Putting a Face on Theatre
Not long ago, I posted about my next project “The Scottish Play” – Macbeth. Cursed or not, one thing this show calls for is a lot of blood, and parts.
Yup. Animal and body.
He’s a short list:
Since this work is being produced by a Shakespeare Festival, we have a lot of these things in our props stock. But if your severed head isn’t a bloody sack, you have to make one that matches your actor. (Using the real thing would make for a very short lived run.)
I had the opportunity to be a part of the fake head for this season’s production – specifically the face casting of our actor, Mr. Ian Bedford.
There are tons of “how to” videos and sites available – recorded and written by folks who work in props departments or make-up shops that do castings regularly or as a staple of their work, so I won’t try to steal their thunder – I simply want to share this opportunity which was SO cool to get to do. If you’re interested in learning HOW to do this, and in the different materials and techniques out there, please do some research beyond this blog. (You know. Google it.)
(I will also add, I was just an assistant in the process… the real experience, brain power, and know how is all a credit to ASF’s assistant prop master, Shanley Aumiller.)
Often to make a fake head, a cast is made of the actor’s entire head. In this instance, a cast was made just of Mr. Bedford’s face – as we had other parts on hand to use for the sides and back of his head. This makes the process shorter and more comfortable.
Here’s how it went.
First, Vaseline was applied to Ian’s eyebrows, mustache, and beard to prevent the dental cast material from sticking, and giving him and unwanted facial “wax.”
Next, alginate (the same dental compound used to make impressions of teeth by dentists) was applied (perhaps “glopped” is a more accurate) on Ian’s face. The alginate was applied top to bottom, forehead to chin, saving the nose for last. If you haven’t had a dental impression made with alginate, its consistency is a cross between toothpaste and frosting without being sticky. This white goo takes just a few minutes to start setting up. It makes a detailed, though fragile impression of whatever it’s applied to.
For this casting, Ian chose to open his mouth, so when the alginate was starting to set, Ian opened his mouth, and more alginate was applied to his lips and lower teeth.
As the alginate begins to “cure” or set-up, plaster bandages are applied over the top of the compound to protect it, and keep it in tact for the next step of the process. Plaster bandages are strips of fabric covered in Plaster of Paris – the same material used to make plaster casts. We cut fast set bandages in to small strips for facial application. After dipping the strips into warm water, they were applied over the alginate, again, top to bottom, saving the nose for last.
A few minutes later, both the plaster bandage layer and the alginate are firm enough to be removed. The edges were released, and with help of Ian, the whole thing pops off.
Check out a photo time lapse of the steps.
I had been the part of casting processes prior to this - but on a small scale. Getting to do this was a awesome - and the product (which is still in process) will be documented in a later blog.
Props to Ian (no pun intended) who had never had head or a cast made – or even a facial prior to this experience.
Until next time cats and kittens,
To learn more about our Macbeth, check out Ian Bedford’s web site. The face cast was documented by Clarissa Poff – thanks to her for putting together this slide show. You can see more on ASF's Facebook page.