Down on Skid Row

By Brooke Mantone, Sherman Hall, Lianna Levine, and Paola Santos

“Gee, it sure would be swell to get outta here/Bid the gutter farewell and get outta here/I’d move Heaven and Hell to get outta Skid/I’d do I don’t know what to get outta Skid Row,” eerily sings the male protagonist Seymour Krelborn of the musical, “Little Shop of Horrors,” in its opening number.

Through the musical direction of Terry LaBolt, Indiana University Summer theatre has put on Howard Ashman’s musical rendition of “Little Shop of Horrors.” The show runs from July 5 to 28 in the Wells-Meltz Theatre. Although the actors dazzle on stage, it is essential to know this production is no easy feat. Behind the scenes, dedication and creativity have made its success possible.

For instance, the renowned talking-plant, Audrey II, comes to life thanks to the puppeteer, Michael Bayler, a member of the M.F.A acting program at the University of Indiana at Bloomington (IU). He mastered the plant through much experimentation.

“I have to think of the plant like it has eyes… the mouth like it’s saying words as a human would,” Bayler said.

However, there are multiple people responsible for Audrey II. Bayler must work with Jeremy Gussin, the plant’s voice actor, to synchronize the plant’s movements with the plant’s voice.

For the first Audrey II plant, Bayler had to sit in a seat and strap himself in tightly to control the plant’s back-and-forth movements. The second version of Audrey II is operated by sitting in a hole at the back of the plant and using the metal bars to control the movement of its mouth. During the show, when eaten, the actors entered through the mouth and crawled out through the hole to get backstage. Audrey II was built with translucent mesh fabric, which allows Bayler to see the audience and operate the plant without the audience seeing him.

The props master of this musical-comedy, Chris Mueller, spoke on the labor-filled process to bring the stage to life. After considering his budget, he reads the script and makes a catalogue of what props will be needed to carry out the vision of the onstage set. It can take him and his team hours or even days to design just one prop needed for production. Each prop is meticulously designed with great attention to detail. For example, it took them 3 hours to design a desk used in the show. His favorite design was the dentist gas mask which was equipped with fans inside so that Christopher Crider-Plonka, who plays the dentist could breathe without fogging up the mask.

Crider-Plonka, a first-year Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) student in acting at IU, juggles playing nine characters in this production, as done in the original Broadway show. His main part is Steve Martin’s infamous role of dentist Orin Scrivello. He drew some inspiration for his characters from the film, from Elvis Presley, and has built muscle memory for memorizing which lines, voice techniques, and props belong to each character. On average, he has half a minute to change between costumes, which is made possible through the costume department’s use of quick-rigged clothing with snaps.

Speaking on the harsh realities and stereotypes the show illuminates, such as assault and abuse, Crider-Plonka feels that trusting the work and his cast mates have been crucial.

“Nina Donville, who plays Audrey, and I have a scene with the slap, and I have to be quite aggressive with her. Everything is very much rehearsed, but we constantly check-in. Every day before the show, we run it a couple of times and ask if it feels good for each other. Eventually, it becomes easier and easier to walk out the door and leave the role in there, as you do in any job,” Crider-Plonka said.

The themes of the show urge us to not fall victim to greed and other people’s expectations of success.
Success can come in many different forms, and may not only look like Audrey’s idea of suburbia. If one forgets their morals, as Seymour does for Audrey, they often forget themselves. Ashman insists we push against this preconceived idea of fulfillment.

If you want to test your knowledge on “Little Shop of Horrors,” take our quiz!

To learn about real-life Audrey II’s and friends at IU look through our fast facts and slideshow on the Jordan Hall Greenhouse.