'Feed me Seymour'

Saturday, October 6, 2012
Marta Johnson and Katie Hughes, who were largely responsible for the outside appearance of "Audrey II" in the upcoming production of SCT's "Little Shop of Horrors," show off the two smallest versions of the new creation. (Photo by Randy M. Cauthron)

SCT takes on challenge of creating man-eating plant

When professional theaters want to produce "Little Shop of Horrors," they will spend as much as $7,000 a weekend to rent the automated star of the show, Audrey II, the man-eating plant.

Creative minds at SCT decided they would create their own model.

"We learned so much from doing it," Evan Hilsabeck, who recently joined SCT as managing artistic director, said. "And if we had to do it again, we probably would buy it. But it has been so much fun."

The kickoff production for the 2012-13 season at SCT will debut Friday, Oct. 12, the first show in a three-weekend run.

Marta Johnson and Katie Hughes work on the head of Audrey II version 3.0, preparing it for "The Little Shop of Horrors" debut this week at SCT. (Photo by Randy M. Cauthron)

In actuality, there are four stages of Audrey II. The first two are small hand-held puppets. The final two are large puppets requiring a great deal of design and engineering to allow for action and movement.

Marc and Zach Benedict created the design and engineered the framework, then Katie Hughes and Marta Johnson stepped in to create "the look."

A lot of others joined in to help with the many hours of assembling the steel frame, chicken wire and foam; sewing fabric and applying adhesive; then applying the paint and final touches.

"We started with the largest one because it was the hardest to do," Johnson said.

"The whole process began months ago with a volunteer committee working the concept," Hilsabeck said. "This really is a community project."

SCT owned another Audrey II from a previous production. The local company purchased a completely built "plant" approximately 30 years ago. After using it locally, SCT began renting it out.

"After 30 years it was quite dead," Hilsabeck said.

When the local organizers decided to produce the play this season, special funding was allocated to create a new four-piece creation.

"Building the frame was the hardest part," Johnson said, but many hours were spent on the backstage floor, assembling the moving parts and making the creative piece as realistic as possible.

Brent Berends will move Audrey II from the inside, serving as the puppeteer, and Dan Mayes, who starred as Judas in last season's

"Jesus Christ Superstar," will provide the voice for the plant who requires a diet of humans.

During rehearsals, Berends has been providing a great deal of feedback as to what works and doesn't work with Audrey II. He is a delicate flower.

"Our hope is on stage, it will look and feel like it's alive," Hilsabeck said.

Once the show's run is completed at SCT, the weekend of Oct. 26-27, Hilsabeck hopes to make some money for the local operation.

"It's a popular community theater play and in the schools. Our hope with the plant is to sell it. But until we find a buyer, we'll probably rent it out," he said.

That will include all four versions of Audrey II.

"That makes me sad," Hughes said at the suggestion of the hand puppets going too.

"It would have to be as a set," Johnson said.

Hilsabeck anticipates a wow factor for the audience when Audrey II 4.0 makes its first appearance on stage.

"The largest plant is more than a third larger than the old plant we had. I think audiences will be pretty thrilled," he said.

Shaley Cullen will direct the production featuring Marc Benedict as Seymour and Michele Mayes as Audrey.

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