From Arwen to Zombie

from arwen to zombieGet into character with a little bit of stage magic! This winter, we hosted a fantastic hands-on (or arguably, a face-on) workshop about how actors use makeup to transform themselves into a character. The workshop was expertly and enthusiastically taught by Jenny Scudder from Youth Stages, a local arts-in-education organization.

Jenny began the workshop by sharing visual examples of literary characters – Queen of Hearts, Arwen, Tin Man, Scarecrow, Wicked Witch of the West, Dracula, Frankenstein, Count Olaf, and a few Cats from the musical of the same name (you might recall that Cats is based on poems by T.S. Eliot). There were also zombies, which might have been a stretch unless you consider Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? The Walking Dead graphic novel?

Here’s Jenny, taking the kids through examples of all the characters:

jenny scudder, youth stages 1Next, Jenny discussed how, in addition to makeup, actors can also use their voices, gestures, costumes, props, and sets to bring their characters to life. She described what stage makeup is (big, bold, and expressive) and what it isn’t (it’s not meant for close-up photography like a fashion shoot). As she was lecturing, Jenny was effortlessly applying her own stage makeup, which was Grizabella from Cats.

jenny scudder, youth stages 2Jenny also talked about the names of the different brushes, and techniques for application. Finally, she brought out some latex scars and gashes she had prepared in advance. My forearm became the test subject for a massive latex scar, some red base makeup, a loaded stipple brush, and some fake blood. Here I am, modeling the finished product in my usual subtle way.

scar demoFinally, it was time to turn the artists loose on the makeup! There was plenty of it. Jars, palettes, sponges, pencils, brushes…the works!

makeupJenny divided the kids into pairs so each pair would have someone to assist with the application of his/her makeup. I really liked this because it meant that the kids weren’t sitting passively, having their faces done by adults. They were actively involved in the whole process.

applying makeup

However, Jenny, Katie, and I did jump in to help. For awhile, I was running the “soon to be bloody flaps of skin” corner of the room.

Ready to see some results? Even though there was quite a bit of smiling and laughing, I did encourage the kids to try to stay “in character” while I was photographing them. I’ll begin with Arwen, who you saw at the beginning of the post:

We had no less than 3 Queens of Hearts…

As well as 3 Cheshire Cats.

A pair of Vampires…

Rum Tum Tugga from Cats

The Wicked Witch of the West…

And a quartet of zombies. I told them to give me their best undead look…

Do you recognize the zombie on the far left from the beginning of the blog? The funny thing was, we never planned to photograph her with her hood up. As it turned out, she had to walk home from the program in full makeup. In order to not freak anyone out, she pulled her hood up. It looked so fantastic, I had to take a photograph!

Let’s Get in Formation

let's get in formationIt doesn’t matter if you’re a massive cumulonimbus or a more modest tuft. A fluffy costume, weather pom-poms, and abject enthusiasm are all you need to be part of the most adorable cloud formation ever. Did we pull some awesome moves? You bet. The video is at the end of the post!

We read Cloudette by Tom Lichtenheld (Henry Holt, 2011). Cloudette is a very small cloud, but she doesn’t mind. There are benefits to being small (like always being able to see fireworks, even when the sky is crowded)! Sometimes, however, Cloudette can’t help yearning for more. Especially when the big clouds do such important things. One day, a storm blows Cloudette far from her neighborhood. Exploring the new place, she discovers a frog pond that’s almost dry. She decides to do something about it. Concentrating all her efforts, Cloudette rains and rains until she creates the perfect pond for scores of thankful frogs. Delighted, she flies off to find more jobs a useful little cloud can do.

You’ll need:

  • 2 sheets of white poster board
  • White cotton balls
  • White string
  • Hole punch
  • 2 wooden dowels
  • A set of nine, 18″ crepe paper streamers (6 in rainbow colors and 3 light blue)
  • A set of two, 2″ x18″ pieces of blue cellophane
  • A selection of color masking tape
  • Scissors and glue for construction
  • Hot glue

First, your weather pom-poms! We made 2, a rainbow and a rainstorm. To make the rainbow pom-pom, twist the bottoms of six, 18″ rainbow color crepe paper streamers together. Use color masking tape to attach the streamers to the end of a wooden dowel, then continue wrapping the tape around the dowel until it’s covered.

To make the rainstorm pom-pom, twist the bottoms of three, 18″ light blue crepe paper streamers and two, 2″ x18″ pieces of blue cellophane together. Attach with color masking tape, wrapping downward until the dowel is covered.

weather pom-pomsNow for your costume! Cut 2 sheets of white poster board into matching cloud shapes. Hot glue the 2 shapes together. Why? Because when it comes to gluing scores of cotton balls on poster board, 1 sheet is just too thin. It warps almost immediately. With 2 sheets hot-glued together, there’s much less warping. Glue cotton balls to the front of your cloud costume, and add a construction paper mouth and eyes if you’d like.

cloud costumeUse a hole punch to make two holes in the top of the cloud. Thread white string through the holes, adjust for height, knot the string, and hang the cloud costume around your neck.

clouds ready to goWhen everyone was ready, the clouds gathered outside on the library’s plaza. We spread out in a grid (well, we attempted a grid) to insure that no one would get smacked by a weather pom-pom. Then, facing the kids, I cued up my playground whistle, and we got in formation.

Wrist Owls

wrist owlsCats might make you sneeze and toads are rather old-fashioned. What you really need…is an owl! This project (which is derived from these wrist parakeets) is designed to be simple, inexpensive, and a snap to assemble at large-scale events with minimal staffing. The owls were a huge hit at a Harry Potter event we did in 2007, and again in 2017 at Wand Works.

You’ll need:

  • 1 toilet paper tube
  • Construction paper
  • A selection of small feathers
  • 1 pair of dot stickers (optional)
  • 1 small triangle of self-adhesive foam or construction paper
  • 1 pipe cleaner
  • Scissors, tape, and hole punch for construction
  • Brown or black markers

The color of your construction paper and feathers varies depending on the color of your owl. At our event, we offered both brown and white options.

Wrap a toilet paper tube with construction paper, then use tape (or glue) to attach feather wings and ear tufts. Use a marker to draw the owl’s eyes – or – use dot stickers for an extra pop of color. We added details to our sticker eyes with a Sharpie ultra fine point markers. Attach a small triangle of self-adhesive foam for the beak (or just use a snippet of orange or yellow construction paper).

The earlier incarnation of this owl project used different shades of brown construction paper for the owl’s head and its stomach:

alternative owlBut we simplified things further and just used markers to draw outlines of feathers on the owl’s chest. Finish by punching 2 holes on the bottom of the tube. Thread a pipe cleaner through the holes, then fasten the owl to your wrist. You’re ready for Hogwarts!

off to hogwarts