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Food Glorious Food: A look inside Oliver! faux food props

Oliver! is the jaunty adaptation of Dicken's dark classic, penniless orphan Oliver who faces his nightmarish life with virtuous innocence. The show opens with the classic song "Food, Glorious Food," which highlights the deprived children of the Victorian-era workhouse dreaming about something to eat - other than gruel.

Translation: we needed a lot of food props.

Since it’s impractical to have real food props to use (in case the cast mistakes them for a mid-show snack), prop-making artist, Lisa Garza, a member of our board of directors and past Artistic Director, was eager to take a stab at creating realistic-looking food props.

When it comes to creating faux food props that look real, Lisa Garza explains, “The saving grace in theatre is that it only has to look good from about 20 feet away.”

However, it’s important for food props to be both functional and able to hold up to repeated uses during a show. As much as we like to think (and hope) that props get handled carefully, the last thing you want to hear during a show is that the ham for Food, Glorious Food has been damaged.

Lisa’s go-to construction materials are plaster cloth, ModPodge, Aleene’s tacky glue, and spray paint. For food props, other items such as foam rubber, Styrofoam, foam core, acrylic paint, air dry clay, liquid nails, silicone caulk, and hot glue come in handy to create the proper shape and texture.

Some foods are smooth and shiny, while others are course and lumpy, so finding the right materials is very important. For example, lightweight foam sheets that are used to pack shoes into shoeboxes have a great texture that translates well into baked meat when painted, while painted foam rubber looks exactly like bread or cake.

Lisa gets a lot of her faux food inspiration from Pinterest and keeps a Pinterest board of ideas and projects to recreate for Oliver! A lot of her inspiration also comes from YouTube, which is full of instructional DIY videos.

“After you make a few things, you’ll find yourself looking for things with the right shape or texture,” says Lisa. “I once spray painted Kix cereal to look like English peas, and I’ve mixed everything from cornmeal to grits with silicone to get the right texture for gravy.” Lisa has found that silicone works perfectly for fried eggs because when it’s tinted with acrylic paint, it has the same sheen as a real egg and can be rounded like an egg yolk and flattened for the egg white.

Glass beads have the perfect appearance and texture to be a stand-in for caviar, and looks so similar to the real thing that Lisa said she “made the actors in an Agatha Christie play promise not to try anything funny for fear that they’d chip their teeth on it.”

After finding the perfect texture comes finding the perfect color. Lisa never uses just one color and says the key is to mix two or three different colors of acrylic or spray paint so that your food props have depth and richness.

For our production of Oliver!, Lisa stuffed a pink pair of children’s tights with foam rubber sheets to make a string of sausages and spray painted them medium brown, then added a darker brown between the links to create dimension.

Lisa’s ultimate goal with props is to get it cheaper by making it yourself, but recognizes the importance of knowing when you’re stuck and when to purchase the prop anyway. “I’ve been trying to make fake lettuce for a few days now and nothing in the realm of foam or fabric looked or felt right.” For the most part, all of our faux food props for Oliver! are handmade, but you may see a freshly picked (from the aisles of Hobby Lobby) head of lettuce or two on stage.

"Recipes" for above items:

Orange slices: 6 very thin slices of foam glued together with rind made from plaster cloth.

Bundt cake: expanding foam, glue and paint icing.

Peach cake: three circles of foam runner glued together with white caulk, peach slices are cut out of poster board, glued together, and painted.

Sausages: pink tights stuffed with foam rubber sheets and spray painted.

Ham: armature of fiberglass mesh stuffed with paper and plaster cloth.

Come see our faux food props in action! Oliver! runs from November 25, 2016 - December 18, 2016. Get your tickets today.

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