Archive for January, 2009


Making props for Marie

January 30, 2009

Guest writer: Brian Walker, production manager

So once again we are in prop land.  You may remember my post from the last big show we built, The Core.  During that show, our big push was making period-appropriate props.  This time around, my big push is making food props.  During the 2nd act of our new ballet Marie, there is a food fight on stage.  Since you can’t really throw real food around, we had to make fake food.  The directive we had was that it had to not hurt (too much) if it hit someone, and it couldn’t bounce around when it fell on the ground.   For rehearsal purposes, we pulled together some small toy soccer balls and a few other soft toys.  Our production director Tom Boyd also made a few other appropriately shaped food items (turkey legs, hams, and small cakes).

For the show, some of the rehearsal items were good enough to be reused to make the real items.  Most of the food items are simply foam rubber with weights glued into the middle of them.  They get covered with cheese cloth and then coated in a latex compound to seal it.  Once they have had several layers of the latex, they will eventually be painted to look like food.  These pictures show some of the exsisting food props in process of being coated.



This is the prototype pig that was made by Tom for rehearsals.  He plans to make another one.  I personally think this one is pretty good considering it’s foam and cheese cloth, but you can’t fault a perfectionist.


One of the ways we thought it would be easiest to make food props would be with hackie sacks.  We put in a bulk order, and I went to work. I had to do some thinking about what other food items we could make that would be appropriate for the dinner table of Marie Antoinette.  I of course went right to escargot.  I have had escargot, and to be quite honest, I don’t really get it…but who am I to question French Royalty?  So how do you make a hackie sack into a delicacy like escargot???  Well I’ll tell you.  First, obviously you start with the hackie sack which you cut open to reveal the plastic pieces that fill the ball and give it it’s shape.



Some of the plastic pieces are removed to make room for the 3 oz lead fishing weight that will be stuck inside.  This will help give the finished escargot some weight so that they don’t bounce around as much.  It will also help make them easier to throw across the stage.


Once the hackie sack has been weighted and sealed back up, a strip of foam is cut.  The thickness varies, mostly because it’s hand cut…and cutting foam isn’t an exacting art.  The foam is then shaped, rounded at the top and tapered toward the bottom and then split about 2/3 up.  This first piece was the prototype, so you’ll have to forgive how rough this one looks.  I promise they got better.



Once the foam is cut and shaped, the hackie sack is glued into place toward the “top” of the foam about 1 inch from the edge.  Once it’s in place, the hackie sack is curved (and glued) into the foam toward the split.



The split foam is then curled and glued into place around the sides of the hackie sack, giving you a snail shape.  Once the hot glue hardens (and the burns on my fingers heal) the snail shape is covered in cheese cloth and then coated in the latex compound.  It took quite a few layers to get them well sealed and solid.  You don’t want the latex to be too thin; otherwise, they won’t survive being tossed around.   Once the latex dries, they are painted and given the escargot “garnish” of green foam.  Then you have a finished hackie sack, escargot-style.






Two press items of note

January 26, 2009

We got two great stories in the Houston Chronicle this weekend. In case you missed them:

-We announced our 09-10 season…more information can be found on our website.

-Molly Glentzer wrote a great story about our photo shoot with the snakes (which you’ll probably remember from a recent post in October).  Read more here.


Drowning in Marie…

January 16, 2009

Guest writer: Laura Lynch, costume shop supervisor

Marie…yet another world premiere here at the Houston Ballet…(designed by Kandis Cook). This is an exciting project. Wonderful history to pull from and the cushion of using a designer we have worked with before. Working together previously has so many benefits. You both know one another’s work habits and communication is smooth, just to name a couple.

Now for a bit of trivia – as of today the number of costumes we’ve produced in the costume shop is:

For the women:
79 Skirts
73 Corsets
38 Overjackets
14 Polonaise
65 Paniers
63 Hats
5 Aprons
11 Blouses
17 Fichues
5 Masks
1 Peacock Tail
1 ‘Construct’ Wedding Dress
1 Parasol

For the men:
38 Shirts
62 Pants
96 Vests
76 Jackets
48 Hats
17 Baldricks
16 Sashs
45 Cravats
41 Cuff Sets
25 Specialty tights
40 Tights
1 Hankie
45 Cockades
1 Chain of Office
1 Mask
1 Wing ‘cape’

So at this time we are looking at 926 costume items. And that’s not even including jewelry and hand props (like fans, etc.).

Marie also has more wigs than most of our productions, and we are so fortunate to be working with London-based Danuta Finbow as our wig designer. There are 75 wigs, wiglets and Q’s being used from existing or prebuilt hair. Danuta is building 15 wigs from sketch to completion. So our wig total for this production comes in at 90 wigs.

Shoes are an important aspect of any ballet. Wardrobe’s second assistant Erin Lee gathers all necessary information, and with the assistance of “shoe lady” Genie Lanfear and production coordinator Kate Eubanks pulls together all the necessary footwear.

This week we are in final fittings with the designer and will begin all the finishing work to pull the production together. Wardrobe’s first assistant Jerry Wolf is busy gathering information that will tell him what he needs to do to run the show at the theatre, i.e. how many dressers we’ll need, where costume changes will take place, laundry issues, load-in, fitting schedules, etc.

The costume shop (full of drapers, cutters, crafts technicians, interns, and volunteers) has been working on Marie for the last 12 months, all while building, altering, and restoring other productions simultaneously.

My job as the supervisor is to oversee the entire process and keep us on budget. How’s that for a job description in one line? All joking aside, this process is familiar, like any other large build. The fun is that it’s a new production, and of course the costumes are fantastic. The crew here at the Houston Ballet is an incredibly talented group of people – collectively there are many decades of experience. This is my twelfth season with the Ballet, and this production is something I am very proud to have been a part of.

Hopefully you can join us on February 26 to see all of our hard work on the stage!



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