I love to make stuff. I love problem solving. I love creating. When you make props for high school theater…there is a lot of magic involved. Kids watch as you enter the auditorium holding puppets that will fly to the stage from the balcony, 8ft jellyfish, cannon balls, wedding gifts, and plates of delicious food. All fake but looking so real, ready to be used to transform a performance. They run up the aisle to help carry everything to the stage…taking off their masks of boredom…sharing a glimpse of who they once were, and who they will be again.
My former business partner has two kids, both older than mine. We live in the same town, across the street from each other, weird but true. Watching his kids grow up, I had a preview of the goodness that artistic parents could get involved in. Lesson one, help with the high school play. A community event of creative adults supporting creative kids. It is glorious. My husband started painting sets, I started making props, we both helped with costumes. Making 6ft knives, forks, spoons…to be worn by dancing prancing teens…a glorious Ziegfeld Follies spectacular. Down the center stage steps, heads high and arms extended, avoiding the spinning kitchen utensils…not your average high school show. Wicked witch legs that actually rolled up and disappeared. Cotton candy made from hundreds of pink cotton balls. Pies of all flavors and picnic baskets filled with treats. Insulation foam, glitter, paint, cardboard, bubble wrap, paint, clay, Mod Podge and hot glue…I love you.
Date nights at a hardware stores in neighboring states to secure beach fencing…in February; calls to California for bamboo gates; stopping at roadside citrus stands in Florida for coconut heads needed for a tropical trinket cart; asking neighbors to save their clam shells normally discard after Christmas Eve feasts; saving boxes and more boxes; making trays of cocktails and Hors d’oeuvres. It was endless, it was exhausting, it was spectacular.
Sigh, swoon, sigh, being around my kids…my daughter helping behind the scenes, my son on stage. Trying to be invisible so they had their space. Not always easy when your kid is playing Luther Billis. Putting bronzer on my shirtless kid in the halls of the high school at the request of the director…to quickly realize this was a TERRIBLE plan, quickly switching to the professional spray tan route. Figuring out the right size coconut bra… fun fact, coconut bras come in many sizes.
I never thought my kid would be nervous about being on stage in a bra and grass skirt…he had mastered performing in his underwear in his 1st grade school play. We don’t know our kids as well as we think we do. During a rehearsal he called me, whispering, “mom, can you bring up the practice coconut bra and meet me in the wing…be really quiet”. I watched him walk on stage in only a coconut bra and grass skirt, everyone else in their street clothes. Right on cue…he took his peers by surprise, they could not get in his head because he controlled the moment…such a good life skill.
It is prop season, but my kids are long graduated and my connection to the show has retried, the few props I have made over the last few years have been scaled down to none. I realize it is the end of an era, and that is ok, time to move on. I have heard many of my props from productions past were thrown away, people felt they just took up too much space…the hours of planning, producing, and love…discarded.
During strike we were supposed to make sure props did not go missing…no souvenirs. That always bothered me, props help actors create the magic, actors have relationships with them. I often made duplicates of iconic props, slipping them to their actors after the run…a little keepsake for a job well done.
While cleaning up South Pacific, my son’s last show, I lifted the boars tooth bracelet he wore in performances. I paid for it, I made it, I took it. Please note, I did leave the two practice bracelets, which were also beyond high school prop quality. To this day, the bracelet happily sits in his room, thankfully protected from anyone Marie Kondo-ing the prop room.
As I sit remembering the past I am filled with warmth holding this bracelet…masking tape, shoe polish, rope, thread, sculpture wire, glue…and so so so so very much love.
Memories, creations, theater…swoon.