Backstage: Making props for Little Shop of Horrors

Andrew Killgallon, Arts & Cultures Editor

Madison Area Technical College’s theatre department is performing “Little Shop of Horrors” this February. This semester, students are teaming up with Madison College Alumni to create the star of the play, a massive plant with personality.

In this musical, a small town floral shop hosts an enormous, talking plant named Audrey II. Unlike any ordinary plant, Audrey II has the ability to talk, eat humans and grow at a rapid rate. At one point, the potted wonder creeps to 10 feet tall. Because of this, Audrey II is being created as a series of puppets coming to life here at Madison College.

Emmalee Pearson, an instructor and Madison College Alumni, is heading up the project to give life to this character.

“It’s really fun seeing this stuff become 3-D,” Pearson stated while seeing Audrey II at his largest for the first time. “I couldn’t be happier than this.”

For Pearson, the desire to work on this show stemmed from her time as a student at Madison College.

“The last play that they had before I graduated was either going to be “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” or “Little Shop of Horrors”. Even though I never have seen either, I was really rooting for Little Shop because I really wanted to build the puppet,” Pearson said.

Unfortunately, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” was chosen for that show.

When Pearson found out that “Little Shop of Horrors” would soon be in production, she stepped in to do what she wanted to years ago. “It’s such an iconic thing that I knew what it would entail but I didn’t really know the story or anything.”

Pearson has a deep love for the art of puppetry. Despite not knowing the storyline, she knew she could bring her expertise to the table to help make this production second to none.

“For me, puppets are kind of a facet for bigger things. I’m really into special effects and to me, puppets are part of that,” Pearson said.

Pearson grew up in the 1980’s, prior to the regular use of computer-generated imagery (CGI) in motion pictures. At that point, spot motion, puppetry and animatronics were commonly used for effects. Those were things that were appealing to her, Pearson said.

“There’s a better realness to it than CGI. There’s a little bit more personality which I think that’s kind of what the Jim Henson connection is,” Pearson said. “There’s no CGI character that has the same love as I’m concerned that Kermit does. They’re not as beloved because they don’t have the same kind of character traits.”

Because Audrey II continues to grow throughout the play, Pearson’s team is creating four puppets ranging from a small potted plant to a 10-foot tall, multi-puppeteer puppet. The largest of the puppets is currently being constructed from scratch.

Mark Westenberg, a special events staff member, built the skeleton of the monstrous puppet and will be building the set on the Mitby stage in the coming weeks. He’s a self-taught cabinet builder who has worked on several plays in the past.

The building of the framework of Audrey II took Westenberg 25 hours to complete. This includes designing the rig that not only holds up the more than two-foot wide jaw without blueprints, but also allows the puppeteer to move it with ease. With PVC piping for a jaw and two by fours holding up the frame of a massive skull, Westenberg and Pearson appear to have created life.

“Little Shop of Horrors” is free to all Madison College students with their OneCard.