About Shane Russell

Shane is a prop assistant at the Western Stage's scene shop and loves doing crafty projects on her own time as well. She likes cats, listening to music, and writes the blog Shane's Killer Cupcakes.

Clark and Jamie from “None of the Above”

This Friday “None of the Above” opens 2x4BASH’s inaugural season. It’s a rich, cleverly written play about two people from vastly different social backgrounds becoming unlikely friends through SAT tutoring sessions. Clark (Jesse Huston), an SAT tutor, is a smart young man whose intention for teaching the tutorials is not quite clear at first. His initially unwilling student, Jamie (Nikole Moon), is a spoiled, neglected rich kid who spends her days finding ways to rebel against her absent parents.

I asked my cast recently to describe to me their characters in their own words. Here’s what they had to say:

Oleanna: The Telephone Show

Okay, so Oleanna isn’t just about telephones, but they sure do ring a lot in this play. As the sound designer, I’ve been listening to a lot of telephone rings, trying to find the right ones to go with the phones we are using in the show: an office desk phone and a cellphone. To me it’s important that they sound right because they ring often and should sound different from each other. Also if the sound of the ring isn’t quite right, it might interfere improperly with the tone of the scene. These are the things that keep me up at night.

In my search for the right telephone ring I came across this article about the Universal Telephone ring. It’s the sound effect that Universal Studios used in everything during the ’70s and ’80s. You can listen to it at the link below. I bet you’ll recognize it:


For Oleanna’s two phones I’ve been thinking about using these ring sounds.

For the cellphone something like this:

And for the desk phone something like this (click the link below to play the sound):


In a Commercial Near You

Since 2x4BASH has just barely started, I’ve been spending most of my time working on props for The Western Stage’s main stage production of Little Shop of Horrors.  My partner in crime, Leslie Lancaster, and I made the vine arms for Little Shop’s mutant plant Audrey II for the commercial shoot that happened a couple of weeks ago. We mulled over all the ways that they could look but settled on sewing fabric together to make stuffed vine socks. They turned out pretty cool. For a little embellishment, we covered them in silk vine leaves that we cannibalized from some other vines we had.

I first had to spray paint the leafy vines a nice chartreuse because they were a little dark. It also gave them a little dimension. Then while Leslie sewed the green vine fabric together, I stuffed the finished ones with batting.They looked like long string beans once they were stuffed, but that wasn’t enough, so we added the painted leaves to make them more plant like.

The vines looked great in the commercial. Keep an eye out for it on T.V. if you live in the Monterey County area or just scroll down to view it if you can’t wait! Also come see a fantastic production of Little Shop of Horrors running from June 10th – 26th at The Western Stage.

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The Genesis of a Production Poster

The Impossible Task

I never thought that designing a poster for a couple of theatre productions would melt my brain, but after working on our show poster for 2X4BASH: theatre on the edge, it’s a very real possibility. Our show poster had to feature all four 2X4BASH productions plus the dates and authors, as well as the specifics of where, how much, contact info, etc. It all seemed very daunting at first.

As I was crawling into the fetal position, thinking about all the aspects the poster needed to include, I luckily glanced at the pin board above my computer.  A couple of old local band show fliers hung there like shining 1/4-page papers of hope. They had about four or five band logos on them plus the show info and it all fit onto little 1/4-page pieces of paper! If whoever designed these fliers could fit that all on there and make it look interesting, I could make a regular sized poster no problem. Plus the band show poster had the grittier look that we were looking for to represent our on-the-edge line up of plays.

The Band Poster: My Inspiration

The Font Search

And so I began my journey of making a band show themed poster. The first thing I did was create “band logos” for each of the shows. This meant finding fonts that could pass as band logos but also worked with the feeling and themes of the shows.

I never knew how mind numbingly grueling a font search could be. I searched font website after font website with glazed-over, tired eyes and eventually found the perfect ones to use. I then quickly came up with a color-blocked design that used our red, black, and white 2X4BASH colors to keep the poster simple and eye catching. Many of my fellow 2X4BASH teammates liked the design, but unfortunately, several of the fonts I used turned out to not be free for commercial use. To avoid having to contact the font creators and buy all of our fonts, I fell back into the search for fonts. This time it was even more difficult, because I tried to find free commercial use fonts that looked similar to the ones I was replacing.

After another few hours of searching fonts, I found the replacements and put it up for more review among the 2X4BASH team. Several tweaks later, our poster was complete.

The Future Is Upon Us

2X4BASH is interested in trying to fuse newer forms of technology with our theatre performances, so we included a QR code in the right bottom corner that can be scanned with an application on a smartphone and be taken to a picture of this same poster on our blog. This should make it easy for people to get our info without having to write it down.

As much as I make it sound like designing the poster was a big pain, I did have a lot of fun making it. Keep an eye out for our poster around town!

Experience Theatre with All the Senses

Have you ever been able to touch a set or rifle through the props when you’ve gone to a play? Mostly likely the answer is no, since traditionally, the audience is separate from the stage, behind an imaginary fourth wall that they are not allowed to penetrate. But when I think of theatre on the edge, I think of something that forces us to change the status quo of theatre and experience it in new or different ways.

A British theatre company called Punchdrunk has created a show, “Sleep No More,” which just opened in New York, based around crucial scenes in Shakespeare’s Macbeth that break the fourth wall and invite the audience to become part of the show. The “stage” is broken up into 100s of rooms, each a space for the actors, but also for the audience to fully experience the show by sight, touch, taste, sound, and smell. The audience may inspect the set as if it were a museum and touch it, look in drawers, smell the scents that waft from the different themed rooms, and even taste some candy if they are willing to grab a piece in the “candy shop” room.

Each room has a different theme such as the candy shop mentioned above or the bedroom of Macduff’s children, that build upon the show, while tearing down preconceived notions of how a Shakespearean show should be produced.

The New York Times did a in-depth article on the show and describe in detail several of the rooms that can be experienced during the show. If you would like to read more about “Sleep No More” click on the link below:

Punchdrunk Transforms Chelsea Warehouses for ‘Sleep No More’

To see some pictures from several of the rooms and hear an audio clip describing them click this link:

Something Wicked – Interactive Feature

A Prop Girl’s Bag-o’-Tricks

I few things I know I’ll be using to make props this summer for 2x4BASH are the items I’ve listed below. You could make almost anything out of these things. I’ve worked on props for the Western Stage for almost 8 years and I don’t think I could get by without these products or tools.

If I could carry this all on a tool belt, I would

1. Sculpt or Coat – This is like a really thick glue-type product that I use for giving props a protective plastic coating. It works really well for fake food items and disguises foam to look like other things. You can use it as a semi-gloss too or tint it with paint or thin it with water. Most paints will adhere to it as well so you can coat your prop, let it dry, and then paint over it. Great stuff.

2. Glue gun/Hot Glue – Hot glue is my wonder adhesive. It works on almost all types of materials, especially plastics and wood, and hardens quickly so I can keep working without stopping. Most people use hot glue, so it’s not like this is some hidden secret of the prop world, but I love to use hot glue in ways that aren’t usual. Hardened hot glue

I think I need a glass of prop milk

looks a lot like glaze so I often use it for prop food as a sugar glaze or icing. Here is a donut that I made out of a piece of foam sculpted into a ring, some Sculpt or Coat to coat the foam, paint, hot glue for the chocolate icing glaze on top, and some little tan nugget things I found (I think they’re used in fish tanks) that I used as peanut pieces.

Hot glue has so many uses in the prop department, we’d never get by without it.

3. Sculpey (or other polymer clays) – Sculpey is a brand of polymer clay that I use to make all sorts of props. It’s easy to mold, comes in many colors, and can be painted once it is baked. Sculpey often comes in handy for smaller props such as fruit and

WARNING: Not as delicious as it looks!

pastries. If you need to make something that’s bigger than 1/4 inch thick, foil should be used. For example, I made a mango last year out of only Sculpey, foil, and paint. You ball the foil up so that it takes up most of the space and then apply the Sculpey over it. Since foil is oven safe, there is no problem with baking it like this. Once it’s cooled you can safely paint it any color you want, if needed. For my mango, I painted it with blended colors of red, yellow, and green to make it look like a nice ripe mango.

4. Spray Adhesive – Outside of hot glue, spray adhesive is probably my next most used glue. It works pretty well for paper crafts and applying fabric to surfaces like wood. It can be a sticky mess though. This glue is very tacky and if you get it on your fingers you will start to stick to things. Also it will get in your hair and eye lashes and clothing, so if that doesn’t sound like a fun time, cover up before you spray. I wear eye glasses and often end up doing all my spray gluing half-blind, because I take the glasses off while using the glue to save them from a nice layer of sticky speckles all over the lenses. Prop making is serious business, people.

5. Paint – As with set creation, the prop department also uses a bit of paint to make our props. Since I usually don’t need nearly as much as the set does, I prefer to stick with little bottles of acrylic paint since I tend to waste less and it’s easier to pop open one of those bottles than it is to crack open a can of paint that you need to stir. I’m also not very efficient at color mixing, so when I use the big cans of paint I always end up mixing a cup of paint together to get the right shade when I only needed about a teaspoon amount. Yeah, I think I’ll stick with the little bottles.

6. Foam – Any type of foam is valuable to me. I’ve used anything from insulation foam, to cushion foam, to packaging foam to make props. My most used foam is the cushion foam though, because it’s spongy and bread-like (I used it for the donut up there), so it comes in handy for all sorts of different breads. We had a whole bakery of breads set up once for The Baker’s Wife made mostly out of insulation and cushion foam.

7. Design Master Glossy Wood Tone – This spray paint tint will automatically make every thing look better. I don’t know how it does it, but it can. It can make things look antiqued or old and used. It can make things look slightly glossy and intensify the colors the prop already has, while knocking down those colors that might be too bright under stage lights. I just love this stuff. It has a sister color, Cherry Wood Tone, that can also be helpful. Cherry Wood Tone is, as the name suggests, a bit more red tinted and worked wonders on our berry tarts that the props department made once. These were made out of Sculpey for the crust, fake strawberries and grapes glued on top, a hot glue glaze like I used on the donut, and a little touch of Cherry Wood Tone.

Starting to get hungry?

Just looking at an unused glue stick, you’ll notice that it’s milky colored and slightly opaque. That’s what our tarts looked like before we sprayed them with the Cherry Wood Tone. The spray instantly cleared them up somehow and gave them a beautiful glossy sugary glazed look. I couldn’t believe how much just the spray improved them. The Design Master’s Glossy Wood Tone tints are like magic prop sprays and I’d be lost without them.

You’d never know from this post that I’ve made things other than fake food props, but I work on all types of props ranging from designing book jackets, folding fake flowers, to fashioning fake ice sculptures out of plexiglass! The fake food props are often more prevalent though because real food is often too messy or too hard to use on stage. It does happen but requires a lot of nightly cleaning and proper food storage, so when the food product isn’t actually eaten on stage, a fake prop is much preferred.

I must give credit to my prop department partner, Leslie Lancaster, as she has shared with me many of the techniques and products I’ve talked to you about today, and I wouldn’t know about any of it without her.

16 Questions with Shane Russell

Shane Russell, 26

1.) Where did you grow up? I’ve grown up mostly in Salinas, CA with a few years in Southern California and a short stint in the San Francisco Bay Area.

2.) Educational background: AA in English Literature and a BA in English Education with a Theatre Emphasis. Graduated from California State University, Long Beach

3.) What is your earliest theatre memory and how did you initially get involved? I started theatre when I was a Sophomore in high school. Freshman year I joined the track and field team, but after practice I’d go over to the theater and watch the drama club rehearse. I fell in love with it and figured I’d probably be a better fit for theatre than sports, so the next year I joined the drama club.

4.) Most memorable moment in theatre: The first time I was in a musical was very memorable. I don’t act and haven’t officially done it since, but being on stage as an ensemble character of Jesus Christ Superstar was an exciting time. It made me happy and sick to my stomach at the same time.

5.) Favorite ice cream flavor and why: I don’t like ice cream all that much, but if I had to choose I’d say chocolate with chocolate brownie because I LOVE chocolate.  I’m much more of a cake person, so the more cake-type stuff in ice cream the better. If I ever have cake and ice cream together I always mash it up together into a gooey cakey mush.

6.) What do you love most about theatre? I love that theatre challenges me to create and push my talents to the limits.

7.) Who in the theatre/entertainment industry do you look up to? I’m a big fan of Lady Gaga because she is smart, creative, and innovative in her work. She may write simple catchy pop songs, but her performances are brilliantly theatrical.

8.) All-time favorite play and/or musical? One play and/or musical you’ve yet to see but is next on your list? My all-time favorite musical is Jesus Christ Superstar because it was the first musical I ever worked on and the music is awesome. I’d love to see Avenue Q, Spamalot, Spring Awakening, and because I’m a huge fan of Trey Parker and Matt Stone I’d love to see their new musical The Book of Mormon.

9.) What is your guilty pleasure? I love to watch American Idol

10.) Theatre wish list (shows you would like to work on in some capacity): Avenue Q, Hair, Proof, Sweeney Todd, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

11.) If you could describe yourself with a commonly used term, phrase, or piece of equipment related to theatre, what would it be and why? I would describe myself as gaff tape because, like the tape, my abilities are very versatile.

12.) Finish the following sentence: “If I wasn’t in theatre, I’d probably be…”: Bored out of my mind.

13.) Where do you see yourself in five years? Living in Long Beach, CA and working in theatre or the entertainment business somehow hopefully.

14.) Who or what continues to inspire you as you work in the theatre? Being around theatre is what inspires me the most. Other art pushes me to make art.

15.) Where will I be able to see you/your work when I come to the BASH this year? I will be stage managing and designing props and sound for some of the shows.

16.) Words to live by: Never stop striving for what you want from life.