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Tricks of the jungle

posted by Karen McKevitt on Thu, Mar 17, 2011
in Backstage buzz , Costume shop , Our shows

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By Megan McClintock
Production Assistant

It’s supposed to rain all week in Berkeley, but I don’t mind. I’ll be spending most of my week backstage running Ruined (we have nine shows in six days), and the Roda Theatre feels like the Congo these days. Did we pump up the heat? Not literally. The Ruined design team created this jungle atmosphere, and they have covered all the bases.

The jungle vibe starts the minute you walk into the lobby, where the sound designer has provided some great Congo tunes that are underscored by a collage of jungle sounds. The rustling of leaves, coos of birds, and calls of other exotic animals continue throughout the show.

Inside the theatre you can feast your eyes on the jungle itself. Though most of the play takes place inside Mama Nadi’s bar, the walls are indicated mostly by vertical posts and posters, behind which the jungle is lush and green. Tree trunks spring up amongst thick greenery, and the actors must rustle through the leaves in order to enter and exit the stage.

RUpre4_lr Mama Nadi's bar, with the jungle in the background. Pictured: Wendell B. Franklin, Carla Duren, Zainab Jah, and Tonye Patano. Photo by

We even have a parrot onstage, which is written into the script. Our grey parrot is remote controlled -- parrot operator Janny Cote jokes that Rerun (as she has named him) is just one career step away from the Tiki Room. Rerun blinks, flaps his wings, moves his neck, snaps his beak, and even bites an actor on cue in the first scene. Rerun’s voice is provided by the sound department; he has a small speaker hidden right behind his cage so the sound is directionally correct. He is a little star -- he even has the last line of the play!

Janny and ReRun Janny and Rerun.

Even the smell backstage is jungle appropriate. I don’t know if it wafts into the audience much, but the scent of coconut fills the air. Why? Because coconut oil makes the cast look hot and sweaty. The glistening sweat is applied backstage, where warm coconut oil in spray bottles is applied liberally to exposed skin. To get an even sweatier look some cast members start with coconut oil then spritz water on top of it, creating a dripping-in-sweat look. Highly effective and simple, and this is the best-smelling cast I have ever worked with!

Coconut Oil

Since they have to tromp through the muddy jungle to get onstage, some cast members apply “mud” to their feet and hands. The mud and the coconut oil are both costume department tricks. The mud is simply a thick body lotion colored with powder foundation makeup. While most of the mud gets wiped off with baby wipes backstage, any that gets left behind just keeps the cast well moisturized.

So if you need an escape from the rain, it’s warm in the Congo and the tunes are groovin’. You can buy a Fanta from the café counter to round out your sense experience, and if you catch a whiff of coconut in the air, now you know why.

Ruined runs through April 10. Read the buzz and reserve your seats now!


Fantastic production last night! I could feel the heat and see the insect swarms...

cindy smith | Thu, Mar 17, 2011

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