Problem:

When the Connecticut Repertory Theatre mounted The Gut Girls, a play about Victorian women that transpires in a slaughterhouse/gutting shed, meat slabs dominated Brett McCormack's design. Some spectators, seated in the round in a small black box, would be a few feet from actors who entered carrying pigs they would hang on meat hooks. Technical director Russell Facente knew the slabs would have to look real at close range. How would the shop create slabs that moved naturally on hooks and looked real to those nearby? And how would it create these on a total materials budget of $800, less than $300 for each not-so-little pig?

Solution:

Facente considered carving a 6' pig out of foam but decided that would not “get the pigs to move realistically as rigor-mortised pork.” He thought about ballistics gelatin but wondered if that would survive the show's week and a half tech and two-week run. “I deduced that the best way to solve this was an additive construction process instead of a subtractive one,” he says.

Anatomy books, online photographs and diagrams, and a trip to a local slaughterhouse suggested an approach: since animals have interlocked layers of skin and muscle, Facente decided that he would layer materials, bonding or wrapping each to the next. “I concluded if it works for the real thing, it should work for my pigs!”

Two parallel lengths of armored BX cable, taped loosely enough together to maintain flexibility yet hold a curve, served as a pig's spine. He created ribs from 3/4" plywood to insure a stiff rib segment and then covered them with aluminum screening which he could manipulate into a contoured shape. “I shaped 1/2" rebar, which came free from a previous show, to create the hind leg,” he says, adding that he carved the front leg and rump from Dow Blue Styrofoam®. The larger part of the meat consisted of this blue foam and laminated layers of 1/2" carpet foam. “By laminating slices of the carpet foam to one another using 3M Spray 74® Foamfast adhesive, the pigs maintained correct anatomical shape and musculature, while allowing the sides of pork to flex and have supple ‘muscle tissue,’” he says. “The designer created fatty deposits in the stomach and neck areas for some extra texture,” by adding Great Stuff® flexible foam spray. Finally, Facente applied cotton scrim painted with Jaxsan 600, a roofing elastomeric that becomes flexible and strong when it dries. “This created an exoskeleton that would ensure the pigs would survive any mishandling. After a light sanding, the sides of pork went off to paints. Jaxsan is also a great paint surface,” says Facente.

He adds that he and another carpenter spent about 60 hours on the pigs but is pleased that the slabs came in within budget. “During the run, the pigs flexed realistically, and the shaping created great shadows adding a lot of depth to the pigs,” Facente adds.

If you have encountered a problem while designing or building a concert, event, exhibit, or play, please tell us about it at davi@comcast.net.