Five Questions for Sean O’Connell

Photo by P.T. Sullivan.

Sean O’Connell is a maker of totally awesome and wildly creative props, costumes, and set pieces. His work has been featured on stage, on film, in Web video, and even during Halloween parades.

  1. You designed all of the props and many of the major set pieces for the Evening of Steampunk and Robot Theater that ran recently at the Players’ Ring in Portsmouth, NH. What draws you to create the quirky yet beautiful stuff that you create?
    First off, thanks for that compliment. To answer your question, I enjoy a challenge, even if I spend two months bashing my head trying to force myself to be creative on a schedule. I’m a troubleshooter by profession and artistic by nature, so this project was perfect for me. I like the look of steampunk and it naturally lends to ornate creation.Working on a low budget actually forces you to be more creative, as well. I hit the local dump for months before getting the go on this project, since I knew I would need materials. Knobs from grills, scrap-booking supplies, computer printouts pasted to candy tins for gauges—there were so many shortcuts I used to do this on a budget.
     
  2. When you see other people playing with the stuff you’ve created, are you more nervous that they’ll use it incorrectly and break it or more curious to see what they do with it and how that matches up with what you envisioned?
    My props are there for the actors. I feel that the better the prop I create, the more it helps them to get into character. If something breaks—well, that is a prop maker’s lot in life. Broken props just help me learn how to make them better. I had a great experience when I put the goggles out for the actors in the play Seven Sisters. Unbeknownst to them, I had designed each pair of goggles to match a specific character from the script. When they each picked out the correct pair with no prompting from me—that was a wonderful moment.
     
  3. In addition to the props and set pieces you designed for that show, you loaned the production a robot costume you designed yourself. How long have you been designing wearable awesomeness like that? Did you make your own Halloween costumes as a kid, either by yourself or with a parent? If so, what was your favorite?
    I have been making costumes for years and years. I love Halloween and try to make some kind of new outfit whenever I can. From squid monsters (seen on MTV) to lava rock monsters, I always try to go different. I was like this as a kid, too—costumes I created were always more enjoyable than anything I bought. As for a favorite, I’m going to have to say the robot. Originally built for a yet to be filmed episode of How to Survive the Strange, it ended up in the 48 Hour Film Project entry directed by Strange director John Herman (where it won best costume in the finals). Randy Tompkins saw the robot in that film and wrote a great play for him for the steampunk show. I was lucky enough to have him played/worn by 2 wonderful actors, Shawn Crapo and Paul Hartwell, who really brought out the humor. The robot’s girlfriend, played by Liz O’Connell (no relation), was working with a prop that towered over her, but she brought her own comedic genius to the role and really made it all work. Amusingly, the ‘bot was asked to pose for photos after each show.He has been seen in the streets of Portsmouth for Halloween doing PR work for ShortStream.tv, and he even made an appearance at PodCamp NH this year. People really enjoy the robot, which I have to say still surprises me, even now. He’s become so beloved that one of the actors created a Facebook page for him. I have to say that receiving that invite gave me a bit of an amusing shock.
     
  4. When it comes to your philosophy as a “maker,” do you start with what you have lying around and come up with ideas limited by what’s handy, or do you start with an idea and go out and find what you need to make it a reality?
    I’m just not that lineal in my creation. I have ideas, collect parts, and make things from what I have on hand. It all happens at the same time for me. Ideas tend to knock around in my head and then I will fire one off. The one really important thing to me right now is that my creations be used. Just making them is not enough for me anymore. I want them out there to be seen and used by people. And, thanks to NH Media Makers, I am getting more and more opportunities to participate in projects where that’s exactly what happens.
     
  5. What kinds of crazy projects are you looking to tackle next?
    Well, my workshop needs a rebuild. If I learned anything from the massive amount of work that went into the steampunk show, it’s that I need a better shop. More cabinets, workspace, and storage places for my tools. As for projects on the table, I have a steampunk rifle (the base was used in the play G.E. Rock) that needs to be finished in brass and other materials. There’s a steampunk convention in March 2011 and I want to have it ready for that. My robot also needs major repainting and rebuilding, too. He has been on the run for months, so he needs some attention. I want to add some Nerf weapons to him in a modular fashion, things that can be fired by remote control. He also needs better wiring to control his glowing eyes. And I have some other surprises in store for people, as well. The best ways to keep up to date on what I’m doing are to follow me on Twitter, where I’m @techsean, or to read my blog at techsean.typepad.com.