Backstage in Haertter Hall, an enormous, flesh-eating flower is coming to life. The ill-tempered houseplant will star in the 2015 musical, "Little Shop of Horrors," which will be presented at 8 pm, February 26 through 28, in Haertter Hall.
Breathing life into the so-called Audrey II, named for a flower shop employee's love interest in the musical, has presented some interesting challenges for production manager Brian Connor, who typically creates sets and props of the inanimate variety. But for "Little Shop," Connor and his team of student and parent volunteers are experimenting with foam, aluminum, cotton spandex and fabric spray paint to create an Audrey II who talks, eats humans and grows at a rapid rate. Four Audrey IIs will play the part.
Early in the play, puppeteer Hasani Skinner ’18 will operate a "baby" Audrey borrowed from the Muny. Audrey II grows, and a slightly larger flower "child" with a growing appetite assumes the role. Flower shop employee Seymour (played by Jeremy Pinson ’16) will operate that puppet, which was borrowed from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
As Audrey II continues to grow, two additional puppets, produced in-house, will play the part. In adolescence, the increasingly demanding carnivore will be operated by a puppeteer (Lily Katzman ’16), who will move the flower from inside the plant. Another actor (Tai Griffin ’18) will supply the voice for Audrey II from offstage. The fully mature Audrey II will stand 7-feet tall with a 4x5-foot pod/skull. Lily will operate that plant from outside its body but out of view from the audience. Hasani will assist Lily.
Connor's designs for the phase III and phase IV Audrey IIs were inspired by considerable research on how other companies approached the task. After producing detailed drawings, he then constructed the skeletons of Audrey's massive jaw from aluminum strips fastened with machine screws. He incorporated mechanisms for the puppeteer to rotate the body and move the mouth. The body cavity of the full-sized Audrey will accommodate her prey, who slide into her mouth and disappear.
Students in Connor's theater production class, cast members, other student volunteers, and a group of parents (at left) have (as of January 20) affixed .5-inch upholstery foam to the skeletons to create the fleshy bodies of plants III and IV. The skin, dyed cotton spandex, will then be stretched over the foam and decorated with fabric spray paint. The final step in the process will be to attach petals, leaves, and aggressive trailing branches to the blood-thirsty plant.
With each work session, Audrey II becomes a little more menacing, and on February 26 through 28, the JBS Players will officially breath life into an incredibly disagreeable invasive species.