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Making Salad for the Stage

#514

(L-R) David Clayton Rogers, Dinora Z. Walcott, and Nora Kirkpatrick in "Women Laughing Alone With Salad" at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.

Photo by Craig Schwartz.

In this age of bagged lettuce and pre-washed kale, meals don’t get much easier than salad. But it’s a little different when leafy greens take center stage, as they do in Women Laughing Alone With Salad, which plays the Kirk Douglas Theatre through April 3, 2016. Center Theatre Group’s prop team had to draw on their artistry, creativity, ingenuity—plus put in a lot of hours of work to create the salad characters toss, ogle, and even roll around in.

The first challenges of salad-making were technical. The salad had to be flame-proof. It had to be non-toxic. And it needed to be reusable, to make it through multiple performances. The prop team started out with different fabrics standing in for the greens—silk, wool, non-woven fabric (which is what your reusable grocery bags are made of), and Rose Brand fabrics, which are made for theatre and are designed to be flame-retardant. “The fabrics all looked like fabric,” said Jon Ward, the show’s prop lead. They settled on Tyvek®, a plastic, non-woven material that is flame-resistant. It’s what housewrap and some FedEx envelopes are made of. “Tyvek gives us the crisp, leafy look we were going for,” said Ward.

So they had the texture down—but the next challenge was to get the right shades of green. (In a show inspired by stock photos, the lettuce must be photogenic!) Ward explained that they tested a lot of different non-flammable dyes, some of which became catalysts when combined with the Tyvek. Others, like synthetic Rit dye, didn’t take. They tested spray dyes made for fabric, spray paint, and acrylic paint before eventually settling on Simply Spray, a non-toxic, non-flammable aerosol paint. The three colors they chose—Hot Lime, Sage Green, and Hunter Green—weren’t available in Los Angeles, so they had to be ordered online. And then they had to figure out exactly how much they’d need.

Once the “recipe” was written, the salad prep began. Prop Artisan Eric Babb walked us through the process of making the five enormous boxes of fake salad needed for the production.

First, Babb cuts the Tyvek into strips and crumples them to give them a more salad-like texture. Then, he dons safety gear to head into the prop shop’s walk-in spray booth, where he coats the Tyvek in paint. Next, he coats it in FlexBond glue, which gives the material a sheen that makes it look more like real salad. Once the material is dry, he cuts it into strips, which he stitches together on the sewing machine to give the salad more heft and body. Using a rotary blade, he cuts the salad into a leaf-like shape. Then, after some crunching and fluffing—the lettuce is ready to go.

It’s “a visual feast,” said Babb, who admitted that the salad was getting to his head a little bit. “I’ll be at the market, and I find myself stopping to look at the vegetables for research,” he said. And even lunch didn’t mean a break: “I’m eating a salad,” he said.

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