The Actors Theatre of Louisville is looking for an artisan/soft goods person for their upcoming Humana Festival (January through March). I worked there a few years back; the people are great, the shop is amazing and you get to do some quality work for really good theatre. Even the housing they put you up in is nice. All in all, Louisville is not a bad place to spend a few months. Also, this year’s SETC conference is in Louisville, so you’ll be in town for that (as will I).
Make Magazine has a holiday gift guide for woodworkers, but it’s kind of hit or miss. A $260 hammer? Orthopedic chisels? Personally, I don’t think novelty tools make good gifts for people who make things.
Vintage theatre footlights are needed every now and then, but they can be difficult to find. Ebay has one or two on occasion, but one frequently needs a number of matching ones. Costume Armour, Inc., makes a number of fiberglass and vacuum formed lights, and because they get a lot of requests for their footlights, they have set up a new webpage devoted to the standard sizes and shapes they offer, along with pricing.
To all of my American readers, I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving this week! Brian Wolfe from Costume Armour sent me some photographs of a trick turkey they recently created, which seems apropos to the holiday.
For this trick, a waiter needed to walk in with a food cart. He lifts the lid off of a covered tray revealing a delicious roast turkey. He replaces the lid, and the next time the lid is removed, the turkey is gone. Instead, an actor’s head is on the tray, and the actor begins to speak.
This is the drawing he shared with me:
They needed a giant, oversized turkey with enough room inside to fit a head; it also needed to be light enough that it could be lifted along with the tray (you will see why in a minute). They had a rubber turkey in stock, but it was too small and heavy. So they decided to vacuum form a new one. They carved the turkey in foam, made a two-piece mold, and vacuum formed it in 0.04″ Kydex plastic.
They cut out the pieces, glued them together, and painted them. Next, they cut a large hole in the bottom:
The tray was also vacuum formed, this time in a heavy 0.093″ Kydex plastic with a metallic finish. The bottom was formed over a wooden mold, while the lid used a plaster mold. They also added some artificial lettuce which was bought.
A brass drawer pull completed the look to the lid. The small black rectangle next to it in the photograph below is a small toggle switch:
When the waiter flips this switch, a small battery-powered electromagnet turns on (shown in the next photograph). The turkey had a small piece of flat steel hidden on top which is grabbed by this magnet. So when the magnet is on and the tray lid is lifted, the turkey travels along with it, hidden from the audience’s view.
The diagram below illustrates how the whole trick was set up. I’ve seen this same basic principle carried out in a number of different ways, but the combination of the hollow turkey and electromagnet makes this execution especially elegant; you can control whether the turkey or head is visible simply by the flick of a switch. The actor underneath does not have to do anything.
This past weekend I made a trip up to Cornwall, NY, to visit Costume Armour. Brian Wolfe, the general manager, happily showed me around the shop, storage areas and all the pieces they have on display. Costume Armour was founded over 50 years ago by Peter and Katherine Feller, and later purchased by theatrical sculptor Nino Novellino in 1976, and has produced pieces for nearly every Broadway show since then.
The piece that kind of began Costume Armour is the armor from the original Broadway production of The Man of La Mancha. Before then, armor was either leather, felt or heavy metal. They solved many problems by vacuum forming a suit of armor from newly sculpted molds based off of historical research. Though the suit itself predates the company, Novellino made it while working with Peter Feller on the vacuum forming machines built by Feller to construct the Vatican pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair. Costume Armour still has those machines, and they are part of what makes their company extraordinary. The vacuum tank is over 1000 gallons, and they can produce pieces from sheets of plastic as large as 52″ by 12′-0″.
The shop was in the midst of a big order for the Disney Jedi Training Academy, Star Wars Weekends and Celebration, which they have been doing since 2004.
I was interested to learn that the shop still uses Celastic quite a bit for many of their sculptures. The original brand-named Celastic has long ceased being manufactured, though they did have a few rolls stock-piled for those extra-special projects (pictured above). The modern equivalents are a bit thicker, but act the same; the cloth is saturated with acetone, than draped or molded over a form or sculpture, and when the acetone evaporates, you are left with a rigid and rock hard surface. Brian explained that it is unrivaled for making realistically-sculpted drapes and clothes on statues.
So I stand corrected on my earlier article on Celastic, in which I claimed that it is rarely used and that there are less toxic alternatives that can do the same thing. Of course, using it requires the proper safeguards for dealing with large buckets of acetone, but working with most materials in the props shop requires understanding and protecting yourself against any potential hazards and toxins.
While I saw something cool around every corner, I thought I would point out the above picture. They cast a head based off of a scan and model of the Shroud of Turin, so what you have here is what many believe to be the real head of Jesus. He is, of course, on a shelf next to a C-3PO mask.
The statue pictured above was produced was was sculpted in foam, molded in silicone and cast in fiberglass . Though larger than me, I could easily pick it up off the ground; most of the weight, in fact, came from the plywood base, and not the statue itself.
Novellino was featured in the American Theatre Wing’s In the Wings series; watch the video to learn more about the company and to see the vacuum forming machines in action.
We’re right in the middle of tech for this year’s Shakespeare in the Park, so I don’t have time to write as extensively as usual. Here are some interesting links to keep you busy in the mean time.
Jesse Gaffney writes about her goal to create a Chicago props community. It’s a good rundown of how to create a community of props people in any locale, which is good for sharing resources, mutual borrowing agreements, and knowing who to recommend when you can’t take a job. We have one here in New York City.
If you’re a fan of Instructables, you’ll like Make: Projects. From the same people that publish Make Magazine comes this library of user-submitted DIY projects and how-tos.
Speaking of Instructables, if you are a teacher and like the promise of the site, but are unsure how to integrate it into your classroom, the editors have just published a post on how to use Instructables at school.