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August 2014



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Apr. 25th, 2014

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Class projects: the rest of the complex projects!

Here's part two of my Masks & Armor students' final projects! Some totally mindboggling stuff here.

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Such an amazing group of students! Their work has been really outstanding to watch it all come together.

Apr. 24th, 2014

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Class projects: more simple armor and a couple complex projects

So, i think i've mentioned before that my students do a simple and a complex armor project in the last part of the semester. These are sort of rough definitions, usually the simple projects are just smaller in scale or less complicated in materials used. I posted a while back about a few of the simple projects, and today i have a few more of those to share, as well as a couple images of complex projects (with more to come tomorrow as well!).

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Mar. 23rd, 2013


Some Cabaret lederwerk

Co-crafts artisan Candy McClernan and I have been hard at work on Cabaret--tech starts in a week! I've written quite a bit about all the cool projects she's been heading up, such as her screenprinted spandex map fabric and her digital textile prints of zeppelins and Deutschmarks, but I've not talked about any of my own projects.

When Candy and I looked at the crafts on this show and discussed how to divide up the workload, we had to take a lot of different factors into consideration: the time we had to produce things, where each of our strengths and interests lie, and how many things we knew would have to be made in-house. Because of the highly specific aesthetic nature of the designs, our made-to-order crafts list is pretty long on this one, and full of tons of really cool and exciting projects.

Whenever i share a crafts workload on equal footing with a graduate student (this happens when they are in their second or third year, and usually when they intend to pursue a crafts-centric career), I try as much as possible to give the student "first dibs." What areas and projects are they particularly drawn to? After all, part of this whole thing is to educate the students in a practical production environment, to give them opportunities to produce professional work that appears onstage in a regionally-staged production. And, besides, this is my job. I will always have more cool crafts to make, while they're in grad school for only three years.

Since Candy has a particular interest in the applications of digital technologies to the field of costume production, when i saw how many digital fabric prints and other related projects this show afforded us, I suspected she'd want to be in charge of those, and i was right! As you've seen from the prior posts, she's been doing a great job, too.

And, i'll own up to the fact that the project i'm going to talk about today, i was really wanting to do, so i'm glad we didn't have to jump into Thunderdome over it--that's the leatherwork! I love working with leather in applications like these, and really, i think if i had to pick an area of crafts to specialize in, it would be a hard decision but leatherwork would be one of the top contenders.

I first really learned a lot about leatherwork when i was living in Boston and working at the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard. My contract was one of those "swiss cheese contracts," where you wind up on for a month, off for a month, and it can be hard to pick up gainful employment sometimes in and around that sort of gig. I freelanced all over the place and had a couple of other jobs, but my absolute favorite was doing patternmaking and production work at a custom retail leather shop. Most of the shop's clients were of the "leather daddy"/fetish variety, and much of what we made consisted of custom-fit leather pants, chaps, vests, and a variety of things made of straps. We also got commissions for things like leather corsets, hats, and even adding cavalier-bells to the tops of boots. (This was before Disney made pirates popular enough for those things to exist off-the-rack.)

I learned four methods for making straps from leather, each suited to a different aesthetic or functional application, and i learned invaluable skills like laying out patterns on hides, estimating square footage of leather by hide or by project, and how sewing with leather differs from fabric. It remains the absolute best non-theatre job i've had in my life, and i try to pass on at least some of the knowledge i gained there to my students. The place is defunct, long out of business at this point, or else i'd give them a link here.

Anyway, when i saw the leather elements Cabaret's costumes would require, i did a little dance, because i could not wait to get my hands on some beautiful hides and start work!

The major project of this sort is a part of the look for the Emcee and the Kit Kat Girls for the "Money" number, in which the costumes are a sort of fetishy-burlesque take-off on dirndls and lederhosen. Recall from the post about making our Deutschmark fabric, that designer Jen Caprio's renderings looked thus:
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Nov. 13th, 2012


The tail end.

Imaginary Invalid closed on Sunday, so the show's run managed to beat me to the finish of this tail-making saga. Nevertheless, here's the final conclusion, or as i like to say, the tail end!

If you need a refresher on what's happened so far, the whole thing began with a two-part post on the silicone/spandex process by which third-year graduate student Adrienne Corral created a set of lizard skin samples, an effect which was ultimately not used, as the designer elected to go with actual leather instead. Those are here and here.

Next, we looked at how the tail skeleton went together with aluminum conduit and hose clamps.

This most recent post addresses how the embossed alligator hide got turned into the skin for the skeleton.

Now, finally, let's get to the finishing work!

Recall that this entire process, we had been working on the structure based on the information that it needed to be capable of being altered to fit multiple performers, that this person would be crossing the stage and possibly running or climbing, and the tail's movement needed to be as realistic as possible.

As a crafts artisan, you have to be very flexible with new script development, and be able to roll with the changes as deftly as possible. I think by the time we opened, we had been asked whether the tail could go on three different actors, and at one point it was even potentialy going to be cut altogether.

Operating with the understanding that the wearer was running and possibly climbing in it, and that the skin had to be this leather hide, we had engineered the skeleton to be as lightweight as possible, and created it in segments so that the movement could remain as sinuous as possible (think about those hinged wooden snake toys).

In tech, the exploration of the performance turned out such that the wearer now needed to recline on the ground, wrap the tail around his leg, and run offstage. Our efforts to minimize the weight and maintain the sinuous movement however meant that the structure was not engineered to support this new movement--the tail segments collapsed and looked stupid when the actor lay down or bent the tail manually himself.

In a longer production period, or in a world where we have time travel, given these kinds of new movements, ideally re-engineering the entire tail concept would be in order. When this type of situation arises during Saturday of tech weekend, that's when you really have to get creative! We didn't have the budget or time to make a new skeleton or any different configuration of the leather "skin," so I decided we really just needed to find a way to stuff the tail as quickly as possible, with as lightweight but sturdy material as possible, with a minimum of deconstruction.

First, we skinned the tail back to its pointy tip. I had a couple of assistants begin cubing scrap couch foam for the stuffing--couch foam (or urethane foam) is a good combination of lightweight and sturdy, and best of all it was free.

Next I patterned a large "tube sock" from green spandex that would drop down around the skeleton and contain the stuffing. We secured the tube sock to the bottom-most hose-clamp, and began working upward, segment by segment: stuff the sock from clamp to clamp, whipstitch it down to the next set of "ribs," then reattach the leather over top. Repeat. At this point, the tail production was a free-for-all pile-up--every person in the entire shop had their hands on it at one point or another in order to get it done.

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Nov. 9th, 2012


Ongoing lizard tail adventures...

The next (but not final!) installment in the lizard tail adventure: a photoessay of sorts! When last we left the process, there had been a skeleton constructed and a vinyl "skin" pattern cut out.

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Oct. 26th, 2012

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From Lizard Skin to Lizard Tail, continued...

Recall the saga of the lizard skin samples, from two prior posts here and here...but what happened after that?

Those samples were the preliminary experiments on the creation of a man-sized reptile tail for a new translation of Moliere's Imaginary Invalid at PlayMakers Repertory Company of Chapel Hill, NC.

For the first round of fittings with our designer, Sonya Berlovitz, third year graduate Adrienne Corral had created an initial tail mockup for scale and shape, and for skin choices we had all our spandex samples as well as some samples of croc and gator embossed vinyls and leathers.

At this point in the process, what we knew about the tail was that someone would be wearing it during a hallucination scene in which one character goes to hell (though exactly whom was as yet undecided), that this person would be crossing the stage and possibly running or climbing, and the tail's movement needed to be as realistic as possible.

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May. 2nd, 2012

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Final armor projects!

Here are the rest of my Masks and Armor class final presentations. Some amazing stuff in here, such a great group.

deep sea divers, Klingons, and warrior womenCollapse )

Apr. 30th, 2012


Complex armor, round one!

My students present their final armor projects tomorrow, but two of them were floating around the shop today, ready to go, so i photographed them early. There will be more coming tomorrow, but for now, check these out:

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Apr. 25th, 2012


Classes: Let the finals begin!

We're heading into finals in the academic end of things, and i have a couple of teaser photos to share before things really get cranking.

Judy Adamson's beginning draping class has a couple of super sweet half drapes out in the hallway that i just had to take a photo of. And, my masks and armor folks have had their final presentations pushed back to May 1st, but one student is completely done and her work is SO FAB (hi samurai helmet) that i can't keep it under wraps.

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Apr. 19th, 2012

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Class: A few armor projects...

My Masks and Armor class presented simple armor projects today, and i have a few images to share.

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