Arts Center show to feature innovative production techniques

The Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas’ upcoming production of The Hobbit is utilizing an array of cutting-edge technologies to bring the epic J.R.R. Tolkien saga to life, according to Center education coordinator Timothy Rhoades.

Rhoades told members and guests of the West Pine Bluff Rotary Club on Thursday that the techniques developed in the Center’s Tinkering Studio were being successfully applied to preparations for the show, which Rhoades is directing.

“We will be using masks to portray the characters in The Hobbit,” Rhoades said. “In the Tinkering Studio we developed a process that allows us to build plastics by melting them together to form a new plastic. By applying a heat gun to plastics that are applied to a form we are able to create 3D masks. By adding gap-crack sealant we can create a hard mask. By doing this we have been able to create masks for 37 characters and we are able to produce each mask for just a few dollars as opposed to tens of dollars per mask for one that is ready-made.”

Rhoades said the plastics that are used include the types of bags used in grocery stores.

“There is a scene in the production that takes place during a meal,” Rhoades said. “There are lots of plates stacked all around and I wanted to find a way to depict the chaos without breaking things. So we were able to run strips of elastic through holes drilled into the center of each plate to create a Leaning Tower of Pisa effect. The stacks of plates sway back and forth but never fall.”

Rhoades said shadow puppets are also being used.

“We are using shadow puppets to depict the evil dragon Smaug in flight,” Rhoades said.

“We created leather boots by taking donated old, damaged leather clothing and redesigning it into boots,” Rhoades said.

Rhoades said he was able to create 14 full-length beards for the actors portraying dwarves.

“We apply liquid latex to the actors and attach crepe hair to create very realistic beards,” Rhoades said.

Stage combat

Rhoades said he wanted to incorporate stage combat into the production because conflict is a central component of the narrative of The Hobbit.

“Some may say why are you highlighting violence on stage when there is so much in real life, but we are trying to promote that stage fighting is a discipline just as martial arts and sports are a discipline,” Rhoades said. “Fighting is the height of conflict and conflict is the height of drama.”

Rhoades said that the illusion of slaps, kicks and punches is accomplished by calling on techniques from the martial arts, fencing and dance.

“Fighting helps the audience to understand the needs of the characters,” Rhoades said.

Show information

The Arts and Science Center production of The Hobbit will be performed April 25, 26, and 27 at 7 p.m. and April 28 at 2 p.m.

Tickets will be priced at $5, $15 and $17 for the April 25 opening night performance that includes a reception with the cast after the show.

For more information call 870 536-3375.

Tickets for the remaining performances are priced at $5, $13, and $15.