Ask Jim!

Jim Morrow

Mermaid Theatre ends nearly every show with a Q&A session with the performers and stage manager, but we often run out of time before everyone has had a chance to ask their questions. Our Artistic Director, Jim Morrow, loves answering your questions about our shows.  Below is a small sample of questions that Jim has answered.  If you have a different question, fill out the box below to ask Jim for yourself!


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Q: In The Very Hungry Caterpillar, How did the caterpillar get inside of the orange? / How does the caterpillar eat the fruit?

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A:Each piece of fruit in “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”, including the orange, is made from a flat piece of corrugated board, like cardboard. The boards are first covered with fabric to protect them, and then painted to look like the fruit in the book. There are bite-sized pieces cut out of the sides of the fruit to make the holes. Each of these pieces are then reattached with a hinge, much like the hinge that holds a cupboard door in place. When it’s time for the Caterpillar to eat a piece of fruit in our play, the puppeteer, who is holding the Caterpillar, makes a biting move with the puppet while, at the same time, the other puppeteer opens the little hinged piece and swings it behind the fruit so you can’t see it.To make the Caterpillar go through the fruit, the puppeteer then lifts him up and moves him slowly behind the fruit making it look like he is crawling through holes. He is actually crawling behind the flat piece of fruit and not through a real hole. Q: How do you do the tongue for the Mixed-Up Chameleon?

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A: The Chameleon’s tongue was one of the more difficult things to invent in the show and is also one of the more difficult things to explain how it works, but I’ll try. After trying many things, we finally constructed a wooden stand, six inches high at one end and about two feet high at the other.  There are two wooden rollers attached to either end of the stand. Around the rollers we wrapped a two-inch wide strip of black fabric and painted a tongue on one side. You can’t see the stand because it’s covered with black fabric. You can’t see the tongue because it’s rolled around backwards facing away from you.

When the time comes for the Chameleon to eat the fly, one performer places the Chameleon in front of the tongue stand. The other performer stands behind the tongue stand with one hand holding the fly and the other holding the strip of fabric with the tongue painted on it. When the Chameleon turns his head to eat the fly, the performer holding the tongue fabric, rotates it on the wheels and the tongue rolls around so you can see it. It looks as if the tongue is actually coming out of the Chameleon’s mouth. The performer places the fly against the tongue and reverses the rolling movement so it looks like the fly and tongue are going into the Chameleon’s mouth. The fly is actually going into a pocket built into the wooden stand that is hidden by the chameleon’s head.

Q: In The Mixed-Up Chameleon, how did you get the chameleon to have a long neck like the giraffe?

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A: Some of the animal parts like the flamingo wings, flamingo legs, seal flippers and fish fins were made from painted pieces of canvass fabric with a small metal wire running around the edge. They also have magnets inserted that attach to corresponding magnets in the Chameleon’s body. The turtle shell, the fox tail, the deer antlers, the elephant’s head, the hat and the umbrella were made from carved pieces of soft foam covered with painted fabric. The giraffe’s neck was made from a coil of wire covered with stretchy fabric and painted yellow to look like the giraffe’s neck. It’s attached to both the Chameleon’s body and head and can stretch out, much like a dryer hose. 

Q: In The Mixed-Up Chameleon, how does the Chameleon change colour?

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Box-of-chameleonsA: We were able to do this in our show by constructing seven (7) different Chameleons – three small ones (green like the leaf, brown like the tree and red like the flower) and four big ones (yellow on the sand, green when he’s fed, grey when he’s cold an d hungry and white like the polar bear). We found that it was easier to build seven different puppets, paint them seven different colours, and have them appear and disappear at different times then it was to make one Chameleon change colour. 

Q: In Little Cloud, how do you make it rain?

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A: The raindrops are actually painted onto a very large piece of black fabric that is rolled up and attached to the top of a large frame made of metal pipe. Attached to the top of the frame is a large cloud, painted in fluorescent paint. The frame, cloud and rain fabric are placed back stage during most of the show. At the right moment in the play, the two performers roll the large pipe frame onto the stage and set it into place. You can’t see it move because the pipes are painted black but you can see the large painted cloud that is facing the audience. It looks like it’s floating onto the stage all by itself. When it’s time for the rain to fall, the performers reach up and unhook both sides of another pole that runs through a hem at the bottom of the rain cloth. When they lower the pole, it unrolls the rain cloth, exposing the raindrops making it look like the rain is falling.

Q: How do all the other animals and clouds get so high in the air and move? Is it the pole that gets it so high?

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A: All the clouds are flat objects mostly cut out from pieces of painted fabric held together by thin slats of wood in the back or from cut out pieces of corrugated board, like cardboard. Inserted into the clouds are poles that the performers hold onto so they can raise the clouds high over their heads. To move them, the performers simply lift the clouds up and walk slowly across the stage making it look like the clouds are actually floating, or hopping like a rabbit or flying like a plane or swimming like a shark.  The flamingo and elephant are made, and performed, the same way. 

Q: In The Very Hungry Caterpillar, how does the moon and sun move?

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A: The moon, and sun, are constructed from round pieces of corrugated board, like cardboard, that have a layer of canvass fabric glued to them. Connected to the back of the moon and sun are long metal poles. The performer holds onto the poles to raise the moon and sun up and travel them across the sky. Because the performer is dressed in black and is standing in front of a black curtain, you can’t see her.

Q:  In The Very Hungry Caterpillar, how did you make the cocoon grow?

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A: The cocoon is painted onto a piece of canvass fabric that is then sewn onto a larger, rectangular piece of black velvet fabric. The cocoon is painted with fluorescent paint that glows when lit by a ‘black light’. Because the black fabric doesn’t reflect the black light, it disappears. The black fabric and cocoon are rolled up together and hung on the back of the tree. When the Big Fat Caterpillar lowers himself from the branch and begins to spin, one of the performers unrolls the fabric in front of him making it look like he is actually spinning the cocoon.

Q: How did the caterpillar turn into the butterfly?

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A: When the Big Fat Caterpillar finished making his cocoon, it looked like he went inside to get ready to become a butterfly. He was actually lowered behind a black curtain, to the floor, by one of the performers and taken offstage. At the same time, another performer placed the butterfly onstage behind the play-board box in front of the tree holding the cocoon. When the cocoon was lowered off the tree by one performer, the other performer raised the butterfly up making it look like he came out of the cocoon.

Q: How was all the animal parts connected to the mixed up chameleon?

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A: Some of the Chameleon parts, like the flamingo wings, flamingo legs, seal flippers and fish fins, were made from painted pieces of canvass fabric with a small metal wire running around them to help them keep their shape. The turtle shell, the fox tail, the deer antlers, the elephant’s head, the hat and the umbrella were made from carved pieces of soft foam covered with painted fabric. The giraffe’s neck was made from a stretchy piece of dryer hose covered with a painted stocking. We were able to add new parts to the Chameleon because many of the pieces have little magnets attached to them. The white Chameleon also has magnets placed on his body so when the performer wants to attach something like the flamingo wings or the fish fins, he simply places it near the magnet on the body and it sticks.  Other parts like the elephant’s head and the fox tail were simply placed over the head and tail of the Chameleon and clipped into place. The Giraffe’s neck is permanently attached to the white Chameleon’s body and gets pulled out when it’s time for the neck to grow.

Q: How do you change the background between stories?

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A: Between the story of Little Cloud and The Mixed-Up Chameleon the ground with houses and trees actually appear to float off stage. There were three ground panels that were constructed of pieces of painted canvass fabric with wooden supports at the top. These panels were attached to three boxes. To remove them, the two performers simply raised them up from the boxes and floated them off the stage. You couldn’t see the performers because they were dressed in black and standing in front of black curtains.

 

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Q: In Guess How Much I Love You, how did you make the bunnies?

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A: Our Bunnies are made from soft pieces of foam that have been hand carved, using a pair of scissors, from a larger block of soft foam. We use the same foam that you would find in a sofa cushion. The carved shapes are then covered with stretchy fabric before being assembled. We also construct wooden body parts and leg joints that we place inside the foam before it’s covered. Most of the puppets have wooden handles inserted securely in the foam, so the puppeteers can hold onto them to move the puppets around the stage.

Q: In I Love My Little Storybook, how do you make the butterflies?

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A: The butterflies in “I Love My Little Storybook” are possibly the simplest we’ve ever made. All you need is a piece of paper and a length (2′) of coat hanger wire.

*Fold the paper in two.
*Draw half a butterfly shape with the crease in the paper as the centre.
*Cut out the shape.
*Unfold the paper to reveal the full butterfly shape.
*Colour the butterfly.
*Place one end of the coat hanger wire along the inside crease of the paper.
*Hot glue or tape the wire in place.
*Gently move he wire up and down and the butterfly should fly.

You may want to experiment with different sized butterflies.

Q: In I Love My Little Storybook, how do you make the lion? What about his mane?

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A: The Lion’s body is made from round plastic hoops covered in silk fabric. The hoops are attached to a flat wooden board that the performer holds to carry the Lion on stage. His head is carved from a large piece of soft foam and covered with silk. The fur on the lion is made from strips of very soft, spongy foam covered in silk fabric. Each strip is about an inch wide and three feet long. A tube of silk is made and the foam is carefully placed inside the silk tube. Each piece is then glues to the Lion’s head to create his mane.

Q: How did you make the fairies fly?

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A: The fairies are carved out of very soft foam, like in a cushion or mattress. They are then covered with white fabric and painted. The wings are made from fabric mesh covering pieces of wire which is bent into the shape of a wing. The performer uses his pointer finger to move the wire up and down making it look like the wings are flapping. To make the fairy fly he simply picks it up and carries it across the stage moving the wings the whole time.

Q: How did you make the water?

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A: The water in “I Love My Little Storybook” is made from a very large piece of thin plastic. Running through the top of the plastic is a white rope. The two performers hold onto the rope and raise the plastic up from the stage making it look like the water is actually rising. They then tie the rope to hooks placed on either side of the stage. When it’s time for the water to exit, the performers unhook the rope and lower the plastic to the floor. Special lights called ‘black lights’ are used in the water scene to make objects, like the fish, appear to glow. 

 

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Q: How did you make the puppets in Swimmy?

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A: Most of the puppets in “Swimmy” were created by cutting the shapes from plexiglass. Metal rods and wires were attached to the plexiglass that the puppeteers would hold onto to move the character around the stage. To colour the puppets we either used a ‘sharpie’ marker or glued on very thin pieces of coloured plastic called ‘gel’ which is often used in theatre to change the colour of a light shining on a stage. 

Q: How many mice did you make for Frederick?

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A: We had to build over 40 mice to represent the 5 mice in the story. We decided that it would be easier to build 40 mice then have only 5 mice try to do everything that was needed. It was a lot of time spent in production but it made the telling of the story much easier.

Q: How did you make it look like water on-stage?

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A: To make the shadows appear in “Swimmy”, we used a very large screen and projected water images onto the screen using a rear screen projector and a specially made lens. We created the water pictures by scanning the pages of the book using a computer and then placing the images on a DVD. When we placed the shadow puppets like Swimmy and the jellyfish in front of the projected images, both the water image and the puppet appeared on the screen together making it look like the fish were actually in the water swimming around.

Q: How do all those little fish turn into one big fish?

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A: The group of little fish that swim together at the beginning and the end of the show, are constructed from little pieces of plexiglass cut in the shape of the fish you see in Leo Lionni’s book. The little fish are attached to wires, like coat hanger wires, that the performer holds onto to swim the fish across the stage. When Swimmy gathers them together to chase the large Tuna, they exit as individual fish and re-enter as a group, joined together. What actually happens is, a performer takes the individual fish off stage and replaces them with one large piece of cut out plexiglass that has the little fish painted on to it. 

 

Q: How did you make the teacher?

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A: The teacher is a large flat puppet made of painted canvas fabric.  Behind the teacher is a frame made of metal poles that attach to bases that have wheels on them.  The teacher’s face can be folded up into a large canvas bag, and then unrolled and hung on the metal poles when we set up the show in a theatre.  When the time comes for her to appear on stage, the performer rolls her out from the side of the stage. 

Q: How does the Red Bird work?

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A: Attached to the underside of the bird is a long, metal pole that is permanently connected to a block of wood which has been glued to the inside of the puppet. Placed around the pole is a metal ring that can slide up and down. Attached to the ring are solid wires that are connected to the wings. The performer holds onto the long metal pole, with one hand, and raises the bird over his head to make him fly. He then holds the metal ring, with the other hand, and slides it up and down to make the wings flap.  

Q: How did the moon get smaller? 

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A:

CUTOUT MOON (The one Monica plays with)
This moon is constructed out of three different pieces of corrugated board, like cardboard, that are cut into three different moon shapes and painted. The three pieces are held together with magnets. When Monica throws the larger piece into the air, the performer who is holding the moon, flips it around to expose a smaller moon. He does this three times until the moon is finally flipped around to expose the reverse side of the last piece which is painted black, so it disappears.

SHRINKING MOON (The big one in the sky)
When the curtains open in Papa, Please Get The Moon For Me, a large projection screen is revealed. Onto the screen we project images that have been scanned directly from the pages of the book written by Eric Carle. The scanning was originally done by computer, as well as all the screen animation like the moving stars and moon, including the shrinking moon. So, to answer your question, the shrinking moon sequence is actually a form of computer animation, much like you would see on a TV or movie animation show. 

Q: How did the horse move?

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A: Extending out of the top of the horse’s body, and out the back of the horse’s head are wooded handles that the performer holds onto so he can pick the him up and walk him across the stage. 

 

Q: Was it hard figuring out how to make the bunnies hop?

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A: It took a long time for us to learn how to hop the bunnies. After they were constructed, we took them into rehearsals and began to experiment with different ways to hop. Ultimately, we decided to choose a way that looked natural. We placed wooden handles in the head and body for the puppeteers to hold onto. To hop the bunnies, the performer simply lifts the bunny up by the wooden handles and moves him in a way that makes it look like the puppet bunny is actually hopping. 

Q: How did you make the bunny fly?

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A: The flying Bunny is actually a different Bunny from the one you see hopping along the ground. It was much easier to carve a second Bunny with wings already attached than to try and attach them during the show. 

Q: How did you get the mom bunny to across that tightrope?

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A: The mom bunny was balanced on the tightrope very carefully by the two performers who stood behind her at all times. One performer held her body and the arm that was holding the umbrella. The other performer held her two feet and moved her across the tightrope making sure that she walked properly and didn’t fall off. It took quite a while to learn how t9o perform the moves securely and make it look like the mother bunny was actually walking across a tightrope. 

Q: How did you keep the clock from falling off the wall?

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A: Many of the props in Goodnight Moon, like the clocks and candlesticks have velcro attached on the bottom so they won’t fall on the floor. The mitts and socks have little wire hooks attached to them that hook onto the drying rack and other props like the lamp, the toys on the bookcase and the balloon are simply put in place with no support. 

Q: How does the cow come out of the picture?

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A: The cow in the picture is held in place by using little magnets, one in the cow and one in the picture. When it’s time to say goodnight to the cow, one of the performers takes the small cow and moon out of the picture, then goes off stage and brings on the very large cow and floats him from one side to the other. He then replaces the cow and moon in the picture. 

 

Q: Why do you use the glowing lights?

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 A: The lights we use to make objects glow are called ‘black lights’ or ultraviolet lights. When you shine an ultraviolet light onto the objects painted with special fluorescent paint everything looks like it’s glowing. There are four ‘black light’ boxes that sit at the front of the stage, each with two fluorescent tubes attached that shine onto the stage. 

Q: What is the hardest colour to get under black light?

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A: The colour brown is the most difficult to create using the black light technique, partly because the light is not really black, it’s blue. When creating any colour using black light, you must consider that there will always be blue as part of the mixture.

We start by painting in a darkened room using only the ultraviolet or ‘black’ light. Usually the surface of the object is first covered with a neutral white fabric before we paint the entire surface yellow. By blending mostly blues, reds and yellows, if we’re lucky, we can achieve a brown. Often we don’t mix the colours first but apply them using a sponge, in splotches or layers. If you were to look closely at the painted objects, you would clearly see each of the colours, separately, on the surface. It’s a bit like creating an impressionist painting. 

Q: How did we make the puppets?

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A: All the puppets are carved here at our studios in Windsor, Nova Scotia, Canada. Most of the puppets, like the Caterpillar and Blue Horse, are carved out of soft foam using a pair of scissors or a sharp knife. We try to make the puppets look like the characters in the books as much as possible. Once carved, a carpenter places wooden handles in some of the pieces. Some very excellent sewers then take the carved pieces and cover them with stretchy fabric. The pieces are put together before a skilled painter covers them with fluorescent paint. So it’s not just one person but many who work together to make the puppets and all the things you see in the show. 

Q: Does it take a long time to make a puppet, and how much does it cost?

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A: It can take up to a month to make one puppet because all the puppets are unique and handmade here at Mermaid Theatre. It’s very hard to figure out how much it costs to make each puppet because they are all different, are made of different materials, and take different lengths of time to construct. I like to think that they are priceless. 

Q: How long does a puppet last for?

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A: Our puppets are very well made and last a very long time. Sometimes we have to repair them or remake parts of them, because they are used so much, but we hope they last forever. Our oldest puppets are now 40 years old. 

 

 

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