How did we make Miss Zarves?
By Steve Pacek
(Mrs. Gorf, >treat Sammy, Mr. Pickle, Miss Valoosh, Mr. Gorf, Mr. Kidswatter, and Miss Zarves in Sideways Stories from Wayside School)
Of all of the characters I play in Sideways Stories from the Wayside School (7 total!), Miss Zarves is the one that people are always the most surprised when I tell them “that was me” after the show. It doesn’t look anything like me. It doesn’t sound anything like me. And it’s a very mean character (I PROMISE I’m actually really nice). But our genius video and sound designer, Jorge Cousineau spent hours creating an animated character that could exist in this “sideways” world!
During the first week of rehearsal, Jorge brought in his video camera and put sticky tape dots all over my face. He said he was going to capture the movement of my face and the sound of my voice saying Miss Zarves’s lines so he could create an animated character for her. And this animated character would take up an entire wall! AWESOME!!! So we tried a couple times to get the perfect “take.” But because Miss Zarves does quite a bit of yelling, which makes your face move around a lot, some of the sticky dots kept falling off. So we did it over and over again until I got all of the lines right and all of the dots stayed! When he showed me the finished product, I didn’t even think it was me!
The most challenging part was actually not moving my head too much. Jorge needed me to move my face a lot but not my head because the camera was on a close-up. If I moved too much I would go out of the frame. It was also hard acting without the other cast members as we were recording. I had to imagine the other characters were there saying their lines, but it was just me.
I have a friend in Los Angeles who acts in a lot of motion capture feature films (like Polar Express and Avatar). I’ve seen lots of pictures of him with the sticky dots on his face while filming. It was so cool to feel like I was making a movie while we were making a play! Maybe one day I’ll get to play some more animated characters.
Steve, Did you attend St. Stanislaus School in Lansdale, PA? I bought tickets for my grandchildren to see Sideway School. Can I tell them Miss Zarves et al are played by a former student of mine?
Best regards, Mrs. Jo Plonski
We loved the show. The entire cast was fabulous, and creative ideas, including this animated Miss Zarves, will have us talking about this show for a long time.