We opened Superior Donuts here at Geva over the weekend, and it’s a really fantastic show. In my last post, I promised that this one would focus on the design and technical elements of the show, and I don’t want to break my promise!
The play takes place in a donut shop in Uptown, an historic Chicago neighborhood. The donut shop first opened its doors in 1950, and is showing its age. So the set, designed by Jack Magaw (who also designed Geva’s Evie’s Waltz and Bad Dates), has to be clearly aged while looking like a contemporary functioning shop. Onstage, we see the donut case behind the counter, the red vinyl chairs and bar stools, the coffee maker, the door to the kitchen and the soda cooler (just out of the range of the camera in the picture to the right) – everything that makes a donut shop run. The shadows just visible through the transom windows hint at the city beyond the shop. In this photo, taken by Ken Huth, we see the wear on the doors and walls, and the dated chairs and bar stools. The floor tiles, handcrafted by Geva’s scene shop to create the perfect look, are worn and complete the sense of the store’s 60 year history.
Accuracy is important when staging any play – historic or contemporary. Attention is paid to even the smallest detail. In the photo above, Arthur Przybyszewski (center), played by Skip Greer, talks with Officers James (left) and Randy (right), played by Ron Scott and Mary Jo Mecca respectively. While the show takes place today, the costumes for Superior Donuts, designed by Christina Selian, reflect the same kind of attention to detail given to a period play. I asked Geva’s costume shop manager Amanda Doherty for an example, and she responded with a great story about a very intricate detail, and the importance of new technologies in theatre:
Re-creating police or military looks on stage is one of the biggest hurdles costume shops face. We know we must strive for absolute authenticity, not only because we are representing official government agencies, but because audiences care deeply about these institutions being accurately portrayed.
However, since Sept. 11, 2001 it has become increasingly difficult, if not outright illegal, to acquire many of the accessories necessary for authenticity in military and law enforcement apparel.
There are a few companies that carry authorized replicas of badges and patches, but usually only for larger, well known cities and organizations. In the case of Superior Donuts, we were fortunate that we could get replica badges, or stars as the Chicago Police Department (CPD) refers to them. But we could not acquire a hat shield, nor a hatband, for the unique and very distinctive CPD uniform cap. Occasionally, a decommissioned cap will appear on eBay, or a shield on badge trading web-sites; but these are few and far between and the demand is high.
With the advent of affordable and easily accessible 3-D printing, costume and prop shops have expanded opportunities for creating hard to find pieces. This is an amazing process using a digital file to literally print a 3-D object in a solid material, as opposed to laying down ink on a 2-D piece of paper. The ink is replaced with a solid material, in our case acrylic, and laid down in layers to build an object.
To create the CPD hat shield for Superior Donuts we pulled several high res images of the shield from various internet sources. Gary Jacobs then used those references to digitally draw the hat shield in a sculpting program. The data was sent to a Granular Materials Binding printer at the Rochester Institute of Technology and printed in acrylic. The image below on the left shows the hat shield as it arrived to us in white acrylic. I then could mount the appropriate hardware to the acrylic (center) before painting in black and adding silver leaf (right). Painting a 3-D image black before gold or silver leafing helps bring out the definition of the details on stage.
The finished shield was mounted on the uniform cap (below), with custom embroidered hatband, and appears much as an authentic one would. The only concession we made for legal reasons was to print “Chicago Police” on the front as opposed to a precinct number.