Tob Tob Dance
I am building a 25 foot tree for Much Ado about Nothing and there has been a few comments about the manufacture of this tree. One through line goes like this; cut down a tree to get the wood to mash up into bits of wood and reassemble to make a tree for the stage.
Why not a real tree and save all that cost and time?
We have tried that before with disastrous results, splitting, drying wood constantly moving and not fitting etc. We have even had insects invade the stage from bamboo in the past…but I do have a tale in the other direction.
While working with an Australian company building the open and closing ceremonies for the Asian Games in Doha, Qatar many years ago, I left the Mid East to fly down to Sydney to meet the team and have a tour of what had been made to date before we would set up shop in Doha and create pieces there. While touring the workshops I came across many prop builders cutting and assembling PVC and foam palm branches, each carefully C&C’d and glued together with something, some sort of hot glue. These had been designed and redesigned by a team before another team of Autocadd folks spit out reams of drawings to hand down to the props people. I stood beside one of the production managers and asked,
“But aren’t we going to land of palm trees.”
“Yes mate but these will be used by the upper society Qatarie wives who will do a traditional dance, the Tob Tob which represents the wives of old beating the waves as their husbands went to sea bringing luck for a safe return. We can’t have these women using real palms, it would be too rough on their hands, it just won’t do. These will work fine.”
When they finally arrived five months later after sitting in Singapore for three, I checked the thermostat on the outside of every container which read an average of 78 Celsius. We opened the door and stepped back from the wave of heat that rushed to escape and beheld a pile of melted mush on the floor. “Put them back together.” I was told.
My crew gathered and started the rebuild, a painful experience, and sent them into rehearsal. Of the 50 sent 48 were returned for rebuild. Again we sent them back and again the same result. This happened time and time again, mind, a few less each day. I don’t know the exact figure of the palms but well into the tens of thousands by the time they got into rehearsal.
One Friday afternoon, our day off, the Holy day, I went to a farmer’s market, a souk for animals where I found a man selling…palm frowns, about 8 feet high and perfectly ripe, green and full, ten to a bundle…$10…a buck a piece. I bought 10 bundles which caused quite a stir when I pulled into the shop as they were stacked precariously high on my little Korean car. Without telling the powers to be that we now had these, I got the crew to strip the bottom 3 feet of all branches and leaves, sand as smooth as we possibly could with the limited grits available to us, build up a few coats of protective finish and sent 50 into the next rehearsal.
None came back.
The next rehearsal…none came back…in fact I got reports that the women really liked the weight and feel of the new props, they could beat the ground as hard as they wanted, none broke.
We painted them gold and used them for the remainder of the year and in the final performance…total cost $1.00 a piece.