As Audrey II continues to grow throughout Little Shop of Horrors, we are struck with the alarming sensation that our carnivorous plant is far from full and she has no intentions of slowing down. Together, the production’s director, scenic designer, and puppet designer collaborated to design larger-than-life tentacles that invade the theatre to fulfill this vision. And it was left in the crafty hands of Geva’s renowned prop shop to figure out how to bring those designs to life. Since actors will be operating the enormous appendages, the tentacles needed to be safe, lightweight, comfortable, and capable of being put on and taken off quickly. But just how do you create genuine, wearable 7-foot tentacles that weigh as little as possible, can be operated with one arm, and are easily controllable?
Step 1: The lightweight and flexible aluminum frame (think something that resembles ultra-light, bendable crutches that allow for fluid and authentic tentacle-like movement) was designed, welded together, and delivered to Geva by puppet designer Daniel Kerr.
Step 2: Based on a rendered image of how the tentacles were envisioned to look, Mark Bissonnette, Geva’s Prop Master, added foam pipe insulation to the end of each tentacle to create a narrow finger-like tip.
Step 3: On the opposite end of the tentacle, a padded grasp bar to anchor the actor’s hand, foam to cradle the top and bottom of the arm (where it would otherwise rest on the bare aluminum frame), and a cardboard semi-circle to cup the wrist and lower arm are added for function and comfort.
Step 4: Strips of air pillows taped around the outside of the aluminum bulk up the look of the tentacle, protect the frame, and provide cushion for safety purposes.
Step 5: Next, bubble wrap is placed within the gaps left by the air pillows. Filling in the structure with bubble wrap helps build the extra girth required for the finished product to look like a plant instead of a crutch.
Step 6: The tentacle is wrapped in a thick layer of bubble wrap and taped shut to further flesh out the girth, create smoother lines, and add another layer of protection.
Step 7: Cheesecloth, a very lightweight material that keeps everything in place and can be quickly stapled together rather than sewn, is wrapped around the entire tentacle as a base layer. Now the actors can safely practice using the tentacles in rehearsal while they await their final layer.
Step 8: The final layer is an aesthetic covering that will make the tentacles appear life-like in both color and texture.