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!

How To… Prep for a Show (As a Stage Manager)

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” — Benjamin Franklin

Word, Benjamin Franklin. Word. Frankly speaking, the majority of stage management is all about preparation and being ten steps ahead of everyone else. In light of Little Shop of Horrors rehearsals beginning, I figured mapping out exactly what I do to prepare for a show would be most appropriate for my next entry:

1)     Read the script. – Okay, I don’t always read the script completely and closely beforehand, but I definitely skim through it four or five times. I usually do this to look for information (sound cues, props, obvious light changes, quick changes, etc.) rather than reading it for plot. This can be just as helpful in familiarizing oneself with the show because you’re looking for the nuts-and-bolts details that make the show tick.

2)     If it’s a musical, find the soundtrack and listen to it. A lot. – The more you listen to the music, the easier calling the show is going to be for you (even though the arrangement in your production will never be identical to what you’re listening to). Just getting used to the music that will be drilled into your brain is a good way to ease into the process. Try listening to it while doing your prep work (the steps below).

3)     To-do lists are your best friends. – Make lists. Lists upon lists upon lists. Even if you think it’s something so small and irrelevant, add it to a list anyway, and as you work through it, you’ll see if it really needs to be addressed or if you can toss it. The idea is to get your mind in show mode: to be thinking about everything and anything regarding the show.

4)     Do the paperwork (dun dun dunnnnn). – Cast list, contact sheet (both for the cast and the production/design team), character breakdown (a chart of when each character is in each scene), scenic breakdown (locations/times of each scene), and preliminary prop list (just in case you need to gather rehearsal props). Those are the very basics and honestly, there’s only so much you can do before you start rehearsal. Other documents I’ve done: a work log (a list of when we worked on certain scenes, to keep track of progress) and scene by song number breakdown. No matter what paperwork you do, getting organized is the key.

5)     Put your book together and buy supplies. – Head on over to Office Depot/Target/your office supply store of choice and stock up on the essentials: at least a 2½” ring binder, pencils, pens, paper/a large notepad, and dividers. Every stage manager has their own style, but other things I need to have:

Index tabs: I use regular dividers to separate the larger sections of my book (script, schedules, rehearsal reports, etc.) but I use these stick-on tabs to break down scenes within the script, the paperwork I produce/receive from various departments, and many other things. Very, very handy!

Sharpies: You never know when you’re going to need one. Seriously.

Post-its, in a few colors: For making easy, removable notes as you go through the process. I say pick up a few colors so you can designate, for example, green as “quick changes” or pink as “scene shift,” or whatever you’d like.

Medium binder clips: Because I hate the permanence of staples (if you don’t happen to have a staple remover on hand) and paperclips just suck.

6)     Communicate with your director(s) about the rehearsal schedule and do your magic. – This is probably the most time-consuming part of prep, but once it’s done… what a good feeling. This is what great stage managers should be best at: organizing other peoples’ time in an efficient way. Make sure to have it confirmed by the directorial team and then distribute the information to everyone who needs it (production team, cast, etc.)

7)     Go have a cold beer (or soda, if you’re under 21). – It’s about to get crazy, so enjoy those last few moments of quiet and free time. Do something you want to do because pretty soon, it’s all about other people. SEE YOU AT STRIKE!

“I felt very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.” — Sylvia Plath (The Bell Jar)

(Little Shop of Horrors opens at The Western Stage on Friday, June 10th and runs through June 26th! Tickets can be purchased here. Da doo…)

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.