Monday, March 29, 2010

Edible Flowers at The Skylight

Every so often, a script comes along in which the characters are chowing down on some non-edible item. Flowers are actually a fairly commonly eaten prop, believe it or not. I base this highly scientific conclusion on the fact that I've only been doing props for a few years, and this is not the first time this has come up. Now, in the case of flowers, there are a few options. The performer can fake the action, the performer can eat a real edible flower, or the props dept. can provide something edible that looks like the proper flower. Once, for an evening of opera scenes, the shop I was working in made a large Datura flower out of Fosshape, and substituted a piece of flour tortilla for one of the petals. When it was time for the performer to eat the deadly flower, she simply took a bite of the tortilla petal.

In The Skylight's current production of "A Day in Hollywood, A Night in the Ukraine" Harpo Marx (Ray Jivoff) eats a carnation. You know, like you do. The very talented ladies of The Skylight's prop shop offered Ray several options for his edible flower. Here is what Lisa Schlenker, Properties Manager, said about it:

" (The) performer preferred sugar to real carnations. This particular guy is rather infamous for his sheet cake addiction, so we were not surprised. (We used) vanilla fondant. Very user friendly. It has a modeling consistency sort of like warm fresh Apoxie Putty.The gum paste ended up being stickier and a pain to work with, and not as easy for the performer to bite and chew when it hardened, so we went with 100% fondant for all the flower parts. For the green petioles at the base of the flower, we just used food grade paste food coloring and mixed it into the white fondant."

Chase Stoeger, a performer in the production, made a short video about the flowers, which he has posted on YouTube. It is a fun little look at Ray sampling the edible carnations, and you get a peek into The Skylight's prop shop.
You can see the video here.

If you like what you see, please check out "A Day in Hollywood, A Night in the Ukraine" which is running at The Skylight for the rest of the week.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Boozey Resources

I asked my boss, notorious Props Director Jim Guy, to give me the names of some books that he uses as alcohol reference. For you young artisans, books are like the internet, except they are printed on paper, and it takes longer to search them. As excellent a reference as the internet is, sometimes, you just have to go straight to the horse's book.

Now, I'm linking to Amazon here, but for goodness sake people, patronize your local bookstore. Please.

Jim has recommended these tomes:

The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Wine, Beer, Spirits, and Liqueurs
by Stuart Walton and Brian Glover
This is a large volume packed full of information on different alcoholic beverages. It has plenty of photos, so there is some good label research as well.

Mr. Boston Deluxe Official Bartender's Guide
Jim has the 'New World Wide Edition' which has a wealth of vintage cocktail recipes and, even more importantly, hilarious vintage photos of Old Mr. Boston liquors.

Whisky The Water of Life, Uisge Beatha
by Helen Arthur
Now, far be it from me to say that Jim is a man who likes good scotch, but Jim is a man who likes good scotch. My husband is a man who likes a peat bog in a glass, and I enjoy one or five good Sazeracs from time to time. All of us can find the history of our liquor here in this beautiful book, which is full of lovely photos of labels and advertisements, and plenty of information on Whiskies and Distilleries.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Booze!- It's booze week here on the Fake-n-Bake blog! This week, I'll be pouring you a measure of what I know about getting people "drunk" onstage. Enjoy, and, as always, please throw in your two cents!

For obvious reasons it is rarely, if ever, a good idea to give performers alcoholic beverages to drink onstage. That said, it is incredibly common for shows to involve alcoholic beverages. Luckily for us, many different things can be substituted for alcoholic drinks.

Water- For any clear liquor (Vodka, Gin, Light Rum, etc.) water is the perfect substitute. Tasteless, odor free, non-staining, and it doesn't do anything to inhibit the voice of a performer. If you can't get a performer to drink water onstage, chances are, they won't be drinking anything.

The Diet Cola Cocktail- My boss, and famed Properties Director, Jim Guy swears by this concoction. Simply dilute flat diet cola with water, a good start is 1 part cola to 4 parts water. It gives a nice caramel liquor color, which works well for whiskey, bourbon, scotch, etc. There are no calories, and you can make it using caffeine-free diet cola if your performers prefer.

Colored Water- This one is pretty self explanatory, food coloring can be used to color water. Caramel-colored food coloring can be purchased at most places that sell cake decorating supplies. Keep in mind that most food colorings, especially red ones, can stain fabrics.

Tea- Lipton tea is very commonly used as liquor onstage, as it can be diluted easily with water. Beware though, the slight foamy ring that can give it away. Herbal teas can also work very well. Orange herbal teas have a nice red color that lends itself well to playing cognac or sherry. Hibiscus tea has an incredible red color, and is non-staining (test your fabric to be sure), but has a very tart flavor.
Juice- Grape juice, red or white, is a common substitute for wine onstage. Be careful, though, as some performers do not like the way that sugar affects their salivary glands, and thus, their voices. Also, beware that juices can stain. Sparkling juices can be a good substitute for champagne.

Ginger Ale (Regular or Diet)- This is a good substitute for beer or champagne, if your performers don't mind the taste/sugar content. If you can't get the "beer" to hold a head, a spoonful of foaming bar sugar preset in the glass before pouring should do the trick.
Non Alcoholic Beer- Yup, pretty much exactly what it says it is.

Some Things to Consider:
As props providers, it is part of our job to facilitate the performers. It can be very frustrating to find the right thing to give a picky actor, but imagine being onstage, trying to sing and dance in a heavy costume, under hot lights, with hundreds of people watching, and have your voice catch in your throat because you just had to guzzle down some syrupy fake champagne. Or imagine being asked to down 4 ginger ale "beers" a night- and still fit into that size 4 dress. Performers have real concerns about what goes into their bodies on and offstage, and we should do our best to accommodate those concerns. Of course, we are faced with budgetary and time limits, but some work up front can save money and frustration during tech. Have a conversation with your performers early on in the rehearsal process, giving them some options. Let them know that they can choose between colored water, tea, or diet soda, or whatever the prop calls for. Your stage manager should be able to facilitate this conversation- and it will make the performers more comfortable as well. There will always be some difficult performers, but heading them off at the pass should make everyone's job easier.

Some things that can make performers uncomfortable:
Calorie Content- Whatever they are consuming onstage, they may have to do it up to eight times per week.
Sugar- Sugary drinks can be hard on the voice, but some performers prefer to have a little blood sugar boost mid show.
Dairy- Dairy products turn mouths and throats into gooey messes, making it very hard to sing or speak well.
Caffeine-Some performers would like to get a good nights sleep after the show.
Artificial Sweeteners- Some performers prefer natural foods.
Quantity- In 'State of the Union' one actress had to down six cocktails in fifteen minutes- and then sit onstage for another half an hour with no bathroom break. In that case, we used a false bottom and a handful of fake ice to make her job easier. Finding glasses with thick bottoms and employing fake ice is way easier than asking the costume department for a catheter. ;)

The bottom line is, communicate with your performers. Everyone has different needs and preferences. Allergies, medical needs, and tastes should all be considered when deciding the right solution for your props.

Happy pouring!

Thursday, March 18, 2010


As I'm sure you've discovered, the liquid in the bottle is only part of what makes fake booze believable. Like so much of what we do, the packaging is what sells the prop. The label, the bottle, the cap, the opener, all of these things clue us in to what we're looking at. Often, the brewery or distillery (now, more often, the corporation) will have product history on their website. If you are willing to dig deeper, some companies have historians that you can contact for information. Here are some links that I've come across doing label research. These sites have lots of items available for purchase, and they also can be excellent resources for research. I hope you enjoy them, and please feel free to add your favorite links in the comments.

Tavern Trove
This is a collectors' website with an extensive collection of all things beer. From cans to bottles to ads to matchbooks to caps, this website has almost 40,000 items. An excellent resource for the propster or breweriana collector.
Another extensive collection of beer cans, etc.

US Beer Labels
Pretty self explanatory, a large collection of American beer labels

Lots of photos of bottled beer from around the world.

Hundreds of wine bottles and labels.
Wine bottle and label photos.

Lots of labels, including some liquor labels.

Guess what they have? Antique bottles! Cooooool.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Picked- Over Cheese Platter

In a recent production, the second act opens on the remains of a party. The guests have left, the bar is littered with empty cups and cans, dirty paper plates, and crumpled paper napkins. A buffet table sits in the corner, covered in trays of picked-over roast beef, bread, pasta, and cheese.

The cheese platter is a good example of how dressing can make or break the prop. The most convincing part of this prop is probably the black plastic deli tray, followed by the garnishes. The only part of this prop that I fabricated was the cheese. I used hot pour vinyl, colored with yellow and orange tint, poured thin, and cut into triangles. To cut down on the sheen of the vinyl, I dusted the "cheese" lightly with talcum powder, my go-to for de-stickifying things.

As I said, the real key to this prop is the dressing. The black deli tray was purchased at Sam's Club, and boy, does it sure say "we picked up some party platters at the local grocery store deli." The grapes and lettuce are other clues, and were easy to pull from stock and hot glue to the platter. They definitely give the party platter look.

A note: I can't find a darn thing to get cooled hot pour vinyl to adhere to that darn deli tray. Hot glue, epoxy, liquid nails, vinyl adhesive, silicone, more hot pour vinyl, nothing worked. If you have a solution to get that stuff to glue down to something, I would love to hear it, drop it in the comments. Better yet, write it on the back of a twenty dollar bill, and mail it to me.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Cake Tutorials

Well, I promised to post some more information about how I did the piping on that little flower cake, so here it is! Special thanks to Meghan S. for her camerawork.

First, How to Prepare a Pastry Bag

Second, How to Pipe a Shell Border

Third, How to Make an Icing Rose

There is one more coming, I'll have it up as soon as technology allows. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Penny Drinks aka Ladies Night

Well, thanks to a lovely recommendation from Mr. Eric Hart, and you lovely people, this blog has just made it's first penny! Now, don't worry, the entry on cake decorating is in the works, but I wanted to take a moment to celebrate what I hope is the first of tens and tens of pennies! What better way to celebrate this occasion than with a drink, especially one that you can't drink?

When Act I ends, our actor has been dressed in drag for our amusement. When Act II begins, we find that he has spent intermission at a bar across the street, taking advantage of ladies night. Now, if there's one thing that musical theater thinks that 'ladies' like to drink, it's fruit cocktail in a glass. Right?

The fruit is actually serving two purposes here, visual and practical. For color, clarity, and cuickness (that's right, I said it) we decided to use Smooth Cast 325 for our drinks. The problem with cast resins is that they aren't particularly light, and top heavy stemware makes for tippy, awkward props. The fruit, which was purchased and pulled from stock, is considerably lighter as it is either hollow or made from lightweight materials.  Since we're going for the girly drink joke anyway, it fits right in.

There are two little tricks with this drink, not that anyone would ever notice by looking at it. Because that darling little umbrella is incredibly fragile, and because my boss is holding out hope of finding a funnier straw, both the umbrella and the straw are designed to be removable.

So, here's how I did it. First, I pulled two glasses from stock (one is for a back up.) Then, I loaded the glasses up with fruit and fake ice. Since I wanted the resin to stick to the glass and the fruit, I didn't use a release agent. The umbrella (as you can see only slightly in the photo) is floating freely in a small red cocktail straw that is embedded in the resin. This was simply done by putting the straw in the glass before filling. Urethane resin is adhesive, so it's very easy to do embeddings like this.  Making the bigger straw removable was only slightly more complicated.  First, I used hot glue to plug the bottom of the straw. This prevented resin from creeping up the inside of the straw and sticking. Then I used Sonite Wax liberally on the straw. Sonite Wax is a petroleum based wax that is made by Smooth-On, and is releasier, beefier, and gooier than the spray on Universal Mold Release that I am generally fond of. Once the straw had a thick coat of release agent, I placed it in the cup as well.


The decision to make the drinks pink was based largely on the fact that I had red So-Strong pigment in stock.  Just a tiny dab of this pigment was enough to color the resin this fruitylicious shade of pink.  As per the directions, I measured out equal parts of Smooth Cast 325 A&B, added the color to part B, and then mixed the two thoroughly, and poured.  (Using proper safety gear, of course.)

About 1/4 of the way into pouring, I remembered something important. Buoyancy.  The sealed straw and the hollow fruit started to float to the surface, basically voiding my careful arrangement.  No matter, with my gloved fingers, I was able to hold the items in place long enough for the resin to set initially (about 90 seconds.) Note to self: light stuff floats.  

Luckily, the schmooeying of the straw was a success, as was the awkward holding of the fruit. The fruit stayed in the drink, the straw came out. The embedded cocktail straw made a perfect little nest for the umbrella, and the cabaret show got just a little bit girlier. Hot glue a fake slice of orange to the rim of the glass, and bottoms up!


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