Little Shop of Wonders
Sitting in the soft, cushiony seats surrounding the “thrust stage”, the audience for Indiana University’s production of Little Shop of Horrors was in great spirits; they appropriately roared with laughter at Audrey’s crazed, nightmare-of-a-dentist boyfriend Orin Scrivello, and squirmed with fear at Audrey Two’s sinister, human-like persona in the form of a monstrous plant. The audience seemed pleased – but probably did not see the show on the same mechanics level as Wicked or The Phantom of the Opera.
However, what the audience does not see is the intense and agonizing lengths that the actors behind these beloved roles go to behind the scenes, just for a smile. Upon speaking with some of the people behind the craft, a multitude of surprising behind-the-scenes secrets were revealed.
Michael Bayler, a third-year MFA student at IU, is the talent behind the wise-cracking plant Audrey Two. Originally starting out as a journalism student at the University of Missouri, Bayler took theatre classes for non-majors on the side, eventually coming to realize this was his main passion and switched his major. Backstage, he took us on a tour of the excessive mechanics involved in operating the ever-growing puppet. We all stood aghast as Bayler crawled inside a minuscule tunnel, complete with several bars and levers used to open and close the towering mouth. We were shocked to find out just how much arm and shoulder strength was required, as well as the intense training and research Michael endured to ensure the puppet’s mouth movements lined up with what he was saying.
Additionally, we spoke to actor Christopher Plonka, a second-year MFA student at IU. On top of his main role as evil dentist Orin Scrivello, Plonka played an additional 8 characters in the show. The audience noticed this and a roar of laughter started whenever Plonka appeared in another costume after another. However, while watching the show, we are not aware of what goes on backstage. Little did we know that Plonka would race offstage and rip off everything he could once out of site of the audience. He has approximately 25 seconds to transform into a completely new character, 9 times! Plonka has different strategies to achieve this feat; buttons that are actually snaps and are easy to rip off; wigs that are not pinned on and are also easy to throw off; wearing another character’s costume underneath a different one; and the help of backstage crews to lend some extra hands.
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