My first experience at Weathervane Playhouse was eleven years ago. I performed in two years of ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ in 2004 and 2005. These productions were my first theatrical experiences out of high school and they helped to solidify that theatre would always be a part of my life.
While I loved performing in ‘Joseph,’ I became very involved in theatre at The University of Akron and with my alma mater, Nordonia High School, a program that I now direct; it would be a decade before I returned to Weathervane as a designer on last season’s production of ‘Oklahoma!’ It may sound corny, but it was like no time had passed. It felt like I had come home.
During my time away from Weathervane, I discovered properties design. Properties, or props, are objects used on stage by actors during a performance. Props can be a huge range of items. Some of the most memorable props I have had to find or create include: comically oversized composition books for ‘You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown,’ a New Year’s Eve ball (that actually lit up and dropped) for a production of Graveyard Shift, two florist shops’ worth of dead and living plants for ‘Little Shop of Horrors,’ and an “organized mess” of an attic for ‘Stories of the Kindertransport.’ My latest design credit, Weathervane’s ‘A Christmas Carol: the Musical,’ comes with its own set of challenges.
This production of ‘A Christmas Carol’ requires things that I have never had to come up with before. That is part of the reason I love properties design, each show requires a different set of props and you never know what you might have to create. As with each show I work on, my process begins with the script. I make an initial props list based on items specifically used or mentioned in the text. This list goes through many changes as props are added and deleted during the rehearsal process. Property designs are often not complete until the show enters tech rehearsals, and sometimes not even then. It definitely keeps me on my feet.
Period shows are among my favorite to design. Shows like ‘Oklahoma!’ and ‘A Christmas Carol’ are set in a specific time period and require a fair amount of research to make sure the props are appropriate for the era. I love the challenge. Sometimes, liberties and exceptions do have to be made, but overall, I try to be as true to the period as I can. For ‘A Christmas Carol,’ this means Victorian England. This poses a lot of questions. How did they decorate their Christmas trees? What kind of paper did they use to wrap presents? What kind of money was used? What would be included in a traditional Victorian Christmas dinner? Answering these questions, and showing your answers on stage, is what makes properties design so intriguing.
There have been a couple of fun challenges during this production. First, it is a good thing I enjoy wrapping presents, as I have wrapped about fifty packages for the show. Next, the biggest challenge I faced. The poulterer. The poulterer is a character who sells a chicken to the Cratchit family, and later in the show, a prize turkey to Ebenezer Scrooge. According to the script, I needed a turkey, a chicken and several chicken legs. The challenge came in creating prop food that looked like raw poultry and making enough of it to fill a shop. A lot of online shopping and painting later, I had made enough raw chicken. The turkey on the other hand, was proving to be a feat. This brings in another integral aspect of properties design: collaboration. Sometimes, it takes another person, or a few people, to come up with a solution to your props problem. In this case, it was our choreographer, Marissa Leenaarts, who came to the rescue and created our “prize-worthy” turkey!
Collaboration is important in any aspect of theatre, and I have been very lucky at Weathervane to have someone I consider to be one of the best collaborators I have ever worked with: our director, Sarah Bailey. I have worked with Sarah four times. She directed both of my productions of ‘Joseph,’ ‘Oklahoma!’ and now ‘A Christmas Carol.’ She is the common denominator in all my productions at Weathervane. She is the personification of teamwork and gives 120% of herself to you and the production. Having that support and that person to bounce ideas off of is such a blessing. She makes my job so much more fun and I look forward to my next Sarah Bailey show!
Properties design never gets old. Each show asks for a new and exciting set of props, and that is what I love about designing. It took a while, but I counted, this is my 37th properties design credit. That is more than my acting and directing credits combined. It sounds like such a high number, but I remember each and every production. As I look back on those 37 shows, I can only get excited for my next 37, many of which I hope will be at Weathervane!
- Friday, Nov. 27 at 7:30 p.m.
- Saturday, Nov. 28 at 2:30 p.m.
- Sunday, Nov. 29 at 2:30 p.m.
- Thursday, Dec. 3 at 10 a.m.
- Saturday, Dec. 5 at 2:30 p.m.
- Sunday, Dec. 6 at 5:30 p.m.
- Wednesday, Dec. 9 at 10 a.m.
- Thursday, Dec. 10 at 7:30 p.m.
- Saturday, Dec. 12 at 2:30 p.m.
- Sunday, Dec. 13 at 5:30 p.m.
- Tuesday, Dec. 15 at 10 a.m.
- Friday, Dec. 18 at 7:30 p.m.
- Saturday, Dec. 19 at 2:30 p.m.
- Sunday, Dec. 20 at 2:30 p.m.
For tickets, please visit www.weathervaneplayhouse.com or call 330.836.2626.