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Design Thinking in the Arts: Prop Design for “Beauty and the Beast”

By MaLea Spooner ’21

It’s not every day you get to design a man-eating prop and an enchanted rose, but that’s the opportunity I had as a prop designer for Ravenscroft’s recent production of “Beauty and the Beast.”

I have been involved with the theater since the sixth grade, helping with everything from doing the cast’s makeup and hair to building the set and creating the props. When we started working on “Beauty and the Beast,” I was told the production would need not only life-sized wolf puppets but also a rose whose petals could fall off on-stage. From there the research and brainstorming began!

I started by doing some research to determine what strategies to use. Once my crew and I started getting some ideas, we got to work looking up measurements and made plenty of sketches.

After determining using the foam would be the safest and lightest material, we began with the wolves’ hind legs and attempted to draw them to scale. Using bolts and washers, with a few bendy straws mixed in, we figured out how to get the joints on the legs to move. After adding belts around the waist and tape around the ankles and thighs to give the props more stability, we went to get the directors’ opinion. “They are a bit too small” is what Mr. Vacanti and Mr. Sharp both had to say. Take two! We tried tracing my legs to get a bigger hind leg and put the bolts, washers, and straws back on — and we were good to go. From there it was a challenge to find a way to get the stomach and chest to look realistic and not blocky. Mr. Vacanti showed us a trick, though, which was very inventive: take a rectangle of foam and cut strips horizontally so it has a curve. All we had left were the front legs, which were put together exactly like the hind legs, and the head. The head was just a task of carving it correctly. To give the puppeteers control of the bodies, we wrapped string around the heads and arms. We added some final touches like fur, glowing eyes, and ears to the wolves while preparing the rose to be placed on set.

For the enchanted rose we used wire, a fake rose and a whole bunch of hot glue. We had about three or four chances to improve our design, being that the first few attempts didn’t work. This was frustrating but made getting the rose to work so much more rewarding. Each time we used the same stem, it was only how we placed the rose petal set-up that changed the result. We wrapped wire around a tube and put hot glue around it so we could shape the rose. Then we looked at different methods of putting the petals on the wire. Our final method was poking holes in the tip of the rose to attached to the wires, running through the stem. From there we could pull the wires and watch the petals fall.

When the wolves finally went on stage, the audience was amazed at the sight of life-like wolves before their eyes. Then the first set of petals on the enchanted rose fell, and fascinated expressions were seen throughout the house.

Following the performances, I encountered many people coming to me to ask how the wolves were put together and how we managed to get the rose petals to fall. Bringing that magic on stage through a combination of creativity and technical knowledge is what STEM+ is all about. The show was a success both on the stage and behind the scenes — making it the best kind of “happily ever after”! 
 

At top, “Beauty and the Beast” crew members Sarah Davenport ’21, Katie Shearin ’19 and Jenna Seidenfrau ’23 with MaLea’s wolf puppets; the Beast’s enchanted rose. Enjoy more photos from “Beauty and the Beast” here.

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