Mean, Nasty, Unpleasant.These were three adjectives which director Christian Burgess gave Tara Wells Props Co-ordinator on the Guildhalls inaugural production of the Seagull as inspiration for the titular prop.

Dead animals feature frequently in plays and operas so the props department has to have a working knowledge of animal anatomy.
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The Props Department took a trip to the Grant Museum of Zoology http://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums/zoology where Dean Veall dug into the archives and produced seagull skulls, wing structures, and skeletal remains for us to studyTara zool
As we worked an orang utan, a gorilla, a human , and a chimpanzee stared down at us from the upper galleries of the museum.

The seagull gives a performance in the play, just as much as the actors do. Tara gave the bird a back story, and researched how his wound should look. Through discussions with designer Agnes Treplin she established just how articulated and floppy the bird should be.

The seagull is a symbol par excellence. It represents many themes of Chekhov’s play: a seagull is a bird comfortable roaming between three elements air, land and sea, it is a symbol of freedom and the Moscow Arts Theatre used it as its masthead.

In the play Nina refers to herself as a seagull, referring to its wandering qualities. However this interpretation is nuanced by our knowledge of the performance space. The play takes place on the banks of a lake, an inland stagnant pond which is a poor substitute for an ocean. This overlays another theme of the piece: that of the limited, frustrated lives and careers of many of the characters.

Tara sculpted the skull of a herring gull in clay then took a silicone mould from which she produced two casts.
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It’s always a wise move to sculpt the skull of an animal rather than the fully fleshed out creature. If you produce the latter then when you cover it with skin, fur or feathers you end up with an overstuffed cuddly toy rather than the lean, mean living creature you are after.

Two casts were necessary as our seagull makes a second appearance later on in the play as a stuffed and mounted version of his earlier self. Props Assistant Kim North took on this second bird and sculpted two pairs of feet from clay , moulded them in plaster and then cast them in wire reinforced latex. The wire reinforcing helped to bend the feet into flight mode for the first seagull and helped secure the second seagull into its wooden base.

Tara and Kim each made polystyrene core shapes for the main bodies to the same dimensions but carved into different poses.
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Tara made aluminium wing struts and hot glued goose feathers, brushed cotton, fun fur and flocking powder to create the wings and feathered body of the seagull.

A Quick online shop with Snowdonia Taxidermy Supplies: http://www.snowdoniasupplies.co.uk/ won us two wonderful pairs of seagull eyes in gorgeous tinted resin which added spooky life to the sculptures.

The freshly shot seagull is a deliberately unpleasant image, which prefigures the tragedy of the last act. It’s arrival makes us all uncomfortable on a primal level. Blood and fresh kills attract predators. The prop subconsciously alerts us to potential danger and sets off our fight or flight responses.

Here’s Kim’s stuffed and mounted seagull A symbol of freedom crushed. img_0414

Thanks to Abi Emmett for the photos.

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