The Dragon Queen

The Making of a Dragon

 

In February of 2020, my colleague Scott Guy approached me with a beat sheet for a new one-woman musical he was writing for me – called “The Dragon Queen”. By March, we had our first reading together of the script, and by May Scott had completed the score (which meant he had taken the public domain music and written new lyrics for it).

It was already apparent that this was going to be the most difficult role he had written for me to date – both in terms of the text and music, and also in terms of the physical design for the character. In June, I spoke with a puppeteer and a prosthetic designer to start thinking about how to create this character.

In July, Scott and I did the first actual read/sing through of the entire piece, and in August I began rehearsing the music with the piano-only rehearsal tracks Scott had prepared for me. In September, Scott gave me an “accent starter kit” to help me work on the variation of the Old English accent he had in mind for the role.

In October of 2020, Scott decided he wanted to try to create the final tracks for the show himself – and that he wanted them to be synthesized and to rely heavily on electric guitar and other such sounds. After a couple of months of experimentation – he was able to deliver the first track that had the sound he wanted – the cue for the very top of the show.

While Scott was working on the score and I was continuing to memorize the dialogue and learn the songs, I also got to work on the physical elements for the character. From October 2020 through June of 2021, I worked my way through all the elements including the wings, the headdress/mask, the robe, and more.

The Wings

In December of 2020, I made a first attempt to create the wings out of PVC pipe – but they just didn’t work the way I wanted, so I had to abandon them!

So in February of 2021, I purchased a set of wings from a cosplay designer on Etsy. (Really – just go to Etsy.com and type in “dragon wings” to see what amazing things come up!)

This Etsy purchase was made up of a harness, and a metal frame. Once I put on the harness, I could lift the metal frame (using straps) to extend the wings.

The Etsy designer included drawings to show how I could make my own fabric covering for the metal frame.

So I was able to create a test for the wing shape out of green fabric.

Next came a more detailed drawing for cutting the real fabric, as well as adding felt padding for the “shoulders”, and a “ribbed” effect for the segments of the wings. (All of which I had to sew completely by hand because of the nature of the fabrics, in addition to the fact that I don’t own a sewing machine anymore!)

And eventually, the wings began to come together. (special thanks for Rebecca for choosing the glittery fabric for the inside of the wings!)

I added a “hump” of dragon sking, and boney dragon “fingers” on the wing tips.

And my wings were ready to go! (For more on the robe and headdress also featured – check out the other sliders!)

The Robe

In March of 2021, I bought a pattern (from Etsy.com) for a robe for the Dragon Queen.

The pieces for this robe were so big, I had to lay out the fabric on the floor of the Main Hall at New Musicals Inc. to get it all cut out.

I had decided that the Dragon Queen needed a royal purple flowing robe (which also made it easier for me not to have to create a dragon “body” for whatever the robe could hide!)

In addition to this material for the exterior of the robe, I also had a sparkly purple fabric to line the inside of the huge bell sleeves.

Not to mention the hand-made piping around the edge of the sleeves …

As well as the “fur” edging (which I also used around the “hump” on the back that covered the wing harness).

And of course, the whole thing had to be designed to fit over the wing harness, and the tail/stool harness (more on that later!).

And the final product is purple, royal, and really really heavy!

The Headdress

In October of 2020, I ordered a full Dragon Costume from Zagone Studios (they have tons of really awesome masks and costumes – check them out!)

As spectacular as the full mask was, I wanted to have the ability to use my own face more fully, so I attacked the mask with an exacto blade…

It was a little creepy to cut out the eyes, but I really wanted to be able to use my own eyes…

Then I also removed the snout – but then took some of the jaw pieces and re-attached them to elongate the sides of the piece.

Then I tried it on – and literally taped it to my face – to see how it was going to look. (Note that the cowl I’m wearing is made of fake chain mail – I also bought that online, but later used it as a template to make a cowl out of a fabric that matched the exterior of the wings.)

I liked the basic look, but decided that the whole thing needed a little more height…

So I went back to Etsy to purchase some royal looking horns…

And here’s how the whole thing looked once the horns were added, and the piece was glued on and made up (more on that process later!).

And a few from the side – this time with the final version of the cowl.

Odds & Ends

The gloves that came with the Dragon costume had a lot of black material – so I painted them!

I made the tail by making a tube out of descending-size metal hoops, wrapping them in chicken wire, and then wrapping that with faux-leather dragon skin fabric. At the very end of the tail, I attached a section of “back hump” from the Dragon costume (after buying a second set of those pieces!)

So that I could sit on my “haunches” wherever I needed to – I attached a harness (actually a re-purposed tree climbing harness) to a stool, and attached the tail to that as well, so the whole thing could strap onto me. (Yes, don’t ask, it was very painful …)

This is all the elements (stool with harness; tail; robe; wings; chains; cowl; headdress; gloves) ready for me to put on in order to test it all out.

The set up for the make-up table – with liquid latex and all kinds of stuff at the ready.

Since the Dragon Queen is chained to a dungeon wall for the entire show, I had to figure out how to affix the chain. I used a piece of lumber that I screwed in to the stage at NMI; with a metal hoop at the top that the chain attached to. (and the chair on the stage is where my stage manager, Kim Isoue, would sit to run the music cues and hold the piece of lumber tight when I strained against it.)

Then we hung a semi-circle of curtains in the Main Hall (to represent the dungeon walls) and the metal loop with the chain attached poked through the curtains. (By the way – the chains were really really REALLY heavy!!!)

This was all the pieces assembled together – except for the make-up!

Test Day

In September of 2021, once all the elements were ready, I did a “test day” where I tried on all of the elements to test them out. Here is a time-lapse video of all the pieces coming together. (Note that this was before the makeup, and before the chains were anchored!)

Make-Up

This is a time-lapse video of the day (in October 2021) that my amazing make-up artist, Andrea Press, first glued the headdress onto my face, and created the make-up for the Dragon Queen.

The Shoot

In November and December of 2021, we had our shoot days where we tested the lighting and sound, and finally actually shot the whole show. We had many challenges: the fact that we are on the Burbank Airport flight path and have to constantly deal with the noise of planes; along with the issue that my headdress kept starting to come away from my face. The show runs about 80 minutes – and that’s a long time to be in such a heavy costume under lighting – so I was sweating a lot! I also had the issue of the sheer weight of all the elements that made it difficult for me to keeping standing and sitting (my thighs were having real problems with all the weight; and my arm pits were sore from the weight of the wing harness). But all in all, the shoot days went well – and we are now busy doing the editing.

Once all the editing is done – the final video will be posted here.  Can’t wait!

In the meantime, here is a demo of one of the songs from the show – “The Roast Pig” – when the Dragon Queen complains to her prison guard that she never gets hot food, and describes what would be her favorite meal.