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Shrek The Musical: The creation of the Dragon costume

This year’s Whole School Production was Shrek The Musical. We were fortunate to be able to hire many costumes from Penrhos College in Perth. Those that we were not able to hire were created by our talented staff and volunteers.

One costume that stood out for audiences, was the dragon costume. Performer Olivia Kavanagh brought the character to life and showcased the wonderful artistry of the costume designer, Primary Arts Teacher, Ms Nikki van Rhyn. Complete with wings, a headpiece with horns and an intricately life-like tail, it took Ms van Rhyn more than 50 hours to create.

In preparation for this project, Ms van Rhyn undertook a specialist course with an Artistic Training Consultant.

“In the past I made dragon wings with a lot of media experimentation. I saw through a teacher group online that Will Huntley from Infinite Arts Studio in Wangara was running a teacher personal development (PD) course incorporating cosplay and costume making,” said Ms van Rhyn.

“I reached out to him, explaining the dragon costume I had to make, and asked if it was something he could help me with, and he tailor-made a course for myself and Mrs Holmes! He was a wealth of knowledge, so giving with what he knew and with his experience in the film industry and working with different media. We had a brilliant day,” added Ms van Rhyn.

Starting with the headpiece, Ms van Rhyn created the horns to give some height to the dragon, and, following a suggestion from Mr Huntley, she used a safety helmet insert to enable the ‘head’ to fit comfortably on the performer and be secure. “I started with the headpiece and moved on to the wings. I did not want the wing straps to be seen, so engineered an aluminum pipe attachment that inserted into another piece which was underneath the costume. The wings evolved and I designed the tail piece last. I painted all the components after we had ordered the suit in, so that I could colour match it,” she explained.

Made predominantly from EVA Foam, the long process to complete the costume involved a lot of learning to work with this new media.

“I was learning the media – how to form it, how to shape it and the engineering of it. How does it fit together, how is it attaching to the body, how do I make the tail move and bend. There was a lot of learning, which I loved, and I loved the problem-solving element of it. I would love to make more! It would not take me 50 hours again.”

Joining the School 12 years ago, Ms van Rhyn has made a profound impact on Primary Students. When asked how long she has been into art, Ms van Rhyn said, “Forever. I have been a maker forever! I love making for a purpose, so having this goal of making the dragon costume worked well for me and how I work. But I also love the learning of a new material and going on that PD was just fantastic. It has helped me in my personal crafting projects, with what I am doing with my own kids at home and in class as well.”

In addition to creating the intricate dragon costume, Ms van Rhyn was also responsible for engineering Pinocchio’s movable nose and much of the design for the backdrops and props used during the production.

“I loved working on the dragon! It was wonderful, having a project, and, using skills from other media such as sewing in garment making – and experimenting with how to make something flat, three-dimensional. Working with the foam used many of those skills, but I was working with wood working tools. I was using a belt sander and a rotary sander – tools I already have – using skills I possess, but with a new media!” said Ms van Rhyn.

On a final note, Ms van Rhyn was asked if she had any future plans incorporating the skills she developed working on the dragon. “Let’s keep that a surprise – watch this space for Presentation Night!”


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