Every performance of The Wizard of Oz needs an Oz head, and after working on Little Shop of Horrors in Oct. 2012, I found my phone ringing to ask if I would be interested in making a 6 foot tall, talking head of the intimidating manifestation that Dorothy and her troupe encounter in the City of Oz.
It needed to be big and talk. So once again I go to my old standby; foam, and piping...
Step 1: The Frame of the Head
The head of Oz is usually stationary except for the movement of the mouth. I wanted the head to be able to move slightly from side to side and to shake with rage when it 'yelled'.
When operating a puppet, even on a large scale, the more direct interaction with the puppet the better. This puppet is made to be held in one hand while the other hand operates the jaw.
The foam allows the head to be huge but lightweight. The frame for the head doesn't have to be as reinforced as say, that of Audrey II, because it is not under as much strain due to movement or direct physical interactions with the actors.
Step 2: Skinning the Head
Skinning the head is a big job for a face this size, requiring almost an entire roll of foam! However, when it comes to large scale puppets; every ounce counts.
Just putting the base foam on this took all day, but after this step comes the fun part...the features!
Step 3: The Jaw
The mouth works on a similar mechanism to a ventriloquist dummy, in that the upper jaw is stationary and only the lower one moves.
I attached a second cross bar to the vertical PVC with metal loops, allowing the pipe to rotate in the slot, thereby being the hinge for the jaw.
I then made a simple plastic tube loop out the front, giving me the shape of the lower pallet.
I drilled a hole in the lower jaw pipe and glued/screwed in a bent piece of PVC that came up flush with the main vertical pole. While the puppet is relativity lightweight (15-20lbs), I wanted the puppeteer holding it with both hands while the head was not talking. The hand fit through a loop at the top of the lower jaw handle allowing him to hold that against the main bar when resting. When he talked the one hand lets go momentarily from the main bar, moving forawrd and ack, then returing. This allowed him to make it talk without one are getting too tired to affect his preformance.
Step 4: Paint That Thing!
The face is painted entirely with spray paint. I love working with greens and I think it shows here. I painted the inside of the mouth red and brown to make it stand out more when the puppet talked on stage. The light green layer was applied, then the darker areas to make the details pop.
Originally I was going to give it hair, but it looked too benevolent, so we went with the bare look, but decided to add some dark black eyebrows.
This was all about presence. I made the areas around the eyes dark so the yellow chrome popped, giving it a glowing look. I also kept the teeth light, so their appearance was unnerving. So much texture and wrinkles were added with the paint, saving valuable time that would have otherwise been spent making them out of foam.
Step 5: Show Time!
I thought this thing was big when I stood next to it, but it's size was only enhanced when we put high-schoolers in front of it. It was truly an awe-inspiring presence.
The fact that it was light enough to hold allowed it to 'float', as well as follow the actors, look around and shake with rage.
This head is available for rent for your productions if interested, through Milford Central School in New York.