A Recipe for Fun… Costumes?
Beauty and the Beast at Batavia Studios was a 5 week commitment in the summer of 2018. If you are following along, you will already know that I had worked fast and furious to create all of the inanimate object costumes. Most of the costumes were heavy on sewing and building. But the flatware for the musical number “Be Our Guest” was especially challenging…
Ingredients for Success
Years ago, I was an art major at Central High School of Philadelphia. I had a flair for photo-realistic drawing and constructing odd things. My wonderful art teacher encouraged my love for materials. In my AP art portfolio, I not only had pencil drawings and watercolors, but I had many slides involving creations made of papier mache (aka “paper mache”), wood, foam, fabric, metal, clay, Play-Doh, Plaster of Paris, yarn, beads, and plastic.
My focus was Soft Sculpture in the style of Claes Oldenburg, but I knew that there wasn’t a huge market for a second artist working in oversized sculpture in the real world.
A dash of cream…
I had utilized my ability to paper mache a few years ago for Batavia Studios when they needed a two-person “Milky Cow” for Into the Woods. There was nothing commercially available option that would costume two sets of children (again we had two casts of different heights) with a cow head and derriere. My Solution at that point was to take over our kitchen in the dead of winter (much to my offsprings’ delight and my husband’s chagrin) and sculpted them out of chicken wire. Then there were MANY layers of papier mache (and takeout dinner a few times as no room to cook!). The final forms were hung on ponchos made of thick felt to simulate the “white cow” and the “hidden cow” by draping another coffee-colored felt piece over the existing costume. The children wore white hoodies pulled over their hair to give the impression of ears.
A dash of…chicken wire?
Remembering the Milky Cow fondly, MD and BS were receptive to a similar construction of the forks and spoons to go alongside the Plates that we discussed in an earlier post. We finally settled on 2 spoons and 2 forks. I gathered my supplies and used the offspring again to scale the flatware to an appropriate size for the theater.
Trial run and sampling of costumes…
Once the shapes were fleshed out into final forms, I took them to the studio for a trial run with some of the actors. These girls met me in the parking lot and we played with how they would sit against the back of the actors, as well as how high to protrude on stage. We had one actor at 6′ tall and decided at that point to switch him to being a Plate, as he would have been an 8′ tall fork!
Preparing the Final Ingredients
There are several recipes floating around the Internet for Paper Mache paste, but I settled on blending this one with the tip I found of adding 1 tsp of salt to retard mold growth. This was the easiest to do in my garage, as I moved my electric kettle down to my workstation, and had the bowls, whisk, measuring tools and ingredients on one card table and the item to be covered propped up on my folding 8 foot table.
After evaluating the shape and surface area of the fork, I had decided on 3 tines instead of 4 or 5 as I felt I might have issues covering the inside junctions. Sure enough, I was the least happy with those spots, but visually, they worked.
The biggest challenge was drying time in the humid weather of July in Western Pennsylvania. Despite a fan running constantly and giving 24-48 hours of drying time between layers, I was in a race against time. The final product had 2-4 layers in places, and if I had been able to get double that onto the forms, I believe they would have held up better than they did.
Baking up some…harnesses?
With the layers on and the gold paint dry, it was time for my final fitting with the girls. We were down one actor. But I had them all try on four pieces to figure out the best location for the webbing and buckle harnesses I had designed in the spirit of the Plates. These items wanted to shift like the hands of a clock! So we added some gold belts in the final stages (see photo of Dress Rehearsal above). This seemed to help, but I understand it was a struggle during the final production numbers.
Final Taste Test
Would I change a thing? Perhaps! I learned that paper mache works better for me in the drier, winter months. So I will think twice about projects in the humid, summer months. I also know that while I paced myself for the Plates first, I should have started with the paper mache. While both were time intensive, the plates required little drying time. But “hind sight is ALWAYS twenty twenty” and I embraced this whole project wholeheartedly. The children were delighted. The photographs (by Erica Read Miller!) are stunning. And while the flatware didn’t make it out of the backstage dumpster, they served their purpose for the 4 day run for this show. If a situation like this comes up again, I believe I would go back to the foam I used for the plates and take the time to sculpt them instead of build them.
Thanks for following along!
Coming Soon: Tune in for the final installment of Babette, Cogsworth and Mrs. Potts!