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Hell’s Best Friend: Building the Devil’s Dog

Jay Duckworth • Answer BoxJanuary 2020 • January 7, 2020

Devil’s Dog with Mark Margolis in the Public Theater’s A Bright Room Called Day. (Photo Credit: Joan Marcus)

At the Public Theater, we’re doing an update of Tony Kushner’s A Bright Room Called Day. It’s being directed by our artistic director Oskar Eustis. The design team is a who’s who of gifted designers and our scenic designer David Rockwell is an absolute treat to work with. There are some great challenges to the play because it wants to be a period piece, a theater piece, and a very human, soul-reflective piece. One of the most iconic props in the show is the Devil’s Dog. It’s described as a yellow dog; before that there is a description of a dog that’s a black poodle.

Ideal Dog from Hell

A quick web search will show you so many different styles and sizes of the Devil’s dog. Hell, I even saw a cool stuffed wolf in Henry Blazers’ set design for a 2018 production of this play at Carnegie Mellon! [By the way, great use of negative space in your design Henry!!] I pulled some pictures of dogs together to show the team and they liked aspects of two or three different dogs. I told them I could design them one composite dog in my 3D CAD software that combined the best things they liked about each. These ears, this shoulder, barrel chest, and snarling like a hellhound. I printed a 5-inch version, got some feedback and applied those notes and came back with a 7-inch 3D print. This is the one they wanted to go for.

Oskar wanted something large and menacing to heighten the moment. The idea was it would raise out of a trunk with red glowing eyes and tons of smoke. I suggested that I 3D print the dog to save money. My plan was to 3D print the shell of the dog so that LX could mount LEDs and the wires from the eyes and run them to the battery in the base. I knew early-on that I wanted to head to be removable.

Dog Enters

The space is a ¾ thrust and the box was down stage center about 3-feet away from the audience. For rehearsals, we gave them a large trunk the size needed to house the dog. After a production meeting, stage management asked if the downstage bench could be reinforced because someone was standing on it. I went to look and where the large trunk should have been was a 16”-high piano bench. I asked why the switch and was told that the trunk was too large and bulky to be right in front of the audience. As the rehearsal went on, we saw how small the dog would need to be in order to make the trunk a normal size and still be able to hide all the mechanisms and equipment.

Oskar and David were in the rehearsal room, so I talked to them about the issues with the dog and the trunk. They talked for a second and Oskar said, ‘Let’s just bring the dog on from off stage during the blackout’. No fighting, no argument about vision; just a matter of fact, both feet on the ground decision. David asked since we cut the box could the dog be larger. I smiled and said, ‘Hell yeah’!

Raising the Devil’s Dog

Due to the tight timeframe, 3D printing the actual dog was no longer an option. I took the approved 7-inch dog model and sent it to Digital Atelier to be routed out of foam and then to Seal Reinforced Fiberglass to be coated in fiberglass. They cast it in four parts and assembled it all together. The reason we needed the fiberglass was that the inside of the head needed to house the mountings for the LEDs; we had to make it as hollow as possible, yet strong. I designed it so that the head could come out of the collar and screw back in so we could easily adjust it. This process was not cheap, but we were in a time crunch and needed to get the dog produced fast.

The CNC routing and fiberglass coating took nine days and we were able to have it on the first day of tech. The scene with the dog is at the end of the first act so we had some time to work with the dog once it got to the theater. We took the dog off the truck and straight to LX who wired and added a small fogger into the dog’s base. LX drilled a small hole behind the front left paw in order to have the fogger shoot out; it looked amazing. The scenic charge took over the painting of the dog and gave it a crackled porcelain look. In the end, the Devil’s dog was just right and met the director and designer’s vision of what it should be for the show.

My big takeaway from this: I quit being a people pleaser. I had to let those in every link of the chain of command know that you may not be happy about this, but this is the reality of the situation; this is the timeline, and this is the cost. This project evolved a lot and had a lot of hands in it. We were all honest and upfront about everything to each other about the limits and needs of this project and because of that, real expectations were set. I also gave some buffer time on delivery and departmental work. That avoided any undue stress on anyone having to do an unreasonable turnaround time.

A budget mockup used for rehearsals

Carved of foam

Covered in fiberglass

Painted with a crackled porcelain finish

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