September/October 2016: I was doing decor and custom art installations to turn an old petting zoo barn into an art experience for visitors to Stanley Park's "Ghost Train" produced by Mortal Coil Performance with the City of Vancouver. I was assisting an amazing puppet artist who had been doing the Spooky Barn every year since 2002, Beth Agosti. Together we created a skeletons' picnic in a crypt, a series of peephole dioramas about the "Seven Ages of Man," and four Day of the Dead themed "retablos", as well as decorations in the barn's main room, the dance hall.
Here are some process shots of the work in progress for those who are curious - this was a 2 week installation using mostly recycled materials from previous years. We bought fabric, foamcore, paint, hot glue, zap straps & staples, we did a bunch of printing, and we had support from the scene shop at Great Northern Way which supplied 8 platforms and a number of old theatre flats (fake walls).
Process Shots ~ Scroll Down for The Results ~
"Retablo" Dioramas in the Dance Hall
"A retablo in Mexican folk art (also lámina) is a devotional painting, especially a small popular or folk art one using iconography derived from traditional Catholic church art." - Wikipedia
Since we had 4 empty boxes mounted on the wall in the Dance Hall, we had the perfect setting to interpretively create 4 Day of the Dead "retablos", using all recycled decor, random junk and crafty stuff. with a peek-in cover in front of each 3-D collage. Follow the process in this slideshow to get closer to the artwork!
Picnic in the Crypt
Occupying the larger main animal stall in the back hall of the Spooky Barn, the Crypt was our take on the tradition of sharing a meal with the dead. Here, the dead came to picnic with us. Using almost entirely old materials and objects found in the Barn and stored from past years I set up the graves, the decor, the draping, the props, and the mannequins... uh, skeletons, while Beth Agosti styled the skeletons' costumes. This completely changed the atmosphere of the barn.
The Seven Ages of Man: Peekable Diorama Series
In eight former animal stalls we set up custom-built platforms with a staged series of collaged images representing the Seven Ages from Shakespeare's famous text. Seen through peep-holes along a dividing wall in a dimly-lit hallway, the scenarios take a whimsical and macabre look at the stages: The Infant, The Child, The Lover, The Soldier, The Judge, The Pantaloon, and The Aged. An old wind-up music box was attached to the entrance display, inviting viewers to wind it gently, to play its haunting simple tune as they explored the installation.
"Each year the Stanley Park Ghost Train takes our riders on a journey through a mystical and magical world, inspired by Hallowe'en and other spooky tales. This family event is open to all age and offers a fright free glimpse of the whimsical world of ghosts and ghouls."
"Escape the weather and have a spooky-good time for just $2 plus GST per person. The third annual Spooky Barn is open throughout all operating hours. This charming indoor experience provides families with an escape from the roaming spirits, as well as the elements! Explore the peek-a-boo art installations portraying the Seven Stages of Man from William Shakespeare's famous As You Like It. Once you have completed your journey through the Seven Stages, celebrate to the sounds of mariachi music on the dance floor."
- City of Vancouver website
Mid-September has arrived and it's raining today; the weather has cooled down a bit from a rather mild summer in Vancouver, and I've had a few days off from the chaos of freelance life. Having some quiet time to do nothing, catch up on small tasks, and reflect on what I've done lately is really good.
My August was taken over by the costume design & execution for "The Beaux Stratagem" with the United Players of Vancouver, at the Jericho Arts Centre, as previously mentioned in my last post. It has been 7 years since I did a conventional indoor theatre show like that, specifically, a period piece with a large cast. With myself being the only costumer, a department of one since the regular U.P. head of wardrobe was on another project, I had a lot on my plate. I had some sewing help from 2 very kind volunteers, but the rest of the job was up to me: the costume sourcing & pull from stock, fittings, alterations, wig styling, hat decorating, boot dying, shopping, organization, transportation and storage in between fittings and everywhere else... It was a real exercise of my costuming muscles. I ended up getting a car - it was necessary to do the job, as well as to start working in film more, so I took the plunge. If you know me you'll know this is a big change and part of the Big big change of moving to Vancouver and starting a new life here.
Photographer Nancy Caldwell took photos of the dress rehearsal, which she has kindly shared with me via Flickr.
The review at VancouverPlays.com even mentioned me and my work! Thanks very much to the author, Jerry Wasserman:
"Amira Routledge’s period costumes are far handsomer than what anyone should expect from a company with such small budgets."
Here are some highlights from the show, from August 28, 2016.
Coming soon in Amiraworks:
Starting September 26 I'll be doing an installation for Mortal Coil Performance Society's "Ghost Train" in Stanley Park. I'll be assisting artist Beth Agosti on the Spooky Barn: a series of walk-through scenarios and a dance hall, set in an old barn which used to be a petting zoo next to the train. It's Day of the Dead themed and I'm really excited about this!
Then from mid-October until early January I'm joining the costume crew on a feature film! Through the ACFC union under costume designer Zohra Shahalimi I'll be a streamstress/costumer and truck assistant. This will my first big film gig after becoming a permittee with IATSE and about 5 day calls doing background costuming on a few different productions. The film is shooting in Kamloops or Kelowna in November/December, so it's really going to be a learning adventure.
WOW has time ever been flying by through June and July! So many different projects have come into my life. Stilt performances, painting, puppetry, and costumes galore. I had a review meeting with the Costume Department at IATSE Local 891 to become a permittee member with them, and very soon I'll be getting my feet wet in the big pond of film work in Vancouver. Especially since I'm about to own my own car, which is a necessity for pretty much anything in film and theatre here in Rain City. I've held off as long as I could from taking this plunge, but the time has come. I find it annoying and classist when everyone simply assumes that I own one, but I forgive them because the culture of this city is completely car-oriented, no matter how wonderful the bike lanes are. I'm giving this place a real shot, so watch out Vancouver.
My other news is that I accepted a gig as the costume designer for the United Players of Vancouver's first show of the season opening September 2 at the Jericho Arts Centre: The Beaux Stratagem, written by George Farquhar in 1707, translated by Thornton Wilder in 1939/Ken Ludwig in 2004. Director Kathleen Duborg has set our production in the mid-Victorian period, so with a cast of 14 I am up to my ears in period costumes. In dusty old stock rooms I have spent most of the past 2 weeks rummaging through racks, boxes, and bins. It's a community theatre with a long history and a very nice group of people making it go, and it's a nice project to introduce myself to the Vancouver theatre community. It's been 7 years since I designed & assembled a conventional theatre production, indoors and everything!
CLICK HERE FOR TICKET INFORMATION
September 2 -25
Thu - Sun at 8pm
(except September 11 & 25, matinée only)
$12 Preview: September 1 at 8pm
Talkback: September 8
Matinées: June 12 & 26 at 2pm
(no evening performance)
September 2 -25
Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1126471444126759/
With Lindsey LongLegs - June 11, 2016 for NZR Productions
Gulliver the Giant Puppet
Mortal Coil Performance Society with Che Campbell, Frank Rader, and Barb Clayden
I was thrilled to join the puppeteer crew for this guy for Aboriginal Day at the Musqueam Reserve, as seen in the video posted below. Mortal Coil is creating Gulliver as a central part of a full-length show for 2017. After a good introduction as a puppeteer I became a maker, and worked on the sculptural development with the wonderful team of builders Che, Frank, and Barb. And then I was a puppeteer in the Canada Day parade on Granville Island, an unplanned & fantastic experience. Then we went back to improving the shape and movements of this big guy. At this point he is waiting for his next public appearance and I'm utterly thrilled to be part of his puppeteer crew: it takes 5 of us to operate him, including set up and tear down. Much fun!
I had the good fortune to meet someone who works in costume in IATSE who passed my card on to an assistant designer at Once Upon A Time, the fantastical TV series entering its 6th season. They contracted me to make 2 matching turbans in the space of 4 days. Done and done. Hope to see them in action some day, and I'd absolutely Love to join that team, the costume designer is wonderful.
Interior Display Walls & Granville St Window - Painterly Ombre for Kenzo, June 2016
Commercial Scenic Painting
for Scenic Oasis Film Inc.
I spent a memorable 2 overnights making a room orange with Tuffback, finishing work around 3am. Switching time schedules so much with all this freelance work is tough but I kind of enjoy it. I did some other painting work for Scenic Oasis on location at Boundary Bay Airport that involved painting giant fake concrete blocks to look like the real blocks that were there, for a high-profile commercial that is probably airing in the U.S. My new car is going to bring new opportunities in scenic painting, me'thinks!
So I've decided to create a blog. The purpose here is to share my work in process as it happened, as well as to share photos and stories from the amazing projects and adventures I have had in the past few years. Perhaps those with similar interests and professions to mine will read this, or perhaps those who are simply curious, "What is it that Amira actually does? How does it work? What is it like?"
I moved from Toronto to Vancouver in January/February of this year 2016, leaving a large community of friends and colleagues back in Ontario after almost 13 years of living there. Canada is geographically large but socially not so much, at least not in the theatre, circus, and arts scene, and I want to stay connected with Toronto as time goes on; I'm sure I'll be back there sometime. Also having made new friends internationally in the past few years, I hope to stay connected to people all over the world by making my stories publicly available here. My life as a freelance artist has led me to incredible and extraordinary places and situations, doing things I would never have predicted I would get to do... but may have dreamed of. I'd like to share more stories of those adventures with you.
However, that said, a good blog holds interest for more than its author's family and friends. It should have useful information and points of interest to people with shared interests. For those reasons I intend to post pictures, videos and writings from my specific set of interests: theatre, design, circus, puppetry, painting, custom decor, installation art, public art, community-building, travel, and ecological/environmental concerns. I look forward to your comments and I hope new connections are made here. Please let me know what you think. :)
Since arriving in "Rain City" mid-February 2016, I've got some excellent projects in the works... to date:
The Wallpaper Fashion Show, with Engagement Unlimited
While cold-calling for myself as a new stilt performer in town (see www.stiltcore.com), I called up a special events company and sent an email with my info, mentioning that I make my own costumes. Apparently I had great timing because they had an opening for a costume designer/builder to create a fashion show using & featuring wallpaper for their client, a paint & wallpaper company from India who are bringing their people to Vancouver for a week of fun and team-building type stuff. They wanted me to create 7 feature dresses and 5 "accent" garments out of wallpaper, and manage backstage at the show. As I write it is T-22 hours from showtime and overall, it is in good shape. I'm excited to present this. I haven't had the chance to really hunker down and build a body of work for a while. Here are some shots of work in progress, from designs to photos from fittings.
Holt Renfrew - Custom Decor
I met with the Visual Department Co-ordinator at the Holt Renfrew store downtown Vancouver soon after I arrived in town. I painted a wall in one of their Dunsmuir St. windows, and created a paper flower wall installation. I think this will be an ongoing on-call service relationship that I'm pleased to continue after 8 years freelancing for the Bloor St. Toronto location.
Scenic Painting at Scenic Oasis
Although it's been a while since I did any scenic painting for theatre, and never before for film, I looked for work painting in Vancouver with great results. I found a great, big scenic shop that mainly builds sets for commercials, in Burnaby. The foreman of Scenic Oasis Film Inc. has a good crew of nice guys who work hard to put out high-quality sets and props on short notice for commercials, so far as I can tell. I'm thrilled to be using those skills and learning more. IATSE Local 891 has recently granted me permittee status so I see a fair amount of scenic painting in my future. Since starting there in mid-March I've done a wide range of paint projects, including painting vacuform paving stones and bricks, a fake polished concrete floor, foam rocks, aging wood boards, and a foam 10' square mini-mountain, plus painting a set in studio, tuff-backing a room on location, painting a canvas to look like rock, and using Polybase to do a concrete effect and then aging that..... so many techniques and skills, so much fun! I'm looking forward to future shop days spent mixing colors and creating effects, playing with the shop dog and eating BBQ from the double-barrel custom smoker the guys built. MMMmmmmm.