Two of the Shakespeare Theatre Company's artsians discuss the creation of some of the more gruesome aspects of Titus Andronicus.
As Props painter/sculptor, I was tasked with creating a few body parts for the production of Titus, including the heads of Titus’ two sons. The heads are severed offstage and then presented to Titus in full view of the audience; because the heads would be fully visible, it was preferable that a life casting be done from the actors.
A believable head cast requires the detail and proportion of the subject, so one must cover the entire head in the material that makes the mold; I therefore chose a silicone that is skin-safe and reusable. Completely covering a head can be nerve-wracking—for both the subject and the sculptor!—but I think a successful session can be achieved if both remain calm and focused enough to work carefully.
I decided to create the head molds in two parts to minimize the time that the subjects’ faces were under silicone. In casting the heads, I started by attaching a bald cap with spirit gum. I then applied a release cream to the subject’s face to prevent his eyelashes and eyebrows from becoming encapsulated in silicone. I applied the silicone to the back of the subject’s head first, in three layers, and asked fellow Props staffer Guy Palace to help by heating each layer with a heat gun to hasten the dry time. The cured silicone is very flexible and does not keep its shape, so I applied a support shell made of layers of plaster bandages over it for stability.
I was then ready to move on to the second part of the head cast—the face. I told the subject to close his eyes and mouth so that the first layer of silicone could be applied. I repeat the same process as the back in the front, but this time the subject’s entire head is covered in plaster bandages—for about 40 minutes! This can look a little horrific, but it is necessary if one is to get an accurate cast.
As I am casting the subject’s face—as quickly as possible—I begin to worry: I know I just asked him if he was breathing OK, but what about now? But all is well, and the silicone is cut up the back enough to flex out to get off of the head—and our subject is free!
Casting the fake head is a matter of pouring a thin layer of colored silicone in the mold and then filling the rest of the cavity with expandable foam. When it comes out of the mold, it has a base matching flesh color to the actor, which gets painted with an airbrush. A shaved-down fake animal pelt is attached to the scalp to act as close-cropped hair. Extra-nasty bits of innards and blood are added to complete. The whole process takes about 18 hours.
Eric Hammesfahr, Painter and Sculptor
Two heads in a pie?
At the end of Titus Andronicus
, Tamora is unknowingly fed the heads of her two sons by Titus himself. (Hope I'm not ruining this for you, but I figure, you're going to Titus, you probably know the plot.)
For this production, the director and designer wanted a large (20" diameter) pie built that would contain the heads of Tamora's sons.
The first task was actually the hardest: finding a 20" cake pan. Luckily, I have a secret baker-friend who has connections (it's good to know people).
Figuring out the break-away crust situation was harder. Is it soft or hard? Do they cut it away or peel it back? Does it crumble like baked crust or does it roll like uncooked crust? Do we cast it, bake it, or shape it?
For situations like the crust, the action tends to be actor-driven. After about 4 renditions of what we thought the break-away crust was, we settled on a totally hard crust made out of thermal plastic with a break-away quadrant.
Then the next bridge to cross was what do they actually eat out of the pie? How do we contain it? How do we make the transition from the edible foodstuff to the prop itself?
The actors preferred a tinted applesauce as the food, which is put into a clean foil pan and the pans’ edges are covered with fruit roll-ups to disguise the metal edges. Bet you will never look at fruit roll ups the same way.Elizabeth Baldwin
, Hand Props Artisan
The finished prop. Photo by Carol Rosegg.