May 2016

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May 2016

News From: International Activities

Invasion of the Swollen Creatures: The Blow It Up! PDW

Rob Eastman-Mullins Scene Design & Technology Commission

Photos by Richard Finkelstein

“What are these strange, plastic bubble creatures looming over us here in room 255B?” those attending USITT 2016 in Salt Lake City may have wondered. The creatures were part of Blow It Up! a fascinating, informative, and decidedly fun Professional Development Workshop.

Finnish scenographer, Sampo Pyhälä, a guest of the International Activities Committee and the Scene Design & Technology Commission, showed 16 participants how to make their own inflatables from materials found in a favorite box store. Pyhälä first introduced his inflatable creatures to Americans in You Used What?! Less Conventional Materials & Styles in Scenic Design via Skype at USITT 2015 in Cincinnati.

The work of Pyhälä and artists and companies from around the globe started things off for Blow It Up! Examples ranged from very large pieces of scenery, to a stage floor converted into a “bouncy castle,” to smaller costume and handheld prop pieces. Armed with a bit of science, a bit of math, and a lot of willing trial and error, the participants eagerly created their own inventions.

The workshop was a true cross-section of the membership where technical directors cut patterns with props artisans while scenic designers plotted with costume technicians to realize their creations. Everyone used their strengths and stretched into unfamiliar skills when the flat patterning skills of costuming veterans met with the looping ideas of designers.

An inclination toward creatures was almost immediately apparent as a butterfly, a cube horse, an octopus, and a  silo-shaped, horned thing with hands on its face began to emerge in the large, empty room. Soon the cube horse was loping around the room with two puppeteers inside, the butterfly was abandoned for a giant, live-in pyramid, and people kept climbing in and out of the octopus’ (really a sextopus) body to help attach tentacles. Laughter and wonder dominated the atmosphere until late in the evening when the session coasted to a close.

Perhaps the most surprising thing was how simply and quickly truly stunning pieces could be made—and on the cheap, too.

Pyhälä’s presence and involvement with the Conference is the direct result of the relationships developed through USITT’s engagement with OISTAT, in which USITT members share reciprocal membership.