Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Working In Theatre- Stage Management Duties- Part 2

We had to find all manner of strange things for use as props in shows I worked on. Not only did me have to find, from whatever source, but sometimes we would have to make props. Particularly shows such as pantomimes, where you could let your imagination run riot and make things larger than life. Huge great clubs for hitting giants over the head with. Larger than life lollipops. Shopping trollies which had mocked-up petrol engines on them so that when the Dame appears on-stage it seems her shopping trolley is propelled by a lawnmower engine, complete with some  smoke coming out of the exhaust. You name it, we had to produce it.  I worked on a production of 'Macbeth' at Greenwich, and it was necessary to make a head of the actor who played Macbeth. If you know the play you must know that at the end he is killed by being beheaded and his head has to be brought on stage. We had to get the actor playing Macbeth, Alan Dobie, to agree to having his head cast in plaster. Not an easy thing, and not something that I would want as the thought of having my head covered in plaster of paris and straws put up my nose to allow me to breath wouldn't be pleasant. He did agree, and then, once the two halves of the mould were separated, the inside of the mould was filled with latex so a cast could be made. When it was finished the finished 'prop' head was very realistic, and it had stage blood applied, along with hair and it was extremely life-like.

In an earlier post on here I describe how, when I was working on a production of a play at the Century Theatre, Keswick, we had to create a dead chicken, which had to match exactly a live one which was on-stage and then is supposed to go off stage and be killed, and how we had to take some of the live chicken's tail feathers and put them into the 'prop' chicken (which, incidentally, has had its head chopped off, which made making the prop one easier!) Also, I mentioned in another post the production of a show called "Loot" by Joe Orton which I did at Colchester Rep where we had to build a set of coffins and caskets, one of which has to be built so that it can return to the stage burnt out and with a trap on the side which hinges down to reveal piles of burnt £5-notes inside, as well as the piles of Fivers as well as a convincing 'corpse' which is covered in a shroud and has to be articulated so when it is carried it appears as convincing as a del corpse, with articulated joints, limbs etc.

Food always caused a bit of a headache. Particularly when we were working with very little money. In a play we did at Liverpool Playhouse called "June Evening" (and which I did the book for, incidentally.) we had to produce an ox's heart. The play was by Bill Naughton, who wrote the plays "Alfie" which became the film starring Michael Caine as well as "Spring and Port Wine (which I was involved in at the Everyman at Cheltenham.) We did manage to find a butcher who could provide us with the real ox's heart, which we then had to cook before-hand and then put on stage. The set was a street, with two houses opposite one another, one being a home with kitchen and living room, and on a revolve, which turned round to show the interior at the correct time during the action of the play. The opposite house was a shop, rather like a corner shop, and probably a bit like one of the shops that are portrayed on "Coronation Street." As it was set during the 1930's we had to stock the shop with appropriate items and so had to contact various manufacturers who provided us with cans and packets, appropriate to the period of the play, in order to make the shop convincing. When this shop was fully stocked up and dressed, (again, on a revolved), it was quite heavy and to get it to revolve was quite an effort.

Alan Ayckbourne's plays nearly always have food in them somewhere. In "What The Other Half Love" at Keswick there was a meal at the end of one of the acts, we were supposed to produce avocados for the starter for one of the couples who are giving a dinner party. We couldn't afford to have avocados for every performance we did so we bought a real one and then cast it in a sort of papier mach material and then lined these halves with aluminium foil and then used mashed banana to fill these half 'shells' or 'skins' and it did simulate real avocado quite convincingly. In the same production the main part of that meal was supposed to be a casserole, but, again we were on a tight budget and had to use bread soaked in gravy to simulate the real thing. I don't think the actor's got to eat it, thankfully!

At Ipswich Theatre, the first show I worked on was 'Roots" (the second of the Wesker Trilogy of plays.) The whole play revolves around a character who doesn't actually appear. He is supposed to appear at the the end, and the mother produces an elaborate meal, which includes a trifle. As is wasn't eaten, we managed to construct it out out bread, cake and shaving foam. It was incredible to see how the glade cherries got bleached by the shaving foam, and made me wonder what on earth it was in shaving foam that could have that effect on glade cherries and what would it do to your skins if you used it to shave. We also had a large Victoria sponge on the stage, also never eaten, and it got so stale that it was like a piece of wood by the end of the play's run and it could almost have rolled across the floor like a wheel!
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