How the zebra got its stripes Posted by Miryana on Apr 16, 2007
The Making of "How the Zebra got its stripes"

I've been working on this show for quite some time now, and its execution actually took the fraction of time used for it's conception and research. I was commissioned by the local art centre to produce a play with the African theme for the string of events planned for this year. I wanted this story to be as authentic as possible, so I started ordering books with African stories, mythology and folklore. It sure is different than the motifs from European cultures, which is my background, so I needed to be familiar with the environment before proceeding.

I wanted to take a story as is, and make a puppet show, but that wasn't gonna happen: the original version of the myth of how the zebra got its stripes was too short to make a full show. So I decided to make a "compilation" of motifs and come up with my own story, that will strongly rely on African mythology and characters in folk stories. For example, Anansi the spider seems to be one of the main character, so he did show up in the story at some point.

Finding music for it was just as challenging. When you go to the music store, in the world section there can be a number of African authors, but the music represents modern twists on traditional roots, and I needed it as authentic as I could find. Finally, I found the store that had few, mostly African drums (my boyfriend, who’s a drummer, seized the CD and now listens to it an night to lull himself into sleep; drums! Go figure!), which was kind of neat, very different. I used different drum sounds to represent the appearance of different animals: giraffe with the slow steady beat, cheetah with some rattles that indicated sneaking in the grass, and lion had majestic and very pompous drums.

Making animals was another problem, as some of you may recall from my previous postings. It is hard to make African animals and not make them look like plush toys. My puppets are all made in fabric, and I wasn't gonna stray too much from it into "firm" mediums, so I decided on sheet foam (the other option was carved foam, but that one would need to be covered with fabric and we are back to plush toys). I didn't work with it before, so much was to be learned, namely how much glue can one inhale before getting totally stoned, but I found my good measure and the rest followed.

It all started with a simple pattern for the body (pic one), and what you see is the "wrong side" , the inside, that is reinforced with the two identical halves of the pattern. The other peace was the head and neck patter (pic 2), that would at times get the bottom jaw as well (pic 3) but not in all cases. All the puppets were made from the variations of these patters - slightly different cuts etc. They were all improvised, so I do not have a pattern for a giraffe or a lion - it was a bit improvised. Put together for a zebra, it looked something like pic 4 and 5. The mouth was suppose to be movable, but it turned out to be a tight fit, that allows for some movement, not much though. Properly animated, you can't tell though, so it was OK.

Comes dying. Well, that was an adventure on its own. I decided that the zebras should be dyed black and then striped. After dipping them into the fabric dye, they turned out a gorgeous deep purple. That wasn't gonna work, but it wasn't wasted effort either which I will discover later. At this point, I took a can of black spray paint and painted them again (and the patio, and the hands, and the pots other patio, and the clothes I was in…), but since the foam was already painted dark, it took less paint to get it totally black. Later on, I had to make one more zebra, and I didn't dye it first, but went for the spay can - it took for ever.

Cheetah and Zebra were dyed orange and then painted with acrylic paints, with the regular brush. I do not have airbrush tools or knowledge, so I decided this time to go the old-fashioned way, and learn airbrushing for the next time. Stripping zebras took for ever, but it was so enjoyable. As much as I wanted to be authentic, I could not replicate the stripes exactly as they were on the actual zebras.

While I was doing all this, I could not but think how God must've created African animals first, and then used up all his colours, so the rest of the animals in the world are sort of murky and single toned.

All in all, they turned out rather well - realistic but still cartoonish, yet not like plush toys, you can see they were not mass produce but a unique work. I was very pleased with them, and am thinking of making an elephant and a crocodile, while I am at it, although they do not have any roles in the story. They could just walk through the stage  as extras. I also may make few colourful birds (toucan, for example). I do have to watch for small parts, as they come off easy (my next story will be "How the zebra lost its tail").

The spider (not shown yet) had to be made twice, since one will come down the string from the ceiling and the other will crawl up on the stage  when the first one drops to the ground. I was gonna do the famous "Spiderman kiss" scene with the spider and the zebra, but there was no time for it this time, I'll have to do it in the next show.

The show had lots of jokes and was really entertaining for adults too (the snake, who snitched on zebra to the lion, introduced himself to his majesty as "your humble serpent").

Re: How the zebra got its stripes Posted by Miryana on Apr 16, 2007
here are more pictures
Re: How the zebra got its stripes Posted by Billy D. Fuller on Apr 16, 2007
WOW ............ !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Those are great

I love the zebra, the giraffe, and the lion, oh my I just love em all. What a simple concept and design.
Thank you so much for sharing. I started a file just for this project so keep me posted as I want to follow as the show progresses.

You are so talented.

Billy D.
Re: How the zebra got its stripes Posted by Sonny on Apr 16, 2007
Great work! The construction and painting is superb. Please make sure you get some pictures of the production and share them with us.
Re: How the zebra got its stripes Posted by Miryana on Apr 16, 2007
I love the lion the best. I am not much of a painter, which was a bit of an impairment in this case, and lion turned out better than the rest of the gang.
Thanks, Billy.  One thing I must do now is make a silky "sleeve" and insert it in each puppte, so the hand can slip in easier. Design is simple, yet effective in this case. All these puppets took about a week to make (and I also have a full time job). It was thinking that took most of my time.
Sonny, there was a fellow there who took some pics, so as soon as I get them, I'll add them to this post. I can't wait to see them myself.
Re: How the zebra got its stripes Posted by StiqPuppet Productions on Apr 16, 2007
Great Job Miryana.  I now know why I haven't heard from you in a while. 

The puppets were sooooo great you did a fine job for jumping right in and doing it. 

It sounds like you learnt a lot in the process.  Good job!!

When is the next show so we can come and see it??

Daryl H.
Re: How the zebra got its stripes Posted by Miryana on Apr 16, 2007
Thanks, Daryl,
yes, it was very busy in last little while, and I had one more project (not puppetry related) that took me astray for a while. I will have this show in West Van some time this summer, I will let you know.
Re: How the zebra got its stripes Posted by newmodeller on Apr 16, 2007
They are beautiful,  I wish you were able to come over here and do your show in the UK.  I am looking forward to showing the pictures to my boys.  Although John is likely to want me to make a version for him, or more likely stilll to make his own. 

You have the most wonderful talent and I love the way that the characters of the animals come over in still pictures, they must be fantastic in animated movement.
Re: How the zebra got its stripes Posted by Miryana on Apr 16, 2007
Thank you, I wish I could travel around with the show. I am going to Europe this fall, but I may not come by England.
Re: How the zebra got its stripes Posted by newmodeller on Apr 16, 2007
Miryana, I like your puppets
Love John.

John wrote the above himself (he is 5 and a half).  

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