In 2004 I designed a production of Carousel for the Music department at Simpson College. The director wanted realistic scenery depicting the signature scenic element. Since the carousel only appears in the prologue to the play, it needed to be constructed in such a way as to strike easily following the first 8 minutes. I conceived of a 5-part turntable. One of the parts was a 3′ square that housed the center pivot and 4 castors. The other 4 were pie-slice segments on swivel castors that roto-locked around the pivot. Each segment carried 1/4 of the carousel including a horse, a decorative central flat that formed the central column of the carousel, and 1/4 of the canopy element. Although it is not optimal to construct a revolve on swivel castors, they were necessary in order to permit the units, once disconnected, to roll offstage into our small backstage storage space.
We were hoping to locate realistic carousel horses, naively thinking that there might be some real ones in the area that we could borrow. We were disabused of this notion after exhausting all local leads. So, I turned to the trusty Stagecraft Mailing List for some suggestions. We got several leads for companies that had done Carousel. Most were stylistically incompatible with our plans and most would have required prohibitively expensive shipping. However, John Gibilisco of the Omaha Playhouse contacted me with the information that the company had done a production of the musical a few years before and still had some of the horses. As it turned out, only 2 remained, but I was able to rent them for a reasonable sum. Since Omaha is only a couple-hour drive from Indianola, Iowa (and Simpson College) I picked them up in my Jeep and little 6′ trailer. That left us two horses shy.
Another contact from the Stagecraft mailing list directed me to: Rotronics Plastic Products of 2807 Stephen F Austin Dr, Brownwood, Texas 76801-6454. I was able to order two “stander” style horses from them. My notes indicate that we may have paid as much as $325 each and also around $200 in shipping. When they arrived, they were bright white plastic and hollow and made of thickly formed rotational moulded plastic (not unlike those plastic kayaks, which,by-the-way, Rotronics also fabricated). The horses arrived needing to be trimmed of the mold “flashing” and painted. The Omaha Playhouse horses were slightly different models (a “jumper & a prancer) of a similar size and style, so we painted our new ones to match the rented ones and nobody was the wiser.
Over the years, one or the other of our horses appeared in various productions. One was used for a Theatre Simpson production of Into the Woods. However, for the most part, our two horses just sat in storage and collected dust.
When plans were laid for a joint Theatre & Music department production of Carousel to kick off the 2014-15 season I expected that the carousel horses would be the least of my worries. I already had two of them and I knew where to find another two…I thought. Unfortunately, time had not been as kind to the Omaha horses. It seems they only had one remaining, and photos of that one suggested that the legs had been chopped off! In any event, I needed to procure two more horses. I pulled out my records and tried to contact Rotronics. However, the phone numbers didn’t work and when I tried to log onto their website, I kept getting redirected to various other companies. Turns out, Rotronics went out of business a couple of years before. What’s more, their assets were divided up between at least 3 different companies. After getting directed and redirected to several people from several companies, Dawn Whitney of Armeria LLC (one of the companies that appear to have acquired some Rotronics assets) directed me to a company called “Meese Inc” who according to her “has the carousel horses”. A little Google-foo got me information on Meese, Orbitron, Dunne company at 4920 State Road, Ashtabula, OH 44004, (800) 772-7659
A visit to the web site (http://www.modroto.com) was not promising since there was nothing to be found on their site at the time concerning carousel horses even though they did appear to fabricate a vast array of containers and decorative elements like columns and balusters.
Meanwhile, I had also searched the internet and kept running into carousel horses, both painted and unpainted available for purchase. The painted ones all seemed to cost around $1300 or more and unpainted ones started at $450. Shipping for either version was going to add to the final cost. I contacted one of the companies that advertised unpainted horses on a “buy now” basis on E-bay and came to understand that they were not the manufacturers. Rather, with sufficient lead time this company could order them from someone else and sell them to me. Since I was pressed for time and guessed that going directly to a fabricator, rather than through a middle-man, would be more convenient and cheaper, I pursued the Meese Orbitron Dunne lead.
My first contact there, Kelley Thomas, connected me with Kendall Jarrell the Custom Account Manager at Meese Orbitron Dunne (aka MOD). He verified that MOD had, indeed, secured the moulds for certain of the Rotronics horses and sent me a photo of a painted display model from their lobby that matched the pair of standers that I already had in stock. The pricing was reasonable and his firm arranged the shipping for me. The cost included a $150 mold setup fee (suspended if we had ordered 5 or more) and a unit cost of around $150 per horse. Another $100 or so per horse covered the shipping.
With a new production came a new director and a new visual “look” for this new Carousel. The set design for the new iteration relied on more theatrical settings than that for the 2004 production. The carousel itself, was to be an open affair featuring each of the 4 horses mounted on small castered bases and connected to a detachable central pivot. The top of the carousel was represented by an oversized carnival sign advertising the “Mullins’ Carousel” as seen in the preliminary sketch above and as seen in an earlier post.
When the new horses arrived, they featured a thick mould flashing. A few student labor-hours using a variety of saws, rasps and an electric angle-grinder with a sanding wheel cleaned that right up. I also enlisted an enthusiastic student labor pool to apply a personalized color scheme to each horse. The new paint motif involved decorating each horse with metallic gold or silver paint on major elements and each sported its own unique color personality.
During production each horse was guided by a “pusher” who provided the locomotion and attended to the “rider”. At the end of the prologue Billy detached his horse from the pivot and led it with Julie astride to center stage while the other horses and riders were detached and peeled off into the SR wing by “pushers” of their own. This solution proved to be far less literal and more poetic than the 2004 production.
One of the horses now decorates the entryway into our PAC (at least for the duration of the school year) while the other three horses stand silently in storage, again collecting dust and awaiting future usefulness.
Meanwhile, thanks for listening. Have fun! But be safe!