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.
This week’s must-read comes from The A/V Club, who interviewed props master Chris Call. This very in-depth conversation takes a look at his career, propping everything from Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Alias, to The Closer. The article takes the time to really dig into the nuts and bolts of a TV prop master’s job and Call’s career path, going far beyond the standard “what’s the craziest prop you’ve ever had to make?!?” kind of questions.
What did Kermit the Frog look like before the Muppets? Collector’s Weekly takes a look at the history of the Muppets, including photographs of a pre-Sesame Street Kermit, and delves into Jim Henson’s journey from five-minute sketches on a local TV station to a worldwide empire of puppet and creature manufacturing.
Fast Company has an article on five dream jobs that will make your inner child extremely jealous, and “prop master” is one of them. Yes, being a prop master is on-par with running a cat-café or being a chocolate scientist. I’ll have to remember I’m living the dream the next time I’m cleaning a mouse nest out of the bottom of a stove or lugging a sofa up three flights of stairs.
I caught a few episodes of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop a while back when my wife was in the hospital. It was very entertaining and informative, and probably the closest a reality show has come to portraying what prop builders actually do (though the show deals with creature building). I recently found that the SyFy website has some companion Creature Feature videos to go with the show.
In the videos, the expert mentors on the show, Peter Brooke, John Criswell and Julie Zobel, take you through the process of building a creature. They start with design and sculpting, go through the animatronics, show you different finishing techniques, and end with how puppeteers bring it to life. It’s not an explicit “how-to” guide, since they gloss through everything quickly and don’t go into details. But if you have some experience, it is great to see how the masters do it, since you can get a lot of inspiration of new things to try on your own.
The Wire has a short history of ventriloquism which is quite fascinating, if a little bit creepy. I especially enjoyed the video of Ray Alan performing with his “Lord Charles” dummy, who was performing a ventriloquist act with his own, even smaller, dummy.