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How to grow a ‘Little Shop of Horrors’

Jonathan Ramm creates the skeleton of Audrey II for OCYT's performance of “Little Shop of Horrors.”
Jonathan Ramm creates the skeleton of Audrey II for OCYT's performance of “Little Shop of Horrors.” LISA THORNTON

Jonathan Ramm isn’t a botanist, but for the past several weeks, he’s taken care of a garden of rare plants.

Tasked with designing, then constructing many of Old Courthouse Theatre’s sets, Ramm’s latest challenge is a whopper: creating the blood-thirsty, conniving, smooth-talking perennial known as Audrey II in the campy sci-fi musical “Little Shop of Horrors.”

Old Courthouse Youth Theatre will present the show through June 28 at the Old Courthouse Theatre on Spring Street.

Like most community theaters, OCT’s small budget directs many aspects of its productions. Performance rights for popular shows like “Little Shop of Horrors” run into the thousands, and swallow the majority of the allotted funds in one gulp.

It’s up to set designers like Ramm, who have become experts at stretching their imaginations, to create believable backgrounds on the budget’s remainder.

In the theater’s workshop, Ramm glanced at a worn-out sheet of notebook paper with the pencil-sketched plans of Audrey II. Then he rolled up his sleeves and went to work.

“This is potentially going to be Plant No. 3,” he said, bending and gluing four pieces of PVC pipe into the upper and lower jaws of the prop. “So far, this is like $20 worth of materials.”

Because “Little Shop of Horrors” is the story of an alien plant that grows when it feeds on human blood, several versions of the plant are needed throughout the course of the play.

To rent them for two weeks from the production company that leases the musical’s rights would have cost $3,000.

Many of the props for the upcoming musical came from Jay M. Robinson High School’s theater department. The high school performed “Little Shop of Horrors” in 2012, earning two inaugural Blumey Awards.

For $1,000, OCT bought the lot of Audrey II plants, from the young seedling growing in a coffee can to the monstrous green bud that stands several feet high.

Most of the props they can use, but others, like the largest plant, needed adjustments to fit the stage.

“It just ended up being a little too big,” said Ramm’s wife, Stephanie, also a parent liaison for OYTC. “We’re tweaking.”

The materials that can be used are endless, from pink pool noodles as lips to green fleece blankets as leaves.

Ramm pulls from past sets often.

“We try to recycle as much as possible, being nonprofit and on a budget,” he said.

Most new sets cannibalize pieces from past productions. Wood planks from the old Dutch barn used in “Charlotte’s Web” could end up in “Jesus Christ Superstar.” The stairs in “Jesus Christ Superstar” could be used in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

In a few weeks, when the show is over, much of the set for “Little Shop of Horrors” will be pulled apart, too.

“If you look closely, you’ll see remnants of it somewhere on another production,” said Ramm. It’s probably Ramm’s least favorite part of the job.

“Every time we take a set apart, especially when the kids have done a tremendous job, it’s hard,” said Ramm.

Lisa Thornton is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Lisa? Email her at lisathornton@followmylede.com.

Want to go?

“Little Shop of Horrors” will be presented by Old Courthouse Youth Theatre at Old Courthouse Theatre, 49 Spring St. NW, Concord. Tickets are $12 each. For ticket information, visit www.ocytnc.org or call 704-788-2405.

Showtimes are:

7:30 p.m. June 26-27

2:30 p.m. June 21 and 28

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