Order Up! A Working Ziosk Prop

by Jay Duckworth

Digital Ordering in View of the Audience

"Did you read last night’s report?" Corinne Gologursky, assistant props master for Kings at The Public Theater asked me. "They want the actor to order from the Chili’s Ziosk in real time."
"Oh yeah, I saw that…" I responded. "I’m just choosing to be in denial about it." 

One of the great things about doing new plays is not only the idea that you are working on ink-wet work that is adding to the American playbook, but you get new challenges that really test the mettle of who you are as an artist.

There are even times when you are doing a classic like last year’s Julius Caesar for Shakespeare in the Park where the setting was very modern. The request came that we needed a large number of iPhones for the senate scene. I reached out to Jen McClure who is the brilliant Props Master at Yale University. I asked if I could commission her to laser print two dozen iPhone faces on black acrylic. We backed the phone faces with some dense foam and just put them in iPhone cases and Bob’s your uncle; a small army of cell phones.

Pro Tip: Even if a friend says they will do a favor for you; always—and I mean always—cover the cost for all of their materials and pay them even if they say they will do it for free.

For the Sara Burgess play Kings, there’s a scene in a Chili’s restaurant and the creative team wanted working Ziosks for the tables. Ziosks are the table-side ordering computers that restaurants like Chili’s use. The first thing we did was contact the company who made them and then searched eBay for broken ones or display models. Both searches were fruitless, Corinne was able to convince the company to send us an old display model, but it was a vacuformed shell. The plan we formulated was to buy a $30 Amazon tablet and a low-profile tablet stand from eBay that would be used as our mockup. We were going to use the tablet in a photo display mode and just have it flip through Photoshopped pictures that looked like the restaurant’s menus and ads that would be displayed on the Ziosks.
We sent out proposals to 3D printing companies in the city to see who could replicate the card reader and stand for the tablet. Prices ranged from $700-900 for making just the file, and $1,000 for printing the unit. Luckily, we found a group of young guys in Brooklyn who had worked with Props Artisan Faye Armon-Troncoso, knew that theaters had tight budgets, and liked working with props folk. They designed the file and printed it for $350.Prop Ziosk

As for making the unit “order,” I shrugged and said I didn’t know how to code. Corinne said that we should just make up a website where the front page was rotating pictures and whereever the actor touched on the screen would take them to drinks. The next touch would take them to fajitas and the last touch would take them right back to the main page of shuffling images.

Scenic designer Anna Louizos’ elegant and earthy set split our theater in half and there were risers on both sides for audience seating. It also had a turntable that turned during the scene, so you could see everything that was going on. It was beautiful to look at but made it hard to fake the tablet menu. Corinne had the great idea to create a free website and make the page function. This way the actor could order, and the tablet would react in real time. After the order was taken, the website would return to display mode that ran a video of the main pages and advertisements for Chili’s. When the actors were turning, you could see the order process taking place.

All of this, and our normal notes, happened in about a week and a half. People tell me how amazed they are by the strange and arcane things I know, but I’m constantly blown away by young artists who want to create smaller and better magic. I have some knowledge, but I need to sit and learn more, so I can fully appreciate the wave of talent coming in. To paraphrase Shakespeare, "You are either ripening or rotting."

Bonus Tip: To create the required fajitas for the action in the play, we used fajita mixings from Trader Joe’s, and instead of meat strips we used portobello mushrooms. Off-stage, we had our “fajita pan” sitting on a hot plate and used a measuring cup with a small amount of water that we could drop onto it, so we could create the iconic sizzling fajita noise—and smell—when the food came on stage to serve the actors.