Introduction: Building Audrey II Phase 1

About: I am a theater artist with a taste for the unusual. Bones and metal, iconography and the media, rough textures, blatant symbolism, and a slant towards the surreal, I limit myself to no media or style. I'll try…

Everything starts with design. Audrey II is a fantastic creature; being a man-eating plant from outer space that grows throughout the production and dances and sings in her largest forms. Of course, each form has specific requirements of motion and presentation that need to be adhered to before aesthetics can be considered. For Phase 1 there are several script called-for requirements. Audrey Phase I must:

  • Be able to be held, picked up, and carried by Seymour

  • 'Wilt' on cue

  • 'Grow' on cue

  • Respond to action on stage as a functional hand-puppet

These sound like quite simple actions in theory, but the last is a special consideration that requires the small hand-held puppet can be placed on a scenic element which has a hidden puppeteer who can then manipulate Audrey II.  Often productions will want to build the conceit that Audrey is immobile until she comes to life to express interest in drinking Seymour’s blood.

With these considerations in mind, I began my design process, eventually settling on a variation the traditional fly-trap design with a few touches I thought would make it appealing:

  1. Audrey II develops more color throughout the production, as well as bumps, veins, protuberances and spikes. The first form is quite pale.

  2. She also grows progressively more and more teeth. The first form is toothless, and looks somewhat smiling and innocent.

  3. She has the lobed leaves of a jungle plant, and the bright colors of various odd plants and birds, as well as white speckling and highlights to give the impression of more shine than the materials allow.

My designs and notes reflect the needs of the production and my beginning considerations of what will be needed to accomplish them. With the design approved and settled on by the director (which is another process unto itself, and important collaboration), the build is ready to start.

Step 1: Materials

Because the first phase of Audrey II is small, she does not require much material. As she does not require a more solid armature like her later forms (being only a small hand-puppet), she is composed of the following materials:

  • 1” Upholstery Foam

  • Craft Foam

  • Milliskin Matte Spandex Fabric in White, Magenta, and Apple/Kelly Green*

  • Faux Terra Cotta Plastic Pot

  • PVC Pipe to Fit Puppeteer's Arm and Interior of Pot

  • ½” Flexible Aquarium Tubing

  • 50lb Test Fishing Line

  • Small Neodymium Magnets

  • Nylon Cord

  • Large Bead

  • Hot Melt Glue

  • Thread

  • Acrylic Paint in Evergreen, Apple Green, White, Red, Purple, Blue, Aqua, Yellow, Orange, Brown, and Black

* The company I was purchasing fabric from changed their stock of this color partway through my build, and the name seems to have changed from 'Apple Green' to 'Kelly Green'.

Pardon that I cannot list specific volumes of each, as I was buying bulk amounts for multiple forms of Audrey II, I don't have much by way of estimate for each. For the first phase, they are all in small amount, less than one sheet of foam and a few feet of the other materials with yardage.

Step 2: Part 1: Head

The head of Phase I is composed entirely out of upholstery foam. It cuts easily with a pair of sharp scissors (I generally do not use my sewing scissors for this, instead favoring a pair of sharp paper scissors), and comes together with hot melt glue.

Estimating size based on my own hand and using a sharpie, I traced out a pattern directly on the foam, which was tweaked before being glued together, but gives a template to work from. The form is something of a butterfly, with the larger dart becoming the front of the heads and the smaller ones the sides. Any similar pattern works for creating rounded or domed forms in foam.

Each dart is glued together with one pass with a lot of glue, then a second pass to give a 'seam' on the outside of the constructions. The darts must be held together until the seam is completely cooled, otherwise it will pull apart under it's own weight. Clamps can be used, but I just used my hands on smaller pieces. It is a bit of a wait, but not terrible.

The bottom jaw is finished the same way, and I added a thin 'lip' to both pieces as well. The lip was made of a thin strip of foam which was then cut down to have a beveled edge. These look rough, but with a Lycra skin they will seem much smoother.

Step 3: Psrt 2: Mouth

Using craft foam (a thin, flexible, yet supple foam) I added mouth plates to both the top and bottom jaw. These allow for easier control of the puppet, and help it hold it's shape. Cardboard or card-stock could also be used (and would, in fact, be preferable as they are more sturdy). Tracing out the head, a loose shape of the foam is cut, this is then adhered to the mouth with a thick band of hot melt glue and held in place until it is cool. This is then trimmed to refine the shape.

Step 4: Part 3: Leaves

The leaves of all phases are composed of 1” upholstery foam, and come in two sizes. A dozen of the smaller size are used to adorn the neck and three larger leaves serve as the 'wilting' effect leaves (also partially concealing the head in it's first appearance). Each leaf is cut out, then the edge is beveled (cutting away a wedge on both the top and bottom of the leaf) to give it a more refined shape.

The base of the wilting leaves is still foam, but the wilting effect is achieved with a very simple system of pull rods. A piece of clear tubing cut into approximately inch long segments and adhered directly to the foam with hot melt glue leaving some space between each segment serves as the sheath for these rods. Once the glue is cool, a few feet of 50lb fishing line is threaded through the tubes and the end of it is adhered to the top tip of the leaf with a puddle of glue. The fishing line is left long and is threaded through the pot when everything is fully assembled.

Step 5: Part 4: Pot

To hold everything together and to serve as a base for the plant, a plastic pot is used. Using a box-cutter/matte knife, I removed most of the bottom for the puppeteer's arm to go through, being sure to give everything a clean edge so as to not scratch the puppeteer.

I added a piece of PVC pipe to the center for both weight and to conceal the 'growth' of the plant (by stretching the neck tube around it), simply forcing it in the pot and holding it in place with some hot melt glue. The pipe is precisely the size to fit tightly in the pot.

I also added a small piece of wire to later hold the ring that will attach to the fishing-line rigging in the leaves (which will be fed through a tiny hole punched in the plastic with an awl). This is attached through the pot at it's base, hooked to point downward. Seymour releases the leaves by unlatching the rigged leaves with his thumb, hidden from the audience, allowing the motion to happen seemingly without assistance on cue.

Step 6: Part 5: Head Skin

All the phases of Audrey II are covered in Milliskin matte spandex fabric. This material does not ravel when cut, and can be given seams with stitching (using a zig-zag stitch for anything that will move) or with hot melt glue. To prepare the fabric for the head, I simply draped it over the foam and approximated a pattern based on this, marking it in chalk and adding in darts freely when needed. This was an imprecise process, but I did not want totally smooth coverage, instead wanting some wrinkly texture to add to the plant's overall shaping.

The top and bottom of the head are skinned independently of one another, the skin for the mouth, stitched across the middle of the back of the mouth, serves as hinge point to connect the two, and the eventual connection of the neck serves to further aid this attachment.

This process is documented better in later phases, please refer to Phase II, III, or IV for more information.

The head is skinned in white fabric and the mouth is skinned in magenta. The mouth has a small tongue meant for just one finger of the puppeteer, before stitching the mouth top and bottom together, it is sewn to both in such a manner as to allow the finger to fit into it. A small dot of hot melt glue is added to the top of the mouth skin of the interior of the head so the puppeteer can tell the top from the bottom by touch.

Step 7: Part 6: Neck and Leaf Skin

With the foam leaves cut, the skin for them is very simple to make. While the foam can be directly painted, a fabric 'skin' makes everything much more durable (especially in the long run, as foam is prone to tear easily) and allows for brighter, more vivid paint colors. Laying out the foam leaves on the fabric and tracing around them makes for a basic pattern. Cutting approximately 1/4” to 1/2” around this yields a simple skin that can be sewn together around the traced guideline. I favor a zig-zag stitch to prevent the seam from ripping under the stress of turning, especially with the smallest leaves. To facilitate turning, starting by turning just the tip of the leaf, then pulling it over the cut foam seems to make the entire process much easier. It can be a little tricky to set up but is easier than stuffing the slightly stiff form into the fabric. The images make this process a little more clear.

The sleeve or neck of the plant is a simple tube, cut as a long rectangle and sewn down one side. There will be leaves added to this but only after it is painted for ease of painting both.

Step 8: Part 7: Painting

Everything was painted in very bright colors. I used a very cheap acrylic straight from the tube to avoid mixing later. Since these colors suit the look of the show, there was no need to blend for subtlety. I used both a paint sprayer (for gradients and consistency of base colors) and a brush (for details and accents). These photos encompass the painting of several phases as I was painting as much as possible at once to cut down on time.

The exterior of the head was painted in this order:

  1. Yellow sprayed gradient (leaving a bit of the front white)

  2. Orange sprayed gradient

  3. Red sprayed gradient

  4. Purple brushed veins (with thinned paint for smoother lines)

  5. White brushed highlights and spots (not thinned for opacity)

The interior of the mouth was painted in this order:

  1. Purple sprayed gradient

  2. Blue sprayed gradient

  3. Brushed purple details

  4. Brushed blue details

  5. Brushed white highlights

The Leaves and greenery were painted in this order:

  1. Dark green sprayed gradient

  2. Light green brushed veins and tips

  3. Purple brushed veins

  4. Red brushed vein highlights

  5. White vein and edge highlights

The pot was painted with a combination of brown, gray, white, black, and apple green sprayed and splattered to create a more interesting look.

Step 9: Part 8: Final Assembly

Everything was assembled with hot melt glue. The neck sleeve and leaves were added to the pot with hot melt glue, and the head was attached to the sleeve. Each wilting leaf was added to the pot, and their strings were rigged through the pot for the desired effects, cut to length, and a plastic ring added to the end to affix them in their set position and enable them to be unhooked quickly.

A string with a large bead on the end was added to the interior of the head. This, when extended and held taut, allows the puppeteer something to pull on to hold the head steady before the plant's cue to 'come alive'. This helps build the conceit of the hidden puppeteer. A foam plug (cut in a circle and painted, was added to the hole in the base of the pot. This is easily removed, and helps the prop look better and more consistent when held.

To better hold the leaves together before the 'wilt', neodymium magnets were added to each leaf tip with hot melt glue. Magnets were also added to the base of the pot to allow it to affix better to the scenic element that hides the puppeteer when Seymour puts the plant down. This also helps the puppeteer not tip or move the plant much before it's cue. Four steel screws are added to the scenic element to hold the pot in place via the magnets.

As a final addition, magnets were added to the base of the head and the top of the inner rim of the pot so the head would stay in place while the puppeteer slipped their hand in place.  Two pairs were used on the front and back (not shown).

Step 10: Conclusion

Here is phase one completed and rigged! Audrey II phase I consists of an upper jaw, lower jaw, neck, mouth, pot, lifting leaves, decorative leaves, and the mechanics necessary for her desired actions. These have all been painted in multiple colors blending and detailing, highlight and shading to give her shape and form. She is capable of performing all her desired actions, and is ready to go.

On to Phase II...

Step 11: Bonus: Production Photos

Here are some photos of this puppet in action during the production!