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What I did on my summer vocation...

posted by prop shop on Thu, Sep 11, 2008
in Prop shop

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In the past few days, the weather has made it very clear that summer is over for everyone in the Bay Area. But, it's actually been over for those of us at Berkeley Rep for a while. In the production department, every season ends with the build of the last show--usually in May--and begins again in late July as we start working on the new season. Some might think we get a break over the summer, but really it’s a chance to recoup from the last season and prepare for the next--and, of course, I never really feel like there is enough time to do both.

My big summer project has been organizing our prop stock, since we moved out of our warehouse across the street from the Theatre (future home of the Freight and Salvage) into a new and wonderful off-site space. It’s a work in progress, but I’m happy to say that we have catalogued and photographed all of our props (we have over 1,000 pieces catalogued, not including many shelves of small hand props). This is incredibly useful for us since most of our set designers live and work outside the Bay Area, and they can see if we have a good option in stock before choosing to build, buy, or borrow something. If you want a peek at this daunting task, check it out here, on Flickr. I’m hoping to get everything up by the end of next summer--a girl has to have her goals...!

SOT in process1But what I really enjoy about summer at the Theatre is the Berkeley Rep School of Theatre summer theatre camp. This is my second year teaching tech classes for the camp, and I have to admit I love doing it. The campers are incredibly enthusiastic and creative. Teaching a prop class is challenging, because our options are so broad. Anything an actor handles is a prop, so that could be anything from a pencil to furniture on the set. We also usually handle special effects (like guns and blood, which always catch the kids' attention), and any food the actors eat. We also deal with things that decorate the set like lamps, curtains, items in bookshelves...anything that is not the actual set walls or the costumes. I always struggle with defining my job to whomever asks, but it’s even more of a struggle to find something to teach that would seem inherently "proppy" and, for the kids, not just another arts and crafts class.

Beautiful, but inedibleThe warehouse move last summer gave me the opportunity to weed through all of our storage and find some gems to sacrifice to the campers, who had a great time playing “junkyard wars” props-style. This summer I challenged them to make fake food with whatever they could find in our shop’s various boxes of craft supplies. The campers came up with some really creative solutions and fairly realistic looking “food” items. They dove right into their projects and finished them within the first class meeting. The second class they created props for the shows they were producing as part of the camp.

Here's just some of what they created in less than two hours:

The final products

I was certainly impressed. Even though they all came to explore acting, I can hope that I inspired some future prop builders. I definitely was re-inspired by their creative energy to be a prop person. It was the kick I needed to start the season right.


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