‘Madagascar’ masks make debut after hard work

March 30, 2019

While the cast of Children’s Theater of Charleston’s (CTOC) production of “Madagascar — A Musical Adventure, Jr.” stretched and warmed up in the next room, barreling through a singing of “The Macarena,” the theater company’s costume crew quietly worked in a back room. Seated around a cramped and cluttered card table, the group diligently worked on masks for the show - a lot of masks.

“We’re making 36,” Kit Reed said.

That’s a lot of masks, but Mandy Shirley said they’d done more. For “The Lion King,” there had been double that.

“But they were more realistic,” she said. “These,” Shirley shrugged, “they’re more cartoony.”

Regardless, the masks took a lot of work, were still taking a lot of work and the show was only a week away.

The masks made their debut at Coliseum Little Theater in Charleston, CTOC, Friday, March 29, as the lively production. The show continues through Saturday and Sunday, March 30-31 with a showtime Saturday night at 7 p.m. followed by a 2 p.m. performance on Sunday. The musical is based off of the DreamWorks animated film about a group of wise-cracking zoo animals who accidentally end up on the island of Madagascar off the eastern coast of Africa.

“We’ll be ready,” Reed promised.

The group has been at it since January.

“We’ve been doing this two to three hours a night, four days a week for weeks,” Danette Workman said.

Most of them have some direct connection to the show. They’re a parent or a relative.

“But it’s fun,” Cherie Cowder said.

“And we gossip!” Workman said, as the table erupted in laughter.

The process of making the masks was slow.

Loren Allen said, “We started off with watching the film a couple of times.”

Then they looked at stills and drawings and began to come up with the individual masks, which were drawn out onto cardboard and then shaped into a 3-D shape.

Reed said, “No two are alike and we tried to give each one a little character.”

“Some attitude,” Shirley added.

Which isn’t so easy when you have nine lemurs.

After the base masks are formed, they’re covered in masking tape and coated with Plasti Dip, a flexible, rubber coating, which can be painted over.

“Loren paints everything,” Reed said. “He’s quite the artist.”

Allen smiled and said, “When we worked on ‘The Lion King,’ we did some experimenting with spray paints and how to make the masks.”

It still takes the same amount of time and effort to shape the masks, but the Plasti Dip helps with the painting.

Allen sprays a bottom layer of color and then fills in the rest by hand.

After the masks are painted, the hollow masks are filled with an airy, spray foam that expands inside the empty space.

“We have to be kind of careful with that,” Allen said.

Too much and the foam can end up spilling out through openings in the mask. A mask for one of the lemurs had to be fixed after spray foam leaked through a hole in the eye and dribbled down like a tear.

The foam expanded and hardened.

“It looked like a tumor,” Allen said. “But we did surgery and the patient was saved.”

The foam helps the masks maintain their shapes, but doesn’t add much to the weight, he added.

The young actors in the production don’t actually wear the masks over their faces. The masks are attached to hats.

The costumes help identify the characters, but don’t interfere with the actors’ sight or ability to breathe.

Besides, it’s children’s theater. A lot of the audience would prefer to see the children on stage, as much as the theater.

To get used to moving around on stage with the masks, the cast has been wearing hats for weeks. Some of them have cowboy hats.

Director Ariana Kincaid acknowledged that the hats took a little getting used to during rehearsal.

“It will look fine once we get into the little theater,” she promised.

No word on what part, if any, “The Macarena,” will play in the show.

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5195 or follow @lostHwys on Twitter. He’s also on Instagram at instagram.com/billiscap/ and read his blog at blogs.wvgazettemail.com/onemonth.