PCS Props Wizardry: Insect Puppets in A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Posted by Kinsley Suer | 19 December 2012
If you’ve seen our production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream
, you might have felt like you experienced a little bit of theatrical magic. But the production crew has to rely on more than pixie dust to bring the fairy world of Titania and Oberon to life. Among other things, the props team was tasked with creating custom, oversized insect puppets of colorful butterflies and threatening spiders to complement the atmosphere of the enchanted forest. (In case you couldn’t tell, our mantra for this show was “MAGICAL!”)
Below, PCS Props Artisan Rachel Schmerge describes the transformation from humble little
caterpillars bits of foam and fabric into beautiful butterflies.
The props team started with drawings and research by the show’s scenic designer, Michael Vaughn Sims.
The sketch above explains the functionality of Puck’s butterfly and its moving wings.
We also researched the various insects that we were going to be re-creating. Above are a couple of images of the actual insects we modeled the puppets after for the show.
Next, we cut out rough outlines of the butterflies’ bodies in wood and foam, which we laminated together.
We carved the bodies to look more like bulbous insect abdomen, and coated the foam in cheesecloth and plaster to make it harder and more durable. The bodies were covered in an assortment of textural fabrics: faux fur, pleather, spandex, fleece, painted silk, etc., to which we added wire antennae and button eyes.
The body of Puck’s butterfly was modeled after a Monarch butterfly’s abdomen. Its legs were made out of a wire base, covered with stretchy black fabric sewn into little butterfly "leggings," rubber tubing and fake fur processed by a heat gun. They were welded to a homemade metal bracket and attached to the abdomen.
The photo above shows the mostly finished bodies of the Adonis Blue moth, the Black-Veined White moth and the Orb Weaver spider.
For the wings, we started by bending wire to fit the various shapes of the butterflies’ wings, then stretched silk organza around the wire and sewed it into place.
Next, we sketched the pattern of the wings in pencil and carefully painted on thin lines of dye resist over it, so the colors wouldn’t bleed together. We hand painted the colorful silk dye onto the wings, building up the color with multiple layers like a watercolor painting.
The photos above show the Adonis Blue moth wings in progress.
We're almost done with Puck's butterfly!
The last step was to attach the wings and legs to the bodies and add clear plastic rods for the actors to maneuver. On Puck's butterfly, we engineered a metal contraption that works like an umbrella so that the wings could flap.
Above, Props Master Michael poses with the completed Adonis Blue moth.
The photos above are of the completed Black-Veined White butterfly (left) and Puck’s butterfly (right).
As often happens in the wonderful world of props, some of the puppets were cut from the show during tech rehearsals. So here is a sneak peek of a few insect puppets that didn’t make the final show!
On the left if a a lightning bug with a light-up tail. On the right is the Golden Orb Weaver spider. And in the middle, both insects are on the loose backstage at the Armory!
On the left, Props Artisan Rachel poses with a lightning bug whose tail lights up. In the middle, Assistant Artisan Kat poses with the completed Wolf spider. And on the right, Assistant Artisan Danielle poses with Puck’s butterfly.
Come to a performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream and see the butterflies in action! The show runs through December 23.