Hunting for solutions

Behind the Scenes: The King Stag

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.

Parrot puppet

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)

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.

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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.

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The mask of the King Stag incorporates two kinds of rings: the upper are fixed, while the lower can turn. The little movements help incorpoate the mask to the actors body. Photo ©2015 Owen Carey

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 love how the planar design helps the mask transform in motion and contributes to the magic of the play.

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It was so interesting to build in this very mathematical way. The front of the face was drawn topographically, then measurements were transposed to help create an appropriate profie. Photo ©2015 Owen Carey

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.

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.

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The magical statue aids King Deramo by laughing at the false affections of Smeraldina, his valet’s sister. Photo ©2015 Owen Carey

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.

Click here to see all of the production photos.

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