The bulk of my energy lately has gone into figuring out how to keep a wig on an actor. Wait, you may say, isn’t that pretty much Wig Mastery 101? Yes, normally it is. In this instance, I had the challenge of having an actor with super short hair, meaning there’s no hair of her’s to pin curl and form an anchor point from.
In these cases, no pin curl isn’t much of a hassle – we just use athletic sport wrap to form a tight band around the actors head and then pin the wig to that. (for more about this process, visit my website FAQ). So why is this particular case a conundrum? Well, I’m glad you asked. Not only do we need to anchor a wig to an actor, we also need to anchor a 2 foot tall puppet to the wig.
Confused? Don’t be – it’s theatre. To begin at the start, we have a Ten Minute Play called Hygiene (written by Gregory Hischak) – we quickly learn in the play that the protaganist has picked up a “parasite” at school – the parasite being a 2 foot tall puppet sticking out of her head.
As you might imagine, the challenge was to find a way to anchor the amazingly articulate puppet, built by Jay Tollefsen (who will be voicing his own thoughts on this process in this blog) to the head of actor Havalah Grace.
What we ended up with was a plan to attach a socket to the foundation of the wig I was building for Havalah (she is wigged both for the character’s “look” and the function of the puppet).
I sewed the socket, provided by the props designer, Jay Tollefsen, onto the foundation of the wig, and then placed transparent, heavy wig lace over the socket, sewed it down, and then tied hair into the lace to hide the base.
Once I had finished tying the wig, we were ready for a trial run in rehearsal. We anchored the wig to Havalah’s head and then proceeded to screw “Phillip” into the socket. Phillip has no head, as it is “buried” in the actor’s head, like a tick, so his neck socket contained a rod which coupled into the socket.
The coupling worked and Phillip stayed attached to the wig. However, because of his height, he was not stable enough to balance on top of Havalah’s head without swaying and pulling the wig away from her head.
To compensate, Jay created a long metal rod that was inserted into poor Phillip’s lower torso. The rod went through Phillip like a skewer through a kebab and through a loop sewn to the wig foundation. The rod then continued into the back of Havalah’s shirt, where it fed through three loops in a cunning elastic harness designed by Costume Designer Lisa Weber.
The rod took some of the weight of Phillip and helped him to balance more on the top of Havalah’s wig. This stabilization also provided Havalah with additional mobility onstage.
We had finally reached a point where the wig stayed on Havalah and Phillip balanced where he was supposed to on the wig – for a few minutes. We quickly discovered that the weight of Phillip was still tugging on the wig, which was then tugging on the wrap we put around Havalah’s head to attach the wig to.
At no point thus far had we had problems keeping Phillip attached to the wig, so I knew that I needed something more foolproof and heavy duty to keep the wig on Havalah. As tech creeped nearer, I procured self-sticking first aid wrap to use in place of the sport wrap, hoping it’s extra tackiness and tightness would keep it attached to Havalah’s head and thus keep her wig on.
As it turned out, the extra stickiness of the wrap was the magic bullet! I was able to anchor it so successfully to Havalah’s head that the wig never budged and Phillip stayed happily perched on her head for an hour of tech – which is about six times longer than he needs to. The increased stability of Phillip’s perch also meant that his body could move a little more in concert with her head, which gave Phillip a more lifelike quiver and shake.
Below is commentary by props designer and puppet builder, Jay Tollesfen
I never imagined we would need to be considering the things involved with this project. As a prop person I am constantly concerned with what scenery and actors are doing- often costumes are a factor, but wigs- they had so far been at the periphery of my experience until “little Phillip” came along.
I knew collaboration would be a part of this puppet project, but I think I should have embraced the idea sooner. We were all quite busy with our own projects and I was involved with the basic building of the puppet so that thinking about how it all came together came late. – the props department being offsite being a contributing factor.
This being a wig blog and not a prop blog, I’m not sure how much I can add to the great description already given- the building of the puppet is another story, but I might add to the wig story that at one point we added snaps to the whole setup (Heather putting the male ends on the wig near the ears and I put the female parts on the puppet’s wrists). The plan was to create more stability using these two anchor points. I had added some thick armature wire to the arms thinking that the puppet would be like a tripod (the neck and two hands). Once the long puppet “skewer” was added with Lisa’s elastic harness and Heather began using the stickier first aid wrap, the arms were less important- stability wise.
The thick armature wire is now actually a weight detriment. …Anyway… the snaps were to help secure the two arm points and thus keep Phillip stable. As it turns out, the snaps came undone quickly into our first run-through, and the puppet, wig and all stayed in place. If the hands stayed where they belonged I think I would have breathed easier, but the thing stayed and that’s a victory.
As things worked out there is a strange swaying movement to the puppet as Havalah moves that I think works well for the piece but is somewhat unintended. If we wanted less movement from the puppet might we consider a larger mounting plate? A “headband” type ring under the wig (such as we had in the puppet mock-up)? Maybe a shoulder harness attached to the hands and stay with just single screw in wig attachment point? Next time we attach a puppet to an actor’s head we might consider other options. I’m open to suggestions.