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Dreaming of running Away With the Circus

   by Elizabeth Huggins-Thompson for Build A Dream (2014)

Once I got my kit, I was so excited to see what was inside to help me bring this concept to 3-dimensions. This is what I find truly intriguing - the innovation required to accomplish a task with just what you have on hand. Thank goodness we are allowed to use the box itself, because I needed that to be the stage. I would have liked it to have been bigger, but I needed most of the lid to make the audience seating. OH, and the audience! How fortunate to have all of those packing peanuts. They screamed to be people. Painting them was a challenge as they are biodegradable, made from cornstarch. They shrink or turn to mush when they get wet. I had to gingerly paint their heads, which I created by tying off part of the peanut with nylon thread. They took a long time to dry and the heads would stick together or to the surface they were lying on, so I propped them up all around the studio. I painted scraps of cardboard for their outfits. Two audience members received popcorn (tiny bits of Vincent's foam ear tucked into a painted box made from the rule book) and one lucky audience member got cotton candy (deconstructed nylon thread bits, dyed, and spun around a paper scrap). Since I couldn't glue the people down, they all have little armature wires stuck up their butts to hold them in place in their seats. Sorry. The nice thing is the they can turn and talk to each other during the performance.
Now onto the main characters. Circus Dog: How lucky for me the prize egg is the general shape of his body; covered with the plastalina and painted. The eyes, nose, ears, and tongue were modeled separately and attached with a bit of aluminum wire and a bit of glue. His arms and legs are wire and the collar is strips of the white paper, accordion folded with nylon thread stitched through to cinch it around his neck. His tail is a scrap of painted cardboard.
The Elephant: Plaster cloth over armature wire is his basic body structure. I knew I would need wire for the trapeze rigging, so I had to be conservative with the wire. I started off with the plastic bag the plaster cloth came in, filled it with peanuts, stitched it closed with nylon thread, and wrapped the wire around that. Once he was all covered, shaped, and dried, I painted him with acrylics. His adornments are painted canvas cloth. I even made a little pillow with tassels, but didn't include it because he's so big and that made him too tall. His ball is painted plaster cloth originally molded over an inflated balloon which was removed once the ball dried. Before I sealed it, I stuck a wad of clay inside as a ballast.
The Poop Bucket: One of my favorite of Circus Dog's challenges is to run around after the elephant and catch his poop. The bucket is constructed of mannequin box; glued and painted. The poop is bits of sponge, painted.
The Horse: Once I got that mannequin apart, I knew it would be the horse. I could not figure out how to get parts back together and have her joints work, but what I love about her is that her head turns. She has plastalina clay to fill some holes, wire to connect mannequin parts, and glue. Her saddle is glued and painted canvas cloth. The bridle is nylon thread and little bits of the springs from the mannequin joints. her mane is deconstructed nylon thread and ears are bits of cardboard. Circus Dog would typically hold a parasol when riding the horse. It is made from the metal mannequin dowel, a page from the rule book, strips of cardboard for the ribbing, plaster for the finial, glue, and paint. I stuck the parasol on the stadium seating over the audience since Circus Dog was busy taming the Lion and catching poop.
The Lion: Vincent's foam ear shape lent itself to be the lion. With what was left of the sponge as his head, and canvas cloth deconstructed, painted, and glued to the head, the lion got a mighty mane any Hair Club for MenĚ member would be proud of. I put little balls of painted plastalina clay in his eye sockets. Some mannequin parts attached with wire and glue make up his feet. He has glue and clay holding all of the various parts together under the paint.
Lion Stand: Constructed with the mannequin wood base and mannequin box, glued and painted. Oh, and the little circles are painted metal screws from the mannequin.
Lion Whip: A scrap of box and braided nylon thread, glued and painted.
High Wire: Wood dowels, 2 wood circles, painted clay balls attached with armature wire stuck into holes drilled into dowels, 2 screws, and nylon thread. All of this is fed through two holes cut into the stage and glued down into footer blocks constructed of the stiff brown chipboard. There are a total of 5 footer blocks under the stage for the 2 hire wire poles, 2 trapeze poles, and the one aluminum rod for the red and yellow tent canopy. I put the plastic wire spool apart and glued it to the center of the bottom of the stage to prevent the floor from bowing under the weight of the cast. This way, the high wire stays taut. I really wanted Circus Dog to perform on the high wire but he was too heavy with all that clay.
Trapeze Rigging: Armature wire, two square dowels, painted cardboard for platforms, cardboard scraps for ladder rungs, and glue. Trapeze acrobats, Fred and John, are painted white paper. Nylon thread and wire make up their hand bars. I would have used the wire mesh as a net, but it would have obscured the visuals while photographing the set. So, John and Fred performed without a net!
Pennants and Flags: The pennants that hang above the audience heads are plastic wrap, painted and glued to the Styrofoam dowel. The red spiral stripes are painted white paper glued on the 2 Styrofoam posts. The flags and canopies are painted plaster cloth, except for the red and yellow tent canopy which is canvas stitched together with nylon thread and painted. There is a cardboard cone shape under the tent canopy to help hold its shape and a big wad of clay keeps it positioned on top of the aluminum dowel. The 3 flags have armature wire posts.

Coming up with a concept is hardest for me. I thought about it quite a bit while I waited for my kit to arrive. I wanted my project to be original and not influenced by a movie or another's artwork. Building a Dream is tough because I'm living my dream of being an artist for a career. I didn't want to do cliche visuals of an artist or a studio. Oftentimes, artists pull from their own experiences to express themselves.
I've always enjoyed going to the circus as a child and am enamored with all that is happening all at once under the big top. Going through my sketchbooks, I was reminded of a character I created, Circus Dog. He was part of an assignment for a Photoshop class to create a video game. I developed Circus Dog to be the ringmaster and the main character in the game who has to do all of the challenges and activities in the circus.

This has been a rich and wonderful experience!

 


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