This show was produced at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, OR, and designed by Professor Michael Olich. I worked as the movement consultant for the actors and as an assistant designer/ builder of various mask and puppet items.
Seven months before the show would open, we met to share broad concepts, discuss exciting opportunities, and forecast potential hurdles. At this early point, it became clear that some things needed to be tried in a rough form to solidify the approach of the design.
One such element was the parrot. The first task was to figure out from where it would be manipulated. The parrot couldn’t be designed properly without that key information.
(click on each photo to see full size and captions)
The basic concept was tested in scrap foam, construction paper, masking tape and bamboo
Testing motion with upgraded materials
Feathers were cut from craft foam to match Durandarte’s color palette
A spray bottle and styrofoam ball were the understructure.
The aim of the design was to echo the elements in the human version of the character while providing a clear sense of focus for the puppet
A second parrot (with folded wings) for the scenes after the parrot was caught.
After trying a few options, including operating it from above, the most feasible and satisfying conclusion was to puppeteer from the stage deck.
At first I thought I might have to trigger the flapping of the wings through a mechanism on the control rod, but using gravity to activate the foam wings was pretty satisfying.
Stag & Bear Masks
The show was not cast until September, so many issues of scale had to be determined at that time. To know how big to make the mask, it was better to know the size of the body supporting that mask.
I thought topographically to create the individual pattern pieces for each layer of the stag mask.
One of the early trial material was this translucent coroplast.
Actors working in rehearsal masks are great sources of information as a builder.
An early test of the rings had them suspended by thin gauge wire. Eventually we used scrim for the dual purpose of masking and connection.
Stag 2.0: bigger, wider, and ringed.
The best solution for both stag and bear characters was a helmet mask—the stags were mounted on construction helmets, and the bear was, itself, a helmet.
I made trial pieces to test my construction methods.
Eventually, a bandsaw was a better solution for cutting out all the pieces. Exactos remained important for the connector slots, however.
Mask attached to helmet.
The layers of bear, from front to back.
I made this larger rehearsal mask for bear, which also allowed me try out a few different attachement methods.
The final bear used coroplast lined with metallic fabric, and scrim covered the open mouth.
I love how the planar design helps the mask transform in motion and contributes to the magic of the play.
The Laughing Statue
The script requires an enchanted statue that comes to life and laughs at key moments in the story. The designer had a clear idea of the look of the statue and a general sense of intended scale early in the process. Once the part was cast, I could determine measurements that would allow the actor’s face to be seen and permit her arms to reach the control mechanisms.
Strategizing internal structure
The scenery shop provided the first step , a steel ladder and on a wooden base, with two metal support ovals.
To help us all visualize, I constructed a hasty mockup in cardboard. It helped me strategize how I would eventually use the fabric-covered foam to create the cape.
My friend Bill helps by patterning the Y20 foam
Fine-tuning the contours
Anchoring the hood of the cape
The third strategy for hand construction worked. They were designed in a way parallel to “topographic” approach to the stags and bear.
Extra supports and surfaces were needed as I listened to the materials I was using.
The order of operations was difficult—and necessary—to determine, much like constructing a garment in a costume shop. The pieces were unwieldy, so it was very nice to have assistance from student workers.
Even then, it was a challenge! I was using many materials and adhesives that were relatively new to me, and doing so in a short amount of time. We would joke frequently about how every single solution created two new problems. It was a relief to have the advice and help of both my friends in the puppetry community and also my collaborators on the show as I learned about making this statue.
It’s amazing to me how much expression can be manifested with just a few movements. The only movements available to the actor were the flex in the statue’s hands and those of her own face, but she was able to find great levels and variety to play.