Building the giant peach

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Building the giant peach

Luke Finkel, Managing Editor

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When Drama teacher and play director, Laura Woods, told me that we would be doing “James and the Giant Peach” for this years spring production, I instantly realized how tough it would be to build a peach hat would live up to “Giant” name.

I would begin plans for what would finally be a peach that is over eight feet tall, and sixteen feet wide. This size makes the peach one of the largest single set pieces in Cal High drama history.

But a peach this large is not a job for just one man. I had massive amounts of help from my practically-professional crew. This crew consisted of  junior Ross Bothelo, seniors Eric Bender and Matt Hern and last but certainly not least, parent volunteer, Ron Graham.

We would begin a three month journey to complete the largest set piece that any of us have ever built.

The construction started with Graham and I sitting at a table drawing out plans, and then promptly crumpling them up and throwing them away. Page after page of my poor notebook was sent into the trash can in a fit of rage.

Once we had a brilliant idea that would work perfectly, Woods came up to us and said she wanted it to rotate on stage. Rotate on stage? This was surely an impossible feat.

After many minutes of brainstorming, we came up with a game-changing idea. The frame of the peach could be made using PVC pipe that would then be covered in mesh wire to prepare it for many layers of paper-maché.

I was quite excited that I would get to reconnect with my artistic elementary school roots.

My crew and I went on winter break feeling satisfied with our plans to construct this behemoth, but we had no idea what sort of challenge we would face upon our return.

After a wonderful Hannukah and a happy New Year, I came back to our lovely scene shop, only to see Graham with a truck full of PVC pipe and a heat gun. We were going to use heat, but hopefully not flames, to bend this pipe into some resemblance of a peach.

Many weeks of burnt fingers and melted plastic pipe went by before we were happy with the skeleton that was supposed to support the papery flesh of the peach.

But before the paper-maché fun was to commence, we had to wrap the PVC pipe in very sharp mesh wire. The wire was to act as a surface to which the maché would stick

I only bled about 20 times before the skeleton was completely covered in our wire. This meant that our maché journey was to begin.

Gallons upon gallons of starch, and more bags of flour than I can count were mixed together to create a thick goop that would hopefully hold this paper to our peach.

It was working as planned, as layer after layer began to create a peach-looking object.

We decided to use orange paper so there would be minimal painting needed to make it look like a peach.

This idea did not go as planned. I cannot tell you how many times people came in and asked me why we were making an orange. I was once even asked why we were making a giant marble. Lots of painting was certainly going to be necessary.

My crew and I essentially possess no artistic ability whatsoever, so we made a visit to one of the art classes to get some help painting our “giant marble.”

Our prayer was answered. The art students in Michelle Stephanos’ class did an absolutely miraculous job of making our janky glob of paper look like a peach.

But the next challenge was getting this monster onto the stage without ripping it. I recruited a team of about 10 people to help me push it on stage before we could add the finishing touches.

Unfortunately for me, they had no interest in pushing, or touching the peach. So I was left to shove it on stage with a 10-person audience.  Thanks to my wit, and incredible muscles, I was able to get it on stage without much trouble.

But the real trouble came when I realized that my crew and I would have to rotate this colossal fruit in front of a huge audience during a quick blackout. This gave us about one minute to rotate this big peach.

I was pretty confident that we could do it, so I timed us rotating it. About five or six minutes in we gave up, and decided to go home from rehearsals. I’m glad we did, because I do my best thinking at home, asleep. That’s when, I kid you not, I dreamt that the peach had wheels, and spun around with great ease.

When I got back to the shop the next day Graham and I made this dream a reality. We were able to fix the wheels to the bottom making the turn an incredible amount easier. This way we would be able to whip it around stage in no time.

And that is exactly what we did. Fortunately, during all four shows this month there were no mishaps. The peach didn’t break, tip, or rip. It was truly a miracle.

This was a bittersweet feeling for me.  I’m glad everything went smoothly, but so many months of hard work, blood and sweat were over, just like that.

But it did make it a little easier that I got to tear the peach down with a huge saw. That was amazing.

In the end I learned that you can take the boy out of the peach, but you can never take the peach out of the boy.