I guess you could call it spring cleaning. It’s addictive. I don’t like clutter, I do like everything in its place. I’ve gone through my wardrobe, my shoes boxes, and my attic seeing what’s there and what is no longer needed. There have been trips to the charity shop (enjoy your new life, pretty but impractical handbag!), and trips to the tip (goodbye old paint tins!). But when it comes to my props store, well that’s all wrapped up inside a bigger box of memories. And luckily it has a different trajectory.
I’ve been involved in amateur dramatics for around 25 years, working backstage mostly providing the props required (but also some set design and costume when needed). I’ve worked on 90 shows, give or take, from big productions to smaller concerts. These include the old family favourites such as Oliver, West Side Story and Les Miserables, as well as more eclectic works, Sweeney Todd, Paris Prince of Troy, Scrooge, The Baker’s Wife, and Hair. And then there has been a whole heap of operas from Carmen and La Traviata to Otello, Macbeth, The Pearl Fishers, and La Boheme.
As much as I’ve loved all the productions I have decided that the time is right to hand the props over to someone else, especially with a house move on the cards in the not too distant future. So I’ve hauled the props out of my attic ready to pass them on. But in doing so I had the chance for a quick flick through the many drawers. And I soon discovered that looking at an ordinary item brings forth a score of music and a stage full of action.
This group of items from the props store includes my four painted masks from Duke Bluebeard’s Castle (a Bartok opera – powerful stuff).
Many of the items I’ve had to make or adapt so it’s lucky that I have a creative streak, although sometimes it has been a challenge. I’ve made water bottles for ancient Greeks, cut-throat razors for a barber with a vengeance, masks for all manner of disguise, paper tags for refugees, medals for military men, shackles for prisoners, and flags for the defiant as well as the piratical. Over the years there’s been more that I haven’t been able to store – the harmonium, a maypole, decomposing corpses, and assorted body parts (I was particularly pleased with those!). At least my three tier wedding cake now plays its part in a Christmas feast in a historic house!
Then there are the everyday found items – the keys, wallets, dice, playing cards, metal tankards, candlesticks, trays and pocket watches, available for many an actor’s turn on the boards. Although the props are finding a new home I am not totally losing touch with all my theatrical memorabilia – as I have a file (make that 3 files) containing a poster, programme and any thank-you cards from each production. I’m using my talents for poster design now for Heber Opera (heberopera.co.uk) so those files will continue to increase….Rigoletto will be the next one to go in!