McLennan Opera brings condensed 'Hansel and Gretel' to stage
By Carl Hoover email@example.com March 29, 2017
Staff photo--Jerry Larson
Parents (Bobby McCarthy and Josie Guyton) reunite with their children Hansel (Lacey Knecht, seated) and Gretel (Jessica Downs) and a reformed witch (Joshua Purvis) in McLennan Opera's Hansel and Gretel.
Chocolate and gumdrops often decorate the witch’s house to entice children in the Engelbert Humperdinck opera “Hansel and Gretel” and the McLennan Opera production staged this week also is trying to attract an audience’s attention. It’s shorter, for one thing, a condensed version that runs around an hour. It’s in English. And an orchestral ensemble with several past and present Waco Symphony Orchestra players will support the 12-voice McLennan Opera cast. The 1893 opera is the first MCC production for director Bronwen Forbay, who joined the college’s voice faculty last spring as assistant professor of voice and opera. The smaller scale of “Hansel and Gretel” allows singers to have “a moment to shine” while telling a story that children in the audience can follow. Adapted from the familiar Brothers Grimm fairytale, the opera focuses on siblings Hansel (Lacey Knecht) and Gretel (Jessica Downs), ordered in the dark woods to search for berries when an accident angers their mother (Josie Guyton). After a night in which the pair are guarded by angels as they sleep, the opera’s most famous scene and song, the children encounter a gingerbread house inhabited by an old woman, who’s actually a child-eating witch (Joshua Purvis and Sami Stewart-Ely).
The two manage to escape, trapping the witch in the oven in which she intended to bake them, and are reunited with their parents (with Bobby McCarthy as the father). The Grimms’ plotline notwithstanding, the opera is kid-friendly and a few ‘90s references have been thrown in for good measure for parents’ enjoyment, Forbay said. “The witch is scary, but crazy scary and Hansel and Gretel are adorable,” she said. And the ‘90s touches? “At least the parents will get it,” she laughed. “Hansel and Gretel” will have performances for area schools at 1 p.m. Thursday and Friday and for the public at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at McLennan Community College’s Ball Performing Arts Center.
Very thorough research and images from all the various regions in Germany and their particular local folk costumes.
Notes from the director, Bronwen Forbay:
Re costumes, I like the idea of Hansel and Gretel wearing hand-me downs/clothes that are too small for them, that have been patched/look worn. “poor not unkempt” is good. I like the blues and browns used in both productions below. I also like the idea of a colorful jacket for Gretel in act 2. It doesn’t need to be red, perhaps green or bright blue? Unlike the children, the parents will need to look unkempt. The father is an alcoholic, but still goes to work. It would be awesome if the Witch could be dressed like a drag queen with strings of pearls – in the direction of the above Met production, just more over the top. A hoop skirt sounds good. In the Gruberova video, the Witch changes to a darker costume/puts on a darker cloak later in Act 3. It makes her seem more scary after appearing as a kindly old lady. Might we be able to make her seem more sinister later in act 3 by doing something similar? I’d love to include a walking stick for her, too. For the Dew Fairy, I’m thinking of a Cinderella or Fairy Godmother type of costume – frilly, pale pink or pale blue or white dress, with fairy wand. For the Sandman, a white or gold suit with frilly shirt or collar, and white cloak. I loved the pointed ears you showed me. I‘d like to use them for the Sandman. It can be our own private Star Trek reference. LOL.
First production meeting Oct. 21: Sandman needs nightgown with sleeping cap. Dew Fairy needs corset and hoop skirt Witch needs a hoop but no corset, Josh will need fake boobs. Witch needs fake nose, wig.
Second production meeting Jan. 24: I put forth the idea that since the witch was already double cast, we could use that to our advantage and have one actor be the sweet granny version the kids are duped by in the beginning and the other actor could be the evil hag who wants to eat them. They can quickly change places with a smoke and lights effect. The sweet granny will have a more colorful costume and we'll make the evil one up in the same silhouette but in a darker fabric with less pattern. The sweet one will have a less pronounced nose and chin, while the evil one will have a much larger, wartier nose and chin. This way, we aren't trying to do a costume/makeup change in the middle of the show with no time. Bronwen chose Josh to be the sweet granny version, so we'll pad him out with a fat suit and boobs and I'll purchase jowl and neck prosthetics to give his face some more weight as well as age him. He gets the small witch nose but no chin. With Sammi, I'll order the large witch nose/chin combo and we'll do her makeup much older/darker/scarier than Josh's.
After that concept change, the costume sketches were discussed and approved with minimal changes. I'll start pulling some things this week and make a fabric shopping trip this weekend as well as purchase the prosthetics and makeup supplies.
My Joanne's coupons expired Saturday, so I did my fabric shopping tonight and got everything I needed and saved $100. I've added photos of the fabrics below. I spent $187.18.
I ordered the prosthetic makeup and appliances from Mostly Dead for $192.53 and it will be here in 3 days.
TOTAL SPENT: $396.27 + DRYCLEANING FEES
costume Production Process
Josh came in for his fat pad, boobs, and hoop fitting. Here he is modeling the undergarments and cackling his head off. He's been rehearsing in it since the end of January.
Wednesday March 1: We started fittings. I did both dads, both Gretels, Hansel, and the mom. Thursday March 2: We have a publicity photo to take today at 4:30. That went fine. Hannah and Mackenzie got the buttons for the suspenders sewn onto Lacey's shorts. I hemmed the shorts and fixed the rip in the collar and facing on her shirt. I draped a pattern for Sammi's witch corset. Friday March 3: I did pattern draping on Sandman and Dew Fairy. Josh came in for his pattern draping, but I have sized Josh's fat pad and boobs so well, that he actually fits Sammi's perfectly. Monday March 6: 9-12 It's spring break now and Snow and Darlisha came to help me this morning. Together we got the Sandman all cut out, her sleeves serged, and her bodice pieces and her skirt pieces sewn together. Tomorrow we just have to attach the bodice to the skirt and then sew the sleeves together. I got the Witches' blouses and skirts cut out. Snow began serging them. I got the Witch corset pattern trued and will cut them out tomorrow. Tuesday March 7: 9-12 Hannah joined our crew this morning and between the four of us we got both Witches' skirts and blouses sewn together. I got the Witches' corset pieces all cut out. The girls serged and sewed them together. I got the Witches' panniers cut out as well. Before I left I threw Sammi's Witch costume pieces in the washer so that tomorrow I can dye them. Wednesday March 8: 1-4 Today it was just me and Hannah. We only got Snow for an hour because she had to work at her other job. We got the Witches' blouses hemmed and added bias tape for the elastic at the neckline and wrists. We also got the panniers sewn together with ties and stuffed with extra tulle for Josh's witch. Sammi's panniers are sewn together and are waiting to be dyed. I pleated Josh's skirt, the pleats didn't get sewn in yet though. I also sewed the Sandman's sleeves together. I finally attached her bodice to her skirt but it's gone on wonky, so there'll be seam ripping involved. No work got done on the corsets today. Tomorrow I have to get the Dew Fairy costume cut out. Thursday March 9: 9-12 Today it was just me and Snow. Hannah and Darlisha were working OAP contest. I got the Dew Fairy skirts cut out and Snow sewed them both together. I finished the Sandman costume and made the girdle for it as well. It just needs to be fitted now. Saturday March 11: 12-2 Today it was just me. I went in and trued the seams on the Dew Fairy pattern. I cut it out of coutil and the fashion fabric and patterned the trim piece. There's still so much work to do and only two weeks left. I put the bodice pattern on the mannequin with the wings in the elastic belt contrivance so I could figure out how I'm going to fit the bodice over the wings. I decided to slit down the middle of the back darts and she can slide the bodice down over the wings and we'll just snap or hook and eye the darts together on top of the wings. Sunday March 12: 2-4. Today it was still just me. I went in and sewed the Dew Fairy bodice together and cut out the rosettes for the trim. I also pleated the underskirt and stitched the pleats in. Then I cut the waistband and placket out of the pink satin for the Dew Fairy as well as for the Witches. I also stitched the pleats into Josh's witch skirt. Monday March 13: 9-12 Spring Break is over and I'm right back at it. I came in early today so I could deal with dyeing swatches of all the witch fabrics to see which color worked better (purple or green) for each different fabric. I used scraps of the three fabrics plus the trim that I just got and dyed one batch green and one purple, then dried them and pressed them. As it turns out, the honeycomb print looks better in green, so that shall be the dye for the shirt and underskirt and underpaniers. The wide stripe and the narrow stripe both work better in the purple so the overskirt and the corset shall be purple, as well as the ruched trim. I forgot to take photos of the dye swatches, so I'll make sure to do that tomorrow. I got green and orange ric-rac trim for the stomacher. The ruching is going on the opening of the overskirt as well as the hem of the panniers. I also gathered the Dew Fairy overskirt and cut both her undersleeves and the oversleeves. Hannah and Mackenzie came in for lab hours this afternoon. Mackenzie worked on her Henry V costume and Hannah stitched and gathered the Dew Fairy sleeves and sewed the Sandman sleeves together. Ashley came in for her Sandman fitting today and we discovered that we need to take in all her bodice seams. I apparently cut it on a size L and she's a M. Not a huge deal, but it will take some time to go back and fix. Her belt now needs hemming and we need to add a pocket to the back of it for her "magical sleepy sand" i.e. glitter, as if she won't already be covered in it just from what rubs off from the dress. Tuesday March 14: 9-12 Did fittings on Josh, Dew Fairy and Sammi. Got all of Sammi's fabric dyed. During lab hours Mackenzie worked on Henry V and Hannah and Christian started assembling Sammi's witch costume. Sammi's corset fit perfectly as is, Josh's needed taking in on both seams of the side panel. Tomorrow morning's sessions I should be able to finish the assemblage of Sammi's witch costume and then it will just be a matter of alterations and Catie's bodice. Also the prosthetic appliances arrived in the mail this afternoon. The Ides of March: 9-11. Finished sewing Sammi's witch costume together. Sprayed it with Febreeze first because the polyester dye still stinks. Attached the CF skirt panel to the overskirt. Pleated up the skirt. Put the trim on the panniers and the corset. March 16: Did final fittings during lab hours on both witches and Catie (Gretel) as well as Dew Fairy. Hannah finished the Dew Fairy bodice. Mackenzie sewed Catie's bodice together, Hannah did the sleeves. Now everything needs to be hemmed. March 17: We brought in a guest artist, the man who played Angel in Rent on Broadway, to do a singing workshop with our students, so I didn't have anyone come for lab hours. I started on hems.
We've been busily finishing up the last bits of notes on the show this week. I came in Monday from 9-12 to get some extra work done. Today, Thursday March 23, is the last day we have to finish before first dress. Friday is professional development day and the campus will be closed. We have to put hooks and eyes on Catie's bodice, paint a witch hat, install a zipper in the back of the Sandman dress, and attach a stomacher to a corset for Sammi. Then I have to pull hats for the mom and dad. And that's it!
One last surprise: I had to make a pocket for Sammi witch to put her wand in, so that when she goes to pop it back in her pocket, and misses, Gretel steals it off the floor. Normally a pocket can be a last minute addition and it's no big deal, but Sammi witch's fabrics were all dyed after they were cut and I didn't dye any of the rest of the fabric, so the first thing I had to do was dye a scrap of fabric, which made the whole pocketing process take much longer than it should have. But it still got done by 4:30. A photographer is coming tomorrow for the paper so everyone will don their costumes for afternoon rehearsal. Hopefully I'll get to take some shots as well. Check back tomorrow for a sneak peak.
Prosthetic makeup references
The role of the witch has been double cast so that we get a "good" granny for the first part and then an evil witch for the second part of the show. Josh will be the "good" granny, Sammi will be the evil witch. Both will wear prosthetics, Josh's will be smaller, Sammi's larger. I talked Emily Foster into being the Makeup Designer. I got her reference photos of the cast this week so she can start designing the makeup.
The prosthetics journey has been an odd one. The large witch nose is to small for Sammi's actual nose and the small witch nose is also too small for Josh's real nose. The neck appliance makes Josh gag, so that was scrapped the first day. We scrapped his jowly cheeks the second day. We are still using the noses because they make such a great profile, but the edges don't reach far enough over to stay glued down on the sides of the nostrils. Sammi's chin is the only thing that's working and looking like it should. The next time I try to do ready made prosthetics, I will find a different company to order them from.
The chin didn't even make it to opening night. It refused to stay glued down for the Thursday matinee so we're no longer using it. I give up with these products. The elf ears, however, that I ordered from Aradani Costumes for Midsummer have been a dream to work with. They made it through that whole run and have made it through this whole run just fine. www.aradanicostumes.com/collections/elf-ears. It's too bad they don't make witchy appliances.
We had a press photo for the Waco Trib yesterday, so rehearsal became dress rehearsal and Oh, crap, we have to do some makeup. We didn't use the prosthetics for the photo because we didn't have enough time or warning beforehand to make that happen, so Emily Foster just did the best she could. We'll start the prosthetics journey on Monday.