Pulling Props

It’s Monday, and Dave’s expecting me.  I get the key from him and go up to the prop cabinet to look around for things that might be useful.  I’ve been prop master for a healthy number of shows now, and this is still my favorite part.  I love seeing the stuff theaters just have lying around.  It’s like being in a toy store.

We’ve got some fun things here at Duke.  There’s an entire cabinet devoted to an inflatable doll of Gumby.  There are phones and TVs from every period you could ever want, old furniture, books, toys, and what feels like thousands of pieces of dishware.  As tempting as it is to just play, though, I have a job to do, and Dave needs to leave in an hour and a half.

So I pull out my list and I get to work.  I want two phones, a black and a white.  I want some small boxes that the actors can use until I get some real tape recorders.  I think about taking some umbrellas from a bin by the electronics, thinking they might be a nice touch for the funeral scene, but decide that would be a little contrived (besides, where will they put them when they’re carrying their picket signs and wings?).  I fail, disappointingly, to find anything that can be used as a replacement camera right now.

It’s weird, working on a show like this in what seems like such an impersonal role.  Jeff has a need, I provide.  Jeff or Torry asks for a picket sign that says “Fags Doom Nations,” I ask what color and how big.  But even up here in the cabinet, I don’t feel emotionless.  I hold this ’90s-style black telephone and imagine that it’s the Baptist minister’s phone, and I feel my blood pressure rise a little as I think about that scene where he’s preaching his dogma.  It’s amazing what holding a telephone receiver can do to you, and what it becomes when you put it onstage.

My list isn’t even close to done.  There are things to buy, and things to build.  I take my box of props downstairs and lock it up where Jeff can find it.  I’ll be back again when I know more of what we need.  On the way out, I have a fleeting moment where I wonder if we’re going to stick those picket signs up there when we’re done with them.  No matter.  It’s not the time for that yet.

2 thoughts on “Pulling Props

  1. Mandy–

    You’ve got one of my favorite jobs. I was the props mistress for my last two years of college. Getting into storage to browse and pull was always my favorite time. That and going to the local (only) WalMart in the Arkansas town of about 25,000 where the school was located and paying for assortments of crazy materials (even one list that included, no joke, heavy chain, duct tape, VHS tapes, KY jelly–to use for wig management!, and black garbage bags), which somehow never managed to raise the eyebrows of the store manager. Of course this was a place where you could (can) buy guns and ammo right off the shelf, so I suppose the theater’s lists weren’t anything out of the ordinary. ::small shudder::

    Have you heard of Andrew Sofer’s 2003 book The Stage Life of Props? It’s a great approach to theater history (from the Renaissance to today), each era told through the “life” of a particular prop: Eucharistic wafer, bloody handkerchief, skull, gun. It might be a bit of a lark considering your dual interests in Med-Ren and props.

    As for the Phelps signs, I too wonder where they will “live” after the show. I can’t quite believe that they’ll be needed again in quite the same context. Maybe we might do what this couple in Florida does (and invites others to do) with the WBC’s nasty press releases. You can find examples of their project at http://godlovespoetry.com/

    Oh, I’ve got another hand-held mini-recorder (silver) for use. Just let me know how I can/need to get it to you.


  2. Mandy,

    Many thanks for all of your help on Laramie. I can sympathize with the sign making dilemma. But it is a powerful moment in the show to actually see those bright neon signs radiating the hate they represent. By using so few props, the ones we use are working beautifully: The signs, the bible, the scraps of paper Rulon Stacy pulls from his jacket etc. Everyone one of the props seems to be there for a reason and I think that is exactly what we set out to do. Glad to have you on board for the rest of the run of the show.

    All Best- Jeffrey

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