substitute which the actors could eat. I found that pearl couscous and black food coloring made a convincing fake caviar, and it was cheap and easy to prepare as well. Alex, another one of our artisans, set to sculpting a mound of caviar out of white bead foam and painted it. During tech, it turned out that the fake caviar and real caviar did not match closely enough, and the difference was too obvious between the two. I mixed some of the dry caviar with the food coloring and added it to a mixture of glue and water. I spread this over the top of the mound, and when it was dry, coated the whole thing in shellac to seal it and make it food-safe. It was still not quite the same as the real caviar. For the third attempt, Raphael reshaped the mound a bit and repainted it to match the color of the couscous more closely. It finally matched the real caviar enough to make them indistinguishable.

In addition to the toast and caviar, the show also had a scene where a waiter carried around appetizers. Some of these appetizers were picked up by actors and eaten. Neil Patel, our designer, was interested in the really fancy amuse-bouche kind of appetizers you find at so many New York events. From the research he gave me, I came up with the following:

 

Real appetizers
Real appetizers

I made the edible appetizers by placing a toothpick through a grape and adding a piece of dried apricot on one end and a mint leaf on the other. They were, in fact, surprisingly delicious.

We wanted to have a lot of appetizers on the tray and decided to make some fake ones so BK would not have to make dozens of real appetizers each night. We also decided to make the fake ones different so the actors would not accidentally eat a piece of fake food.

Fake appetizers
Fake appetizers

I cut a scrap of yellow upholstery foam into tiny squares. I put a scoop of joint compound in a sandwich bag, cut a corner off of it, and used it like an icing bag to make the swirl of white. The green was some fake grass I clipped and set in while the joint compound was still wet. We had some tiny red beads in stock, so I added one to each to give it a bit more color. I figured it might be a piece of cod roe, in keeping with the caviar theme.

Regular readers already know this, but my friend Anna has far more tips and tricks dealing with fake food on her blog dedicated to that very subject; check out Fake ‘n Bake if you haven’t already.