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How Hale Centre Theatre is bringing Thing’s hand to life in ‘The Addams Family’

In Hale Centre Theatre’s new ‘Addams Family’ production, the little Things make all the difference

The cast of Hale Centre Theatre’s “The Addams Family.”
Hale Centre Theatre

SANDY — You’ve heard of a hand model, but have you heard of a hand actor?

Well, technically it’s not a thing, but in Hale Centre Theatre’s upcoming show, it’s a Thing.

The dismembered hand servant, lovingly dubbed Thing, in “The Addams Family” didn’t originally have a specific actor assigned to the part, but, over time, plans shifted.

“In the Broadway production, the character of Thing was used very minimally,” said Dave Tinney, the director of HCT’s show. “We have chosen to integrate him much more and make him an unlikely comic duo with Lurch.”

Although sometimes Thing is an animatronic hand or a silicone dummy hand, it usually is played by a youth performer — Dylan Udy or Eden Tinney — small enough to squeeze in spaces and pull off the illusion.

“What’s amazing about these young performers is that even though they have only a single hand to communicate any kind of intent or emotion, they are so incredibly expressive,” Tinney said.

Jennifer Stapley Taylor, the show’s set designer, said Thing is used very cleverly, and his relationship with Lurch adds quite a bit of humor. “Audience members will have to keep their eyes open for him since he doesn’t talk,” she added.

Figuring out how to execute Thing landed on the shoulders of props designer Michelle Jensen. Ryan White, the props artesian, also had a, er, hand in the process. Jensen purchased a remote-controlled animatronic Thing from the Broadway production, which closed in 2011.

“We repainted it, re-costumed it — added little white cuffs — and redid the mechanisms on it,” she explained. “Props take a beating during the course of a show.”

White even created a second animatronic hand and put it on little wheels, so Thing can go on a walk with Lurch at one point in the show. For the dummy hands, Jensen bought three silicone hands — a common tool for tattoo artists.

“They’ve got some give to them,” she explained. “I wanted something more realistic than a mannequin hand. They’re painted to look similar to actors’ hands and are smaller, since the actors are young. We tried to make them match as much as possible.”

Extensive research goes into each show, and Jensen often approaches White to create pieces from scratch, such as an antique dynamite blasting machine and Wednesday Addams’ intricate crossbow.

“I can show Ryan a picture of something I want, and he can create it,” Jensen said. “He’s a brilliant props builder. I can design, research and figure out what I want. He can make it happen.”

“The Addams Family” crew has worked hand in hand to create the unique feel for the musical.

“You can’t just go out and buy props for this show. They have to be just that other side of normal,” Jensen said. “You either have to buy something and alter it or make it from scratch. It has to be a fantastical creepy — but still fun.”

She points to the set wallpaper Maddy Ashton, the show’s scenic artist, created.

“When you look closer it’s not just lines and flourishing but there are crawly bugs,” she explained.

Taylor said there are a lot of gothic, Victorian influences incorporated, describing it as a kind of “haunted elegance” that’s often surreal and opulent.

“My boss gave me a book on Victorian architecture style and decoration; Walt Disney used this same book as inspiration for Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion,” she said. “I’ve taken some of the charm from what Disney has done and tried to bring in a little bit of creepy.”

Taylor and her team also created a rack torture device — which was detailed by the props team — for a scene early in the show with siblings Pugsley and Wednesday.

“It actually turned out to be one of my favorite pieces, and the scene is hilarious,” Taylor said.

“Don’t sweat the little things” is a familiar adage. But behind the scenes, there are lots of things — and one main Thing — that keep the set crew on their toes.

“I always want the props to enhance and help create the world that the actors live in, but I don’t want the props to be the sole focus,” Jensen said. “When we make props, they have to last 80 to 100 shows, and they have to be strong as well as beautiful.”

Content advisory: This production of “The Addams Family” contains a few swear words, some sexual innuendo and potty humor.

If you go …

What: “The Addams Family”

When: Sept. 9-Nov. 16, 7:30 p.m., Monday-Saturday; Saturday matinees at 12:30 and 4 p.m.

Where: Hale Centre Theatre, Sorenson Legacy Jewel Box Stage, 9900 S. Monroe St., Sandy

Tickets: $18-$48

Website: hct.org