I'm a jack-of-all-trades. I sew. I build. I paint. I design. I orchestrate. I rehearse. If you need something done, with attention to small details, then I'm your gal.
I am a team player and I work on all productions at school, even if they aren’t actually in my pervue. I do the advertising (trailer videos, programmes, mugshots) for the primary school productions. I do the advertising, props, small scenery, and costume touch-ups for the secondary drama plays. I do all that plus music orchestration and vocal rehearsals for the secondary musicals.
During our Wizard of Oz production weekend, I ran vocal rehearsals, decorated the foyer to look like a carnival, assembled three signposts using power tools, painted an 80cm hourglass (that I designed), sewed a vallance, and created fabric rosettes.
I love designing backdrops! Our stage is 14 X 7 m in size, so to get a nice quality backdrop, I need to use Adobe Illustrator’s vector images. Sometimes I simply facilitate printing, like when I purchased a high quality picture of a rain forest for our Yanomamo production. Sometimes, I purchase vector art and arrange them to create a backdrop, like for our Stella the Starfish production. Othertimes, I draw the backdrop by hand, like I did for Cinderella & Rockafella. Take a look at my backdrop below:
Being historically accurate is really important to me. The audience doesn’t know, but the kids know and I know, and that’s what’s important.
For our production of “Little Shop of Horrors,” I wanted a photo of evidence to be historically accurate, so I researched what actual evidence tags look like. Then, I researched how to make authentic-blood splatters. Once they were arranged correctly, I took a photo and printed it using a colour luts appropriate for the 1950s.
Our Midsummer’s Night Dream was set in 1920s Shanghai, and the director needed a money clip. I researched Chinese bank notes from that period and printed fake money that was historically accurate.
Our Wizard of Oz featured Ms. Gulch waving around a letter from the council. I researched the official Wichita seal from 1939, printed it on antiqued paper (using Illustrator), and handed folded it into an envelope using origami. For the Munchkin scene, I researched what actual death certificates look like, and then used the exact words on the coroner’s scroll. Afterward the play, the directors found the scroll and saw that the kids had completed it with their signatures in all the correct places.
These are the type of things that make the kids sigh, “ooooh. That’s sooo cool…” and it makes the director laugh and ask, “You do know it’ll only be on stage for 30 seconds, right?”
I make props for both on-stage and in the front foyer. In the examples below, I made our theatre foyer look like the Kansas State Fair, held in Wichita, Kansas.
This area of the foyer had four distinct projects – the Kansas State Fair poster, an area for printed programmes, the selfie spot advertising, and the hot air balloon basket. The Wizard of Oz selfie spot was created by an amazing set of Performing Arts mums; they really brought my vision to life. The basket was cut and reeded by our local handy man (John terBorg), after which I decorated it. This project combined some of my favourite things – graphic design and sewing.
It took me several weeks to design this cart, and then about 12 hours to assemble it. The cart actually only has a canopy with empty sides, so I printed sticky posters of wood and stuck them onto foam boards, then taped and stapled the foam boards to each of the posts. I researched what traveling salesmen posters were fashionable in the 1930s, and affixed them to the sides. I sewed the vallances at the top, and added the decorative bar in the middle (which is actually for structure, to help keep the foam bars on). The beautiful tile work came from kitchen tile sticky paper that I measured, cut, and hand placed into each hole. This task took forever, but I am emmensely proud of it.
3D Printing for Props
“Miss Keus, why do you have a 3D printer in your classroom?”
“Wait, what? Doesn’t everyone have a 3D printer in their classroom?”
I do. My printer was put to very good use in this production. We kept trying to source the perfect awards for our Tin Man and Cowardly Lion, but Taobao only has so much. I was considering using the school’s Glowforge, but since I already had a 3D printer at home, I thought I’d give that a go. I had a university student come over and teach me how to use it, and the very next day began printing parts. 3D printing take patience; painting is fun.
I don’t produce the school’s costumes, but I do tweak them. Only because I have an eye for details.
In a Midsummer Night’s Dream, the the king’s crown needed a bit more manliness about it, so I hot-glued a set of horns that I had ripped off a necklace to the crown.
I noticed that the poor tinkers’ costumes were all gorgeous, so I researched how to destress costumes. The Drama teacher and I had great fun spray painting the costumes, ripping the seamlines with pins, and rubbing them down with sandpaper.
I’m also handy with a sewing machine and needles. During “Return to the Forbidden Planet,” one of the leads split his pants on stage, but I was ready in the wings with the sewing machine ready to go. One of the girls was unhappy with the hang of her dress, so I pulled apart a necklace and hand-sewed it as a broch to the back of her dress, thus synching it.
I don’t design the scenery, but I tweak what I see.
This was from our production of “Return to the Forbidden Planet.” I assembled my props team of students, and together we created 1m square instrument panels, complete with knobs and flashing lights. We also made iPad-like tablets for the chorus to hold as they walked around the ship in the background.
For our production of Little Shop of Horrors, we had a professional engineer designing the structures for us. Everything was amazing! My job was to provide the tweaks. Again, I researched movie posters from the 1950s and had them printed 2m in size. I also printed the name, “Mushnik” on sticker paper for the store-front window. Lastly, my team of props students and I de-stressed garbage cans for the slums. I researched products from the 1950s and recovered existing boxes so that they were historically accurate. My team and I glued the garbage onto plates that were then attached to the garbage cans so that the backstage crew could pick up the can and move both them and the garbage at the same time.
Stage props needs to be big so they can be seen from the back of the theatre, but also practical so that the backstage crew can easily shift them.
Here’s some examples of advertisements that I made for the last few shows. The Drama team always purchases the advertising rights for shows, but they are often very poor quality. For boh “Forbidden Planet” and “Little Shop of Horrors,” the graphics were vectors that were turned into rastors, but with such poor quality that they were completely unusable. Thus, I normally have to start with the director’s vision and work from there. I often do two or three drafts and then ask which the directors’ like best, and then work from there.
Creating an advertising theme with a director is similar to working with a graphics house client – you have to find their vision and tweak until they are happy.
Primary School Programmes
The Secondary school programmes are double-sided A4 papers featuring the names of students. No problem. The hard work comes from the primary programmes.
Primary school programmes are based entirely around the children’s work. The primary Performing Arts teacher hands me a stack of hand-drawn artwork which I then scan and assemble into something cohesive and inclusive.
This cover is an amalgamation of many different posters. The geometric border came from one children’s artwork. The title came from another’s. The tagline from another’s. All the clipart came from multiple children. I then found a child’s artwork that had a lot of landscape background showing and used the clone tool in Photoshop to create a new background it fix A4 landscape.
In the example below, none of the children had drawn backgrounds that were suitable, so I put a blue gradient behind their drawings and added bubbles and water speckles.