When he agreed to produce Interact Theater Company’s summer edition of The Pirates of Penzance at the Lansburgh Theater, Art Mitchell didn’t think it would put him in the used elephant business, but such is the impresario’s life.
Instead of the traditional English Channel island setting, Interact placed the Gilbert and Sullivan classic on an isle in the Indian Ocean. This innovative locale enabled actor Floyd King to enter and exit triumphantly atop a 7-foot elephant whose presence was a highlight of Interact artistic director Kathryn Flye’s concept for the show.
“Kathryn was adamant about the elephant,” says Mitchell, sounding more than a little like King’s energetically enunciative modern Major-General.
Given Pirates‘ non-Aidaesque set budget, a real animal was out of the question. But Flye was determined to have an elephant, and her persistence was rewarded by CFG Design & Production, which built a better beast than nature could have provided, thanks to a design by James Wolk.
To fashion the elephant’s torso, CFG glued together a pair of 3-by-4-by-8-foot styrofoam blocks. Attaching this form to a four-legged steel armature, CFG encased the steel legs in styro, and propmaker Mike Novak carved the remarkably verisimilitudinous elephantine details using a disc grinder fitted with a special toothed apparatus. Scenic artist Andrew D’Zmura painted the results with acrylics in shades of gray. A set of casters enabled a pair of actor/mahouts to roll King on- and offstage with ease.
The only hitch came in rehearsal when the actor was climbing on and off via a rope ladder; his movements tended to throw him and his steed off balance. However, the handlers learned to shift their weights and grips to compensate, and in performance the gimmick came off without mishap and to uproarious applause.
But now that the show has closed, the elephant is gathering dust in a warehouse, and Mitchell the piratical producer has become Mitchell the pachyderm purveyor. He’s looking for someone to give his featherweight heavyweight a happy home—for a price.
Mitchell is asking $2,000, which sounds like a lot until you figure that this is one elephant that is not going to consume the 325 pounds of fruit, grain, and hay a real animal eats every day—never mind the 125 pounds of dung a genuine tusker drops in the same time frame. Pound for pound, CFG’s masterpiece may be the best elephant buy in town.
The price is admittedly flexible, but no checks have been forthcoming from such organizations as the Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, or Republican National Party. This worries Art Mitchell not a whit; he knows a seasonal market when he sees one.
“In a presidential election year, this is going to be a very popular item,” he says.