If people aren’t familiar with lesser-known Broadway musicals, they usually think you’re talking about something risque if you mention the show Once Upon a Mattress. That’s too bad, because it’s a funny, family-friendly show that earned a young Carol Burnett a TONY award nomination for best actress when it premiered in 1959. An adaptation of the classic fairy tale The Princess and the Pea, the musical has attracted a large amount of star power over its 50+ years for various Broadway, national tour and television versions, including Buster Keaton, Ken Berry, Sarah Jessica Parker, Elliot Gould, Imogene Coca, Bernadette Peters, Wally Cox, Jack Gilford, Dody Goodman, Matthew Morrison, Jane Krakowski, Zooey Deschanel and Tracey Ullman.
Of course, this is an ideal show for high school theatre productions as you can put as many kids in the chorus as you like, the set isn’t too complicated, the dance numbers are comical and the music isn’t too difficult to sing. So this fall when my step-daughter Jessica was cast in her high school’s version of the show, we were proud and excited for her. And you can imagine one of the first places my brain went – sock monkey!
Jessica was to play Lady Mabelle, one of Lady Larken’s maids in waiting. She’s French and pretty much only ever says “yes”, but I think that any time a character you play has a name and you’re not just listed as “ensemble”, it’s a big deal. Jessica’s drama department doesn’t have much of a budget, so the kids had to supply their own costumes, which they ordered online. I only had a black and white photo to work with, so I found out from her mom that the dress was made of deep blue and black velvet with gold trim. I had never sewn with velvet before and it sucked! Later on my costume shop friends were all saying “Oh, you should have basted it together before sewing it,” but of course, they didn’t give me that tip until I had fought and cursed my way through the project.
Jessica has tons of beautiful, wavy brunette hair, and she looked quite beautiful in her costume. Although it’s difficult to capture beauty in a sock monkey, I tried my best with giving her big brown eyes (vintage buttons from Aunt Fofo’s button box) and some flirty eyelashes. As she is a lady, she wears satin petti-pants trimmed in lace, and I did my best to make her yarn wig look something like the style she wore her hair in for the show. The sock monkey version is really sweet, and I loved sending off and surprising her with it. I have hopes that Jessica will continue her interest in theatre and maybe even pursue a career in it. I just hope she doesn’t have to sew much with velvet.
Have you ever had a situation where you do/say/create something with a certain intent (or no intent), then somebody else comes along and puts their own spin on it and completely changes your original idea into something you never intended or never actually even imagined somebody would think of when you originated that thought or idea? Such is the case with VERBOTEN – the sock monkey that dare not show her face.
During a production of Lucia di Lamermoor at Seattle Opera last season, it was our good fortune to have among the supernumaries Miss Rosetta Greek. Rosetta is one of the coolest, most creative people I know – she is the kick-ass proprietress of Heavens To Betsie, and a very talented actress. She also inspired me to start my own sock monkeys after she created the beautiful Mermonkey, Atlantis, a few years ago. So it wasn’t difficult to decide I wanted to make a sock monkey for Rosetta based on her character, The Love-Cursed Bride, in the opera.
I wanted to do something different for this monkey – a different look and I wanted it to be special for Rosetta. I found a pair of gray, vintage socks I thought would be perfect for a ghost, I had some lovely silk for the wedding gown and matching gloves (trimmed with real vintage mother-of-pearl buttons from Aunt Fofo’s button box), I made her a real boned corset, some lace-trimmed bloomers and I hand beaded the veil similar to what was on her original costume. She is beautiful! But that’s not quite the end of the story.
As you’ve seen from my other posts, I had a show at McCaw Hall during the opera’s production of Porgy and Bess over the summer. I submitted photos of my work and I got the green light that I was chosen to exhibit. Then the problems began. When you assemble a sock monkey, the heel becomes the head, face and mouth of it. My ghostly gray sock had a black heel, so the monkey had a black head, face and mouth. I received an email a couple weeks before the show that the Ghost Bride would not be allowed in the show because it would “potentially offend patrons.” Huh? This was followed by another email a few days later telling me I could not refer to my work as “sock monkeys” because the term “monkey” was used to negatively refer to African Americans. Wow. And this is 2011?
I found it rather difficult to believe that anyone was going to look at my work and read it as offensive (so not what this project/endeavor has ever been about), but I offered to call them “sock puppets” (even thought they’re not) and be done with it. I did find it interesting that the Seattle Opera’s blog showed photos of the Ghost Bride and referred to my work as sock monkeys, but then I wasn’t in charge of that, was I?
Anyway, the show got a lot of positive feedback, Rosetta was thrilled with her monkey, my friend Rozarii did an amazing photo of her, and I think she’s still my favorite. After all the “trouble” she caused, Rosetta decided to name her Verboten, which I think is absolutely perfect. And just in case you’re wondering, they were called sock monkeys when they were invented 70+ years ago and they have tails like real monkeys do. What do you think?
It always amazes me at what a small town Seattle seems like at times. There I was shopping at the Pike Place Market a couple weeks ago, and who should I run into but the awesome tenor, Alex Mansoori. Now in NYC, Alex originally grew up just east of here in Issaquah, and he and his girlfriend Laura were in town to see the parents. It was great timing too, because I had yet to get his sock monkey in the mail to him and his visit gave me the opportunity to deliver it in person.
Alex is one of those people I liked from the moment I met him. He was in the Young Artists Program at Seattle Opera, and one of the first things to stand out about him was his voice – gorgeous! When I sing in my head, I wish I sounded like Alex does. The fact that he’s got a great sense of humor doesn’t hurt either. I worked with him on two YAP productions, then was his dresser on his mainstage debut at Seattle Opera in “Amelia”, where he played a Viet Cong killer. Sorry Alex, but I had a hard time buying that one, but you looked great on stage! Last winter he had a larger role in the production of Massenet’s “Don Quichotte” as Juan, and that’s where the sock monkey comes in.
As I’ve mentioned before, I like to do monkeys for people I’ve worked with and have an established relationship with, so creating a monkey for Alex was a no-brainer. First of all, he had an awesome period costume – all in red with doublet, breeches, a big, swirling cape and these cool, cuffed boots. I found my own fabric for the costume, creating the breeches from a silk/linen fabric, the doublet from a beautiful silk dupioni, and as always, I found the perfect buttons for eyes and even a vintage belt buckle in my Aunt Fofo’s button box. Fate stepped in to guide me to a terrific old 1950s sword-shaped hors d’oeuvres pick in the shape of a sword – perfect! I wasn’t able to recreate the wavy locks of his wig in my yarn version (which I don’t have a picture of), but it’s not bad. As so often happens with my creations, it takes me a lot longer than the run of a given show to finish, so Alex was united with Juan a few months late. But Alex loved the monkey, so that’s all that really mattered.
Seems as if Quichotte/Quixote are popping into my life again soon – Pacific Northwest Ballet is presenting the ballet “Don Quixote” next month and I’m working on it. Yes, there’s already a sock monkey in the works…stay tuned!
There is so much awesome sock monkey stuff on the market now – calendars, hats, cards, ornaments, and my favorite – fabric! But I don’t seem to shop at the right stores because I never seem to find it until somebody says, “Hey – I was thinking about you the other day when I saw this cool sock monkey fabric – I figured you already had it….” NO! The best stuff I have are the pieces people have picked up or sent to me.
So, of course I had no idea there was CHRISTMAS SOCK MONKEY FABRIC until my mother-in-law, Sandy, sent holiday collars for the dogs made from it! She’s got a fancy sewing machine that does all kinds of embroidery, so she had embroidered the dogs’ names on the collars and attached a bunch of little jingle bells to them. Noodle had no problem wearing it, but Muggles’ reaction kind of reminded me of Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” when he’s forced to put on the pink bunny suit and come downstairs for everyone to see it – “Oh god, why are you putting me through this humiliation” was the thought bubble I pictured hovering above Muggles’ head while he had it on. We didn’t make him suffer longer than snapping the photo to send
off to Sandy.
And as a bonus, Sandy sent me a half yard of each of the Christmas prints she found – I know I haven’t yet put all of my 2011 Christmas stuff away yet, but I’m already planning some crafty stuff with my new fabric for Christmas 2012 – someone should shoot me…..
As I’ve been creating my opera sock monkeys over the last couple of years, I’ve always thought of them as a complete item – meaning it’s a one-of-a-kind creation, when it’s finished I’m done with it and then I move on to the next project. So I was really surprised a couple weeks ago when a reader in Australia contacted me about Wotan. The Wotan sock monkey was the first I ever made, as a gift for Greer Grimsley during the 2009 Ring cycle I worked with him on at Seattle Opera. Since that Wotan wasn’t available, could I make another? Ummm….sure…yes!
I used an actual vintage sock for my first creation, but knew I could easily create a monkey from the newer red heel socks I now use. However, I couldn’t use the same fabrics because I’d pieced together a few scraps from the costume shop from the original costumes, but thought I could easily find something similar. Wrong! This proved to be a bigger challenge than I planned for, and over a week I visited every fabric store in Seattle as well as half a dozen thrift stores trying to find a good match. The closest I got was with a couple of upholstery weight fabrics, which don’t drape well on a sock monkey-sized scale, but figured I’d make it work. As for the trim on the coat, there just wasn’t anything available that was close to it, and ended up with ribbon I folded in half, then hand-colored to get something similar to the original. Even with those challenges, I was really pleased with the result, especially his hair which I like better than the original – I had a skein of vintage wool yarn with a nice mottled gray color that worked out perfectly, and was easier to work with than the wig fiber I used on Wotan #1.
So here he is! And this time he’s not off to Valhalla, but Tasmania. As I packed him up to ship off, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What would Richard Wagner think?”