Costumes Galore!!

So, there are three beautiful women about to hit the stage to perform The Smell of the Kill, a thesis production directed by Heidi Hostetler, and it is my job to make sure they look the part. The wonderful thing about these three women is that they have completely different personalities and, therefore, completely different taste in wardrobe.

First we have Nikki, a strong and powerful woman with ambition and a mind of her own. She is very business-like, but a mother, so she needed to appear hard around the edges, yet soft in a subtle way. Her costume was by far the easiest for me to conquer.

Next we have the “came from money, has money, will always have money” Molly, who seems a bit on the airy side. She has an innocence to her, yet a deviance inside that is lusting to escape the shell she’s been living in for years.

Lastly, there is the conservative Debra, a has-been Real Estate agent whose money is gone. Debra still lives in her glory days of her working years, and her look which was once sharp and sophisticated has become shabby and desperate.

It has been challenging finding the right pieces for each character, but I have made extreme progress over the past week, and my excitement is growing exponentially! Classy and sophisticated, with a few mind-blowing surprises, these women will hit the stage with beauty and confidence as they awe the crowd with their amazing performance. I was truly blessed to be chosen to clothe them!

Mark your calanders, because you won’t want to miss this show!

See you there!
Cate Christie



The Art of Making Ceramics

As I promised in my last blog entry, I will be using this post to explain the process of how to make ceramics.  When people find out that I actually make and paint ceramics in my free time when I go home, they get all freaked out and think that I have some crazy and amazing skill that doesn’t exist else where in the world. However, making ceramics is actually very easy, even little kids (at the age of 4 and 5) can paint their own ceramics and have it look like a nice work of art to be displayed.  The process, however, does take time; I would say the least amount of time it would take to make your own ceramic and paint it would be about three days.  The reason it takes so long is quite a story, so if you keep reading you will find out 🙂

The first step in ceramics is actually making the piece.  This is done using what we call slip, which is actually a form of mud.  We take the mold of whatever we want to make, let’s say a clock, and we rubber band the two sides together to prevent leaking and then fill the mold with slip:

This is actually a picture of a clock mold (the same clock that I showed being broken in the previous blog) that has already been filled.  Before you can actually use the slip you have to add ammonia to the mixture. (I’m actually not entirely sure why but it has to do with the chemistry of it.)

After this is done you have to wait for the slip to start to dry and thus thicken to the thickness of the object.  You can also tailor this to your own preference, if you want something to be thinner you just don’t wait as long.  Usually the wait time is about 30 minutes.  Then you pour out the excess slip into the slip table. (The slip table is what holds the slip and when you turn it on, it churns so the slip doesn’t dry out.  If it does dry out you simply add water and churn it a while.)

The slip table is also where the slip comes from to pour into the mold.  There is a hose attached to the side that can be turned on and off for use.  As you can see from this picture, the beginnings of this process is a very messy one (but playing in mud is always worth the dirty that comes with it).

Once you pour out the mold of the extra slip, you get to play the waiting game again, except this time it takes longer.  You have to wait for the slip to dry enough so that you can take it out of the mold.  This will usually take a couple of hours.  Once it is dry you have to clear the edges of the mold of any excess dried slip so the piece comes out:

After this step you can now remove the rubber bands and take the mold off of your piece:

This is my grandpa taking the mold off of the clock.  As you can see the slip wasn’t all the way dry right in the middle so some of it came off.  When this happens you can fix it by “painting” on liquid slip to cover the disfigured area.  Now you have a piece that has gone from plain slip to what we call greenware.  This greenware now has to sit and dry completely.  Depending on the moisture in the air and the temperature outside (and in our basement), this drying period can take anywhere from 2 to 5 days, and if the air is really moist, it can take even longer than that.  Here are a couple of pictures of greenware:

This is the cookie jar being used in the show, before it was cooked and painted.

Once the greenware dries, it is time to cook it at extreme temperatures.  The “oven” we use is called a kiln, and it reaches temperatures into the thousands.  Depending on whether you are cooking greenware or glazed pieces will determine the temperature as they should not be cooked together (although it has been done).  I don’t fully understand how the kiln works other than it gets really, really hot, but I do know that there are things called cones (which are orange pieces of metal, at least that’s what they look like) that get placed in a certain location of the kiln and when these reach a certain temperature they bend and shut the kiln off.  There is also a backup system that will cut the kiln off after a certain number of hours.  Here is a picture of our kilns:

The one in the front is our largest kiln, and you can see our smaller one for smaller loads in the back with two dark brown mugs sitting on it.

Once the kiln is turned off you have to wait several hours for it to cool down before you can take the ceramic out of the oven.  If a ceramic is removed from the kiln too early it will crack, and it will be no more.  The last load we cooked was this past weekend, and we cooked two pitchers and a crock, which we should have used the small kiln for but didn’t because it is in the process of being fixed 😦  We cooked them for 6 hours over night (turning the kiln on at about 10pm), and we were able to take the pieces out around noonish/1 pm the next day.  However, that was very fast because it was so cold outside that night and morning; we thought we wouldn’t be able to take them out until the following night.  Once you have taken the piece out of the kiln, it is now called bisque.  Bisque is the hard white version of the slippery mud that you started out with.  Now it is paintable.

And that folks is the art of making ceramics.

Coming soon:  Update on where we stand with props 🙂


PHOTOS: April 12th Rehearsal

Actresses Kylie McCormick (Molly) and Brittany Kemmer (Nicky) rehearse an intense conversation.

Director Heidi Hostetler discusses blocking with actresses Brittany Kemmer (Nicky) and Kylie McCormick (Molly).

Actresses Emma Sperka (Debra), Brittany Kemmer (Nicky) and Kylie McCormick (Molly) rehearse a scene from The Smell of the Kill.

Director Heidi Hostetler and production stage manager Kat Osborn block a fight between actresses Emma Sperka (Debra) and Kylie McCormick (Molly).

Heidi Hostetler directs actresses Brittany Kemmer (Nicky), Emma Sperka (Debra) and Kylie McCormick (Molly) in a fight scene for The Smell of the Kill.

Production stage manager Kat Osborn steps in to demonstrate a stage combat maneuver with actress Emma Sperka (Debra) and Kylie McCormick (Molly).


The Story of Props

A play set in a kitchen can become pretty expensive in the area of properties from the dining set, to the silver ware, to the serving dishes, to the food, and then all of the set dressings to make the kitchen look homey.  However, when working with a low budget expensive cannot be an option.  My name is Cadie Burks and I am the props designer for The Smell of the Kill, and I like having the challenge of a low budget and I always try to shoot under the budget given to my area.  So, when Heidi asked me to be on her production team as Props Designer I said yes and immediately got to work.  Knowing what kinds of things that the show calls for (a clock that breaks, a plate that breaks, etc) I called my grandparents who just so happen to have a ceramic shop in their basement and I asked if I could use their shop and they agreed.  Next on my list was to figure out how to make these things break.  When it comes to props it’s trial and error over and over again.  First, we tried baking a clock and a plate at a lower temperature than normal so that it would break easily but then found that it broke too easily.  (If you are interested in how ceramics are made, keep an eye out for another post by me with explanations and pictures!)

When breaking something on stage you want to be able to recreate this breaking as close as possible every night, meaning you want the pieces to fall in the same place with as many pieces each night to decrease the level of danger.  So this idea failed and we have moved on to the next idea:  Using a regular plate to make a clock (this is easy, you just need a plate and a clock set) and pre-breaking the plate, gluing it back together, and breaking it by pulling the middle of the clock inward with fishing line when the gun goes off.  This idea has not yet been tested, but will be soon and there should be pictures when this testing occurs. 🙂

Another technique of props designing is recreating something that is commonly found in a store, such as Wasp Spray Killer.  To try to cut down on expenses, I decided to go in to PowerpPint and design my own wasp spray killer label and just put it on a spray bottle that didn’t work anymore, seeing as this prop is actually not used but only handled on stage.

Other props for this show that I needed to find/make that we didn’t already have in the Hollins University props storage are a baby monitor, a trash can, serving dishes, glass ware, pitcher, a mixer, baby vomit, and a cookie jar.  Some of these, like the cookie jar, pitcher, serving dishes, and baby vomit, will be or have been made:

The pitcher will be painted with either green or red polka dots (most likely red)

The baby vomit above was a trial run made with baking soda and water.  The actual prop will most likely be made with oatmeal and possibly baby food.

The mixer was borrowed from the technical director of the Hollins Theatre, John Forsman, and can be seen below:

The above picture is also a picture of the cabinet that the props are being stored in for the show.

The baby monitor is proving to be a difficult prop.  Baby monitors are relatively expensive ($16 being the cheapest and then you need the batteries).  Now we had found someone to let us borrow their old monitor but it turned out that it didn’t work anymore.  So my grandmother had one we could use but the battery pack was dead and it cost $16 and shipping to order a new one…so now we are still on the lookout for a baby monitor.  I think we will be able to borrow one from the music directer of the Hollins Theatre musicals as long as hers has a working battery.  Now, with these baby monitors also comes the option of a DC adapter in the hand held part.  And the baby monitor from my grandparents works now because we fixed up a DC adapter to it but the blocking currently used on stage needs one that functions by battery and thus can be carried around the stage in someones hand, which is why this prop is proving difficult.

Other props in the wood work are food and heavy cream which will be donated by Sodexho, the on-campus dining company, bowls, and other set dressings like roosters for decoration, vases of flowers, refrigerator magnets, etc. that a normal kitchen would have.

The journey to finding props that fit a show is a most interesting one indeed and it is one of my favorite things to do in the whole world.  So this was a peak in to the exploration of props that I am currently undergoing.  There will hopefully be more pictures up soon as I complete the project.  Please come out and support the arts by coming to see this show!!


Welcome to “The Smell of the Kill”

Welcome to the Production Blog for Hollins University’s thesis project performance of The Smell of the Kill, a dark comedy by Michele Lowe. Through this blog, you’ll be able to follow the entire play production process, from set designs to costume selections to final rehearsals.

The Smell of the Kill is directed by Hollins University senior Heidi Hostetler, backed by a cast and crew of dedicated Hollins students. In the coming weeks, you’ll be able to meet these young women and learn about the The Smell of the Kill as the cast and crew share their perspectives and experiences in text, photos and videos.

This production of The Smell of the Kill hits the stage on Friday, May 7 and Saturday, May 8, 2010. Tickets are free and open to the general public.