Tuesday, March 18, 2008

K.eep I.t S.imple S.illy!

K.I.S.S. , known as the KISS principle this little bit of age old wisdom should be applied to all things theatrical, but especially to costuming. As I have already outlined in my Authentic vs. Believable article on period costumes, simple is often the best way to go.

Here are two simple ideas I picked up from our friends at Jones High School. First we have a very simple skirt made with a piece of colored touille and a silk ribbon at the waist. It simply ties and the touille gives it plenty of body for a tutu like feel. The structure of the touille makes hemming unnecessary so this project requires very little sewing and made excellent skirts for Oberon's fairies from A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Second, the problem of creating animal costumes for humans has plagued many drectors. Here is a simple solution for Bottom, who has been cursed with the head of a donkey. A black ski mask covered in Faux fur with two large ears protruding from the top gives just the right touch. Of course it can't compare with a full-blown donkey head, but this one won't break the bank and is easy to act in.

Got great ideas like these? Take a photo and send them along with basic instructions to Dramorama ideas c/o Mark @ Markrmorris2@sbcglopbal.net.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Sewing 101

Okay, here it is, big confession.....I don't.....know how....to sew. Or at least, that is I didn't until our recent production of Two by Two, a musical comedy base d on the story of Noah's Ark. when faced with the reality that we did not have fitting costumes for our female cast I did what any cool headed director would do, I panicked!

After I calmed down I began to assess the situation and came to the conclusion that it was time after twelve years fo building costumes with staples and hot glue to bite the bullet, buy a patern and get sewing!

Here are Mark's top ten tips for beginning tailors.

Number ten: Start small. I bought the easiest pattern I could find that gave me the look I wanted. Anytime you are learning something new, if possible give yourself the best odds of success and start simple.

Number nine: Stick to the script. on the back of your pattern package there shouldbe a list of materials you need, buy them! don't assume you understand what they will be used for if you have never done this before.

Number eight: Seek expert advice. Unlike home centers, who generally hire anyone with a pulse, fabric stores are usually staffed by knowledgeable people who are more than willing to help someone get started in their favorite hobby. thye can help you sort out what kind of elastic, thread, hook and eye fasteners, etc. you will need to make success a surety.

Number seven: Take your time. Do not go when you have fifteen minutes to spare. Even with the expert help you will need plenty of time to navigate this newfound universe. Just like any other project the planning period is often the most essential, so get it right.

Number six: Make sure you have the right tools. No the "craft" scissors will not do for cutting through the heavy faux fur and denim you will need to create that stunning Xena Warrior princess outfit. Get good scissors, extra needles, plenty of thread and anything else your expert suggests that fits into your budget. Remember if all goes well you will be using this stuff again.

Number five: Watch someone else do it. Teh first time you need to thread the machine or fill a bobbin you will want someone to demonstrate the proper technique, trust me. So call Mom or Grandma and ask them for a lesson or two. IT shouldn't take long but will save you hours of trying to unriddle the directions in "You Can Sew" or whatever publication you picked up in the junk store, besides the woman on the cover has a beehive hairdo, how current can the info be?

Number four: Start cheap. Don't go out on a limb with forty dollar a yard fabric on your first time out. If you have to abandon this sucker midstream you don't want it taking down your entire costume budget with it. Go to Wally World 10% of them still sell fabric, and they have discount tables. As always start at the cheap stuff. If they have what you want you win and if not you can always spend more.

Number three: Read the instructions. Before cutting any fabric, or even cutting your pattern out read the instructions and decipher the pictures. Call for help on any terms you don't understand. Look at a similar finished garment if possible to help you understand, but whatever you do, understand it before you do it.

Number two: Don't be afraid. You bought cheap fabric, you know how not to set off the self destruct on the machine, how bad can it get? the worst thing that happens is you have to start over or get help. As a side note to this one, fix your mistakes as you catch them so they don't pile up and ruin the effort.

And the number one tip: Have fun. Enjoy your completed creation, send us pictures, wear it with pride. You have accomplished something many people are afraid to try,you can sew. Although I caution you not to spread that around.People like me are always looking for people like you to do stuff like this, so don't offer unless you mean it!

I've included a pic of my first effort, be sure and leave lots of nice coments about the superior quality of my work!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween Tricks for more treats!

Hey all you Halloween fans, here are a couple of really cool ideas that I found on the web. Sorry I know I ususally write my own stuff but these are fun I promise! by the way, make a cool costume this year? Want to share your idea with the world (really we have people from Japan on this site from time to time) snap a couple of good photos, write a list of materials and a few step by step instructions and send iot to Markrmorris2@sbcglobal.net and if we like it we'll post it! First here's a couple of monster makeup how tos here and here. and for the ladies here's some cool glam makeup ideas for a variety of characters. Fairy wings? We got you covered! Here is a blog with links to several fun costume ideas, funny and scary! And last but not least for the transformer fans a blog that shows you how to build yourself into Optimus Prime! Be sure to check out the cool prop how to over at the prop shop, happy tricker or treating!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

When looking for that special touch to make a costume look just so, don’t overlook the prop master’s friend, spray paint! It will stick and dry well on almost any fabric, including leather, although check vinyl and plastics in a small inconspicuous spot before going all out. It comes in a wide variety of colors and finishes and makes for great distressing.

Here is a brief tutorial on the Tinman costume we recently created for our production of “The Wiz”.

For those who don’t know, The Wiz, is an urban retelling of the classic Wizard of Oz complete with a magnificent soul music score, in which the tinman is a mechanical carnival midway barker left behind to rust into oblivion when his amusement park shuts down.

In our case we had recently produced the Wizard of Oz and due to a lack of time we were forced to use a “make do” off the shelf costume for the tinman. Here is a link to a similar costume you can order online.

One of the skills that any true theatre techie will develop early on is “prop eye” the ability to visualize that item on the shelf at Walmart or home depot as a part of something else. (with lots of hotglue and duck tape of course) For the tinman we needed to dress the suit up a little so I added boots, shoulder tabs, slinky sleeves, a “hubcap” collar, a pair of gauntlet gloves and a distressed finish.

For the boots we went directly to the prop outlet (also known as the Dollar Tree or $99 cent store) and purchased two small trash cans in bright colored plastic. We cut the bottoms out of these using a jigsaw. A box knife or keyhole saw would work as well. The actor then slips bare feet down through the top of the upside down can and replaces his foot ware, add a coat of distressed metal finish (more on that later) and voila!

The flip up tops from the center of the lids became the shoulder tabs. These were also distressed then attached using large safety pins to the shoulders of the costume. They could be more permanently attached using an upholstery needle and fishing line or heavy thread. The bottom edge was fastened to our slinky sleeves, and they too received the weathering treatment.

For the slinky sleeves look no further than your hardware store. This pair is made from one long dryer vent hose cut in half. They come in a couple of different diameters and should be able to fit all but the largest tinmen. Get your wire cutters ready and be extra careful to bend under any sharp points!

For the hubcap collar its back to the $1 store for a plastic “chrome” finish serving tray that you can easily cut the center from using a box knife. If the edges happen to be sharp a thin strip of duck tape folded over the edge should take care of it.

The gloves were simple garden gloves, brown jersey in this case. The gauntlets were cut from a piece of fun foam and attached with craft glue. We used the jersey gloves with the little rubber nubbies on them. The spray paint gave these a nice sheen but didn’t dry well so you might stick to the plain variety. ***the fun foam can be made into much more elaborate metallic pieces, check out this link here for details***

Now for the finish. You will want gray spray primer, a nice rich brown spray, cheap (I prefer Walmart brand) silver, gold and flat black. Make sure you give the plastic trash cans a good coat of primer to help your finish last before applying color. I sprayed all of my [parts separately but you could just as easily spray the whole getup. Lightly streak the red, black and gold across the surface to give the appearance of rusty and grime. I did them in this order: brown, black, gold and finish up with a light dusting of silver to help blend.

New to spray paint? Less is more! Lightly press the nozzle as you move the can across the surface of the costume with a “brushing” motion. Don’t stay in one place too long or you’ll puddle and run. More light coats are superior to heavy coats, remember we are not trying to preserve the surface just enough to make it look good.

Just add a distressed straw boater hat, a junk pipe cain, a pair of silver sprayed shoes (see it works on almost anything) a little makeup (we used gold instead of silver, the features showed up better) and ease on down the road!

The actor pictured is Eric, a rookie who handled himself like a real pro!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Color is your friend!

Color can be a great tool in costuming! What do you think when you see a man dressed all in olive green? Military, right? What about solid black? Solid black with lots of safety pins and zippers? Solid black with a ski mask and black leather gloves? You get the idea.

By using color we can say a lot about a character that will be noticed right away! Ever see one of those black and white photos with one or two elements toned bright red? A character in contrasting colors will stand out. Dress a group of actors alike, identical or just similar, and suddenly they belong together. Put everyone in rags and one man in a tuxedo and everyone wants to know why. By using grouping and contrasting in your costume scheme you may find that some pieces you thought were interesting but unusable suddenly become usable.

When my company Family Theatre Warehouse produced Seussical, the Dr. Seuss musical, we looked at images from several professional and regional productions. Most of them showed the Whos either dressed all in bright colors (far too busy) or one solid color (such as yellow) to set them apart. We had already decided to use Seussian art work for our backdrop in bright colors, and since the script calls for no animal costumes, (so our animals were brightly dressed in more or less human clothes), we needed another way to set the tiny (in actuality full size actors) whos apart.

We went back to our best source, the work of Dr. Seuss himself, and came away with a solution. Since having all of one color of costume for such a large group would be expensive and impractical we decided to use Seuss’s own color scheme, black and white! Since all of our other characters were dressed in bright solids we now had a way to put whos onstage with others without confusion. The audience could instantly identify who was whos!

The image above features our youngest performers (junior company 4-7 yrs) in one of their numbers from this very fun production!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Great two tiered costume rack design!

Costume storage got you down? Tired of opening the closet to be buried by mounds of clothes? Budget too tight for expensive metal pipe racks? Try this two tiered wheeled costume rack and get sixteen bar feet in a four by three space! Build multiples and you’ll have a veritable costume storage smorgasbord! We built ours ten feet tall, but the height can be adjusted to fit your space.

You will need 6- 8’ 2x4, 2-10’ 2x4’s, 4- 3” castors, 2- 8’ pieces of 1 ½” metal electrical conduit, and 4 pairs of closet rod cup style brackets.

Begin by cutting your materials. CARPENTER’S NOTE: always start with your longest pieces first and work your way down to conserve material. All joints were made using 3” drywall screws, predrill your lumber especially on the diagonal bracing to prevent splitting.

Here is the cut list

2 pcs 2x4x10’ tall uprights

3pcs 2x4x4’ Middle spreaders

2 pcs 2x4x 32” bottom castor skids

4 pcs 2x4x 27 ½” costume bar support arms

4 pcs 2x4x 20”diagonal braces for castor skids (45 degree cut at each end)

8 pcs 2x4x 16” diagonal braces for pipe support arms

8 pcs 2x2x16” diagonal braces for tall uprights

8 pcs 2x4x12” inside support arm

Assemble the outside frame with the tall uprights on the outside of the middle spreaders. Using three inch screws fasten the four outside corners, then set the middle spreader in place @ 5’. Place your diagonal outside corner braces as per diagram.

Assemble pipe arm supports with 27 ½” arms down, place 1 inside support arm at each end, leaving a 3 ½” space to fit around upright in center. Fasten your pipe brackets to the inside face of the support arm.

Fasten top support arms at top end of upright using screws, attach diagonal arm support bracing. Next fasten bottom support arm at 5’ from bottom and attaché diagonal braces.

Now fasten your castor skids to the bottom of uprights and attach braces. Screw castors to the bottom of the skids.

Using a hacksaw or reciprocating saw, measure and cut pipe to fit between brackets, leave 1/8” slack to allow easy installation. Install pipe, stand rack upright and hang costumes! On several of ours we have added plywood shelves at the bottom to keep costumes from falling into castor wheels. We also added coat hooks to face of one end of upright to allow costumes to be hung temporarily for pulling. Make sure that you keep a ladder or step stool handy for the top racks. And always load rack evenly to prevent imbalance.

Got another great storage idea? Send description and pictures to Markrmorris2@sbcglobal.net for consideration and possible publication here on Dramorama.com!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Add thirty years in thirty minutes! Age makeup 101

Need to get old really fast? Start your own theatre company I guarantee you’ll age twenty years in the first five minutes! But seriously, age makeup, how do we do it?

First of all you need to decide, how much age do we really need? Is the character just supposed to be a parent but is being played by someone the same age as the child? I suggest using costume, posture, mannerisms, etc. In short makeup will not do your acting for you and if the difference you want is not that great it is probably a question of acting, not makeup.

On the other hand, if you’re playing Methusaleh (oldest man in the Bible recorded as 969 yrs) then makeup is in order. Start with the hair, as it will be easier to whiten the hair without messing up your hard work on the face. Hair white is a makeup product that can be brushed on and maintains a good covering. Other methods include white or silver aerosol hairspray, and cornstarch or baby powder applied over fresh hairspray (to make it stick) followed by a good coat of hairspray(to seal it.)

On to the face. Start with base, always start with base. The base is the foundation for any good makeup application. In order to select the proper base you should test the color on the inside of the wrist of the actor in question. You are looking for a color just a shade lighter than the actual skin tone. Apply this evenly and liberally to all exposed facial skin including the front and back of the neck and the ears. The best applicator is a foam sponge. At this phase you will also need to apply a brown eyeliner or a line of eyebrow pencil to line the eyes. Also lipstick, for women whatever color you would use for this character, for men or a natural un made up look, a red brown color is best. Make sure it has no glitter or sheen, we are looking for a matte finish.

Every good paint job for the stage whether scenery or makeup requires the use of at least three shades, a base, a highlight and a shadow. To find the proper shadow and highlight colors use your base as a reference. You will want a shadow with the same color temperature (warm is more red or brown, cool is more blue or green) as your base, just a shade darker. It may work best to blend a small amount of base with a darker color to get the desired effect. For highlights you may be able to use straight white, or for darker complexions use the above method only going lighter.

Once you have the base in place it is time to sketch out where you want your wrinkles and shadows. Think of it as letting the air out. As we get older our skeleton remains the same but the fatty tissue and the elastic nature of our skin begins to change, causing the skin to hang a little looser. To determine where the wrinkles on a young face will be ask the actor to squint, wrinkle their brow, smile, frown, etc. to find the natural folds in their skin. Line these with a red-brown eyebrow or makeup liner pencil. We will come back to these later.

Shadows belong where shadows already fall, we are just exaggerating them. Along the sides of the nose, under the cheekbones (you can find this line by having the actor suck in their cheeks or make a “fish face”) under the eyes, and along the chin line are places shadows normally occur. Using your pencil draw lines indicating the edge of your shadow. Now fill in the area furthest from the light running up to your line. You can apply this makeup either with a small soft brush, a foam sponge wedge, or my personal favorite, a well cleaned fingertip. Most makeup artists use a combination of those three.
In order to make your wrinkles and shadows appear three dimensional, instead of just looking like dirt, it is necessary to add highlights. In nature, every shadow has a highlight. This is the line where light is most reflected, causing the shadow to have a stronger contrast. With a narrow, semi-stiff brush place a very light line of highlight along the bottom edge of each wrinkle, yes it looks stupid, just trust me! Now place a little heavier line of highlight above each shadowed area.

Almost done. Now, using the makeup sponge wedge from your base step, carefully and gently pat the whole face. This gentle patting motion lifts a little of each color, slightly blending them and softening the lines. Just before it starts to look really good to you up close, stop, step back and squint just slightly. This is a good way to see the basic effect of your work from an audience perspective. Remember this is going to be seen from a distance under intense lights, it needs to be slightly exaggerated.

Now, using translucent powder and a big soft powder brush apply a liberal coat over the whole face, dusting it off gently. Momentarily your lines and shadows will appear less crisp and almost seem to disappear, but if you are using a good TRANSLUCENT powder, the skins natural oils will absorb into the powder in a few minutes bringing your work back to the surface. DO NOT use baby powder, over the counter cosmetic powder, or flesh colored powder with a lot of pigments as these will negatively affect your makeup.

Step back and take a look at your work, you may surprised at how well you have done. If not, don’t worry it’s makeup and it will wash off. Don’t give up, take a break and try again. In no time you’ll be aging actors like a pro.