Saturday, July 7, 2007

Arms and the Giantess

Ah, Picasso's Guernica. My second most favorite painting in the world. Ever since it appeared on the cover of my high school Sunday School book in the late 60s, I've been bowled over by this mural. And once, when it was on tour to the U. S., I had a chance to see it at MOMA live and in person. It was incredible--huge and devastating--a perfect depiction of the chaos and suffering of senseless, meaningless war. Violence visiting unannounced.

When we first started talking about the lady giant's arm in Into the Woods, Guernica is the image that popped into my head, specifically the lower left corner of this majestic painting. But Robin Arthur, our brilliant director, was far wiser than me, and wanted not a surrealistic arm, but a realistic one.

One that would take lots of time and money to make.

I’m writing this blog entry to correct a misperception brought about by the questions of a fellow scribe (one whom I respect mightily, by the by). While sorting through his thoughts on Into the Woods on his wonderful blog, he speculates that he’s seen the giantess’s arm from Act II of I the W in a past Theatre IV production!

After receiving my fourth or fifth guess as to which Theatre IV production featured said appendage, I want to set the record straight and put the guessing game to rest. Every inch of the arm is brand new. It was made specifically for this production of Into the Woods by the same guys who build props for GWAR. And it cost about the same as a 1990s Accord with 150,000 miles on it—dare I say an arm and a leg.

After spending all that money, I want to squelch the rumor that this pivotal prop is nothing more than some odd bit of brachial detritus pulled from a dusty bin of leftovers from shows gone by. I confess that I didn’t want to spend the money—partly cause I’m cheap and partly because the arm languishes for such a short time on stage. But Robin really wanted a realistic three-dimensional arm, and in the end, Robin won. I may be cheap, but I’m not stupid. Robin has a mean left hook.

Anyway, to the left and above are pictures of the hand part of the arm, before the arm itself was stuffed and costumed. The real arm looks much better than the photo, so that's why I led off this posting with a Picasso.

I guess I should have listed the arm’s credits in the playbill, so that everyone could see that she was making her Richmond stage debut.

If anyone would like to buy her after the show’s over, I’m open to offers. Otherwise I’ll have to see what I can get for her as a trade-in.

--Bruce Miller


Anonymous said...

What's GWAR?

Bruce Miller said...

GWAR is a satirical thrash metal, hardcore punk rock band formed in Richmond in 1985. (I'm quoting from Wikipedia, because I'm hardly an authority on rock bands.) Those who are authorities, at least somewhat, have led me to believe that GWAR is the most internationally acclaimed rock band to emerge from Richmond during the time I've been paying attention. There are a lot of VCU connections. One of their original members, who helped Theatre IV build and paint the set for Scapino! (our first Scapino!, which I designed, at Theatre at First Church) now teaches music history at UVA, where he's getting his doctorate.

When we purchased the Empire in 1986, GWAR was just getting started in the Richmond Dairy building, practically next door. As a rock group, they've always been very theatrical (and very satirical, in a Masters of the Universe kind of way). A lot of their theatricality comes from large stage props that they've incorporated into their act, including arms, legs, etc.

It would be ridiculous for me to try to explain them further. But they are a Richmond and an international phenomenon. At the turn of the last century, STYLE Weekly named them among the "100 Most Influential Richmonders of the Century."

And I should say that they've always been very nice to us, and helpful, and easy to work with. But they probably wouldn't want that to get out, so mum's the word.

Bruce Miller said...

As fate would have it, there's a Roy Proctor interview with one of the GWAR prop makers in this morning's (Sunday) T-D, page G-10 in the Flair, Life + Leisure section. His name is Brandon Johnson (his GWAR name is Nutchild) and he has an art show at Artspace through July 22.

Dave T said...

Dear Bruce,
Many apologies for the wrongful accusation regarding Mrs. Giant's appendage! I stand corrected and will be sure to do my homework before posting any further lazy asides.
Good work with the arm -- and the rest of the production as well!
Dave T

Dave T said...

Oh, and PS: What's your favorite painting?

Frank Creasy said...

No surprise that GWAR would have contributed to local theatre...back in "the day" (exact dates a closely guarded secret), I made friends at Longwood College with a young fellow named Dave Brockie when we were cast in Longwood's production of "Arsenic and Old Lace" (I was Mortimer, Dave was Jonathan or the "Boris Karloff" role). Even back then, Dave's artistic talents were quite evident in theatre, music (a very loud, pre-GWAR punk band) and even cartooning. Dave left Longwood the following year for a brief stint at VCU before forming the band Death Piggy and later GWAR. Dave is now famous as lead singer Oderus Urungus of GWAR, and continues to do what he loves most to this very day.

However, having seen GWAR in concert, I must say that most of their props are not...well..."family friendly"!

Bruce Miller said...

To answer Dave's question about my favorite painting ... my favorite painting in the world is a painting of our backyard called "Cathedral," painted by my wife, Terrie Powers. But I have to say the first of her new "Into the Woods" series, now hanging at B'dale, may be my new favorite soon. Until "Cathedral," my favorite painting of Terrie's was one called "Jerusalem Gate."

As far as famous paintings go, it's cliche, but I have a very soft spot in my heart for "Starry Night" by Van Gogh, also at MOMA.