Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Coming Back

I can't believe I haven't posted for over two years; that's quite break! My dad and mom needed all the attention I could give.  My dad passed away and my mom had to rebuild her life without him.  It's only in the last few months that I've fired up the sewing machines and created some joy again.  Late last November, I received a call for help from the Chatham Fantasy Theater.  They were a month away from opening, and their costume designer abandoned them with no work done. It was a great excuse to throw myself into the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg and move on.

When I met the director, Eric Hofstadter, he told me that the lead roles of the play were five chickens and a goose.  I almost fell over as I came to understand that the actors were teenagers all just over 5' high.  Eric didn't want the costumes to look like one of those guys you see outside of Mr. Bojangles.  After drawing some sketches on blue line, we decided on making paper mache masks and fully articulated wings.  The actors themselves would become puppets and bring their characters to life.  Here are the results of those musings on paper:

The set of wings consisted of 26 feathers, which were simple white cotton sewn on a 14-guage electrical ground wire.  There were two types of feathers whose shapes were borrowed from studies I'd found of actual bird wings.  Real wings are actually much more sophisticated in number, shape and layering.. but hey, my chickens didn't need to fly.  The feathers were attached to a harness made of elastic.  The harness had a pivot joint at the elbow and straps over the shoulders to pull the wings up.  I'd have been dead if not for my trusty commercial Singer 20U33 with #16 needles.  You haven't lived until you hit a 14-guage wire at speed and bust a needle.  Many needles gave their lives in this production, and each one sounded like a gunshot followed by much cursing.  The longer feathers were 34" long.  Easy to sew until you reach the end of the feather and need to turn to go back the other way. To cover the harness, I cut a simple 36" radius circle with a 6" hole in the center for the head.  The pants were simple shorts with elastic bands and creative cutting.  

Not so easy to see in the picture above, but have you ever run out and tried to buy six pairs of ladies cotton knee high socks?  They were no place to be found!!  In a panic, I went to the Short Hills NJ Victoria Secret.  VS helped once before finding vintage garter belts (don't ask.) They didn't have the socks, but VS sent me to Lord & Taylor who did.  The wonders of Rit Dye cannot be over praised! White socks became five pairs of yellow and one of orange.  Add five pairs of rubber chicken feet and voila! I had to sew up goose feet myself.

The masks were another adventure entirely.  To approximate the size of a teenage head, I used a mini-basketball and aluminum foil.  The eyes of the mask are made from cardboard egg cartons.  To make the crop stand up, I bought a roll of plastic leaf gutter guard at the local Home Depot and hot glued it to the head, then hot glued felt to the gutter guard.  Gesso paint covered the newsprint no problem, and took the color acrylic paint well.

There were other costumes, but these were pulled from the theater's stock room and then modified for the play.  Except for a 1980s designer dress that was originally made by International Pleating.  I added a long underskirt, cooked up a head piece, and hoped the audience would buy the illusion.

We had five shows and many in the audience were children who'd never seen a live performance.  On a small scale, the play was a big success.  The costume budget was extremely low and the producer was able to give a glowing financial report to the theater trustees.  After the play, the producer of The Three Musketeers asked me if I could come back and help. We open in May.  But first, I have a shirt to make and some puppet head bags to finish.


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