One man’s trash is another man’s inspiration.
Richard Gray, the artistic director of the Pageant of the Masters, was up to his ears in Day-Glo props on Wednesday at the Forum Theatre, where and his cast and crew were hurriedly adding the final touches to his new production, “The Plastiques.”
“The closer we get, the calmer I’m getting,” Gray said.
A modern fairy tale, the blacklight-lit show features the antics of three plastic beings who were born out of the myriad laundry, water and prescription bottles cast aside by housewives.
Gray chose plastic as the medium for his show for its abundance and its low cost. He recalled watching a woman leave the laundry room at the Pageant with hands clawed around two handfuls of bleach bottles.
An idea formed, and he asked to take the bottles. On his way home, he stopped in his father’s garage and asked what he had that would cut the bottles.
“I’ve never touched power tools, but my dad handed me a Dremel,” he said.
He played with different ways of cutting and heating the bottles to shape them, until he realized that putting them in the oven would produce toxic fumes.
He chose a low-heat curling iron instead.
In the show, the three unnamed main characters bumble through different “episodes,” beginning with the first, in which they are born.
Gray hopes the audience will name the creatures. “There’s a lot left to the imagination of the viewer,” he said.
He conducted light and photo studies to best determine how to paint them and what the lighting schemes for the production should be like, and did away with a few character ideas that were too “creepy looking” for kids.
A Christmas “Plastiques” production is already in the works; it will feature additional “episodes” with the main characters, and an audienceinteraction reindeer a go-go sketch, complete with mirror ball.
“Give them something real; give them something new,” Gray said. “Entertain them; really entertain them.”
With “The Plastiques,” Gray has also formed a new production company geared at getting kids into theater.
“I had an inkling as to what I was getting myself into,” Gray said. But he had originally planned the first show to be in April; when he found out that February was his only option, he immediately went into action.
Carrying a portable blacklight device into stores throughout the region, Gray began accumulating Day-Glo hula hoops and Styrofoam heads.
“It doesn’t have to be big and flashy and fancy,” he said, citing the tried-and-true wonders that can be achieved with paint, canvas and lights. “You just need good applied staging techniques.”
There’s one downside to the prop-heavy show, though.
“My house is a disaster,” he said. “There is not a single place to sit anywhere.”
The show also features a foam bouffant wig, a giant cockroach on a bike helmet, and a mass of silk flowers.
“This is my kind of weird, twisted homage to the Pageant,” said Gray, who has been involved with the summer show since 1999.
“I just love working here,” he said of the Pageant. “Everybody’s always willing to teach you something new — it’s always like coming home to a family.”
In the Pageant of the Masters, the audience is occasionally treated to see the inner workings of the show. Gray chose to do the same thing with the “Plastiques,” using techniques learned during summers in Japan as a child.
He named his production company after the kurogo, who are the black-clad set changers in kabuki theater, and recalls asking his mother why they don’t do something similar in America, where the common technique is to lower the curtain and play some music while the set changes.
Gray had his first chance to try the kurogo technique in high school, during a production of “Pippin.”
He recalls that students and teachers alike were amazed at this “new way of doing things,” giving him all the credit, which he felt was unwarranted.
Gray then studied dance and costuming at UCI as both an undergrad and grad student, tossing aside the wild theatricals of his youth and becoming a very controlled ballet dancer.
He moved from classical ballet to the more contemporary workings of composers like Philip Glass, but still did not find contentment.
After the launch of his first ballet in 1990, “unbeknownst to myself, I had become really bored,” Gray said.
He was “phoning it in,” having tried out every technique that interested him.
“Then came nieces,” he said.
The three sprites entered Gray’s life and activated his imagination, but he found that their own imaginations were lacking.
“They had to have everything packaged for them,” he said. “They couldn’t turn a broom into a hobby horse.”
In the back of his mind, Gray began to ruminate about how kids and adults can recapture that youthful spark.
He had a breakthrough at the 2005 Pageant of the Masters. During the Pageant’s performance piece, featuring a memorable clown parade, he entered in clown garb with a big bucket of confetti.
When he tossed it into the crowd, he said, the results were staggering.
“Adults really wanted to be kids,” he said. He described grown women jumping up with excitement, giggling and squealing like children.
“That really made me stop and think.”
Gray continued the experiment with last year’s Pageant blacklight ballet, where a devil’s long red tail captured the hearts of Pageant-goers.
“That was my first experience with blacklight,” he said. “The audience was so mystified, and yet it was so simple — just a girl with a stick and some Velcro.”
Gray’s big entrepreneurial break came when he heard that only nine people had attended a children’s production by Ballet Pacifica at the Forum Theatre.
The formerly wildly popular, short shows featured outrageous costumes, with “dumb, stupid ballets” and classical music, Gray said.
When he heard the news in August last year, he said, For the first time, I was going to gamble something in my life.”
His new LLC, Kurogo Productions, was formed on Sept. 11 as a for-profit company, so that he could produce shows rather than just perform them, he said.
“Anything that can create an experience, let’s try it,” he said. “If you can imagine it, then you can at least try to actualize it.”