After watching in awe as prop, after prop, after prop was brought onto the stage of The Full Monty (Two One-Way Tickets to Broadway, June 14 – 30), I realized I couldn’t fathom how much work went into creating just the props for the show. So, after the run was over, I got in touch with Glenna Schowalter, a budding theatre technician and Propsmaster for The Full Monty. Full disclosure – the interview was mainly educational for myself as a theatre reviewer, but Glenna also gave me some great insights to share with all theatre-goers.
Jenna: What were your first thoughts when you read the script for The Full Monty? Did you picture all of these props, or were they in the script?
Glenna: They were in the script. They were mentioned and there were some giant props – like the car – where I thought ‘how are we going to do this?’ [In the script] they keep talking about the sunbed – and there’s a scene where they take it across the stage. I thought, ‘where are we going to get a sunbed?’ At the very first production meeting I brought it up and Adam [Mazerolle-Kuss, the Director] said, ‘we’re not doing that.’ Apparently they were looking on Kijiji and they’re ridiculously expensive. And for being carried across the stage once? No way.
Jenna: How did you go about sourcing all the props for The Full Monty?
Glenna: It’s sort of a mish-mash. First, I make a props list – I go through the script and highlight any mention of a prop. I write it all down and figure out what sort of things [need to be replaced] – like, the chips get eaten every night, so I need to make sure we have enough. Or the saran wrap. So, that stuff I just bought. I had $500 in the budget, but there’s other ways. I went back to my high school and borrowed stuff from the basement, I borrowed stuff from my house because it’s nice and cheap. It’s just knowing where to look – Value Village is a great place, the Dollar Store is a great place, or the Goodwill. When they’re in Harold’s house and there’s the “real gold” – those were little plastic figurines for aquariums that I spray painted. It cost me $4 – it was awesome!
Jenna: Where did you find a car?!
Glenna: The Mayfield because they’ve done the show before, so they kept it around… But, a lot of the props we borrowed. I think the most expensive prop was the big poster at the beginning because it got printed and it was really fancy. It was $70. But the next most expensive prop was $10, so I figured it was okay… It’s about making something look good. It can’t break, but it doesn’t really matter how functional it is.
Jenna: Does the space the play is taking place in have an effect on how you do the props for the show?
Glenna: Yes, it’s an organizational thing. Backstage we have a lot of tetris-ing going on, a lot of shimmying of things. It took a few days to get it figured out. It wasn’t so much keeping the space in mind – we should have when we were building – but once we’re there it’s having to adapt to it so we have enough space so people can move around and so people have places to store things.
Jenna: What about the distance of the audience from the playing space? Does that factor in?
Glenna: It does. There’s what’s called the forty foot rule – if the prop looks good from forty feet away, it’s good enough to be on stage. It’s awesome if it looks better closer up, but if it looks good from 40 feet away, don’t worry about it.
Jenna: You mentioned you’re tetris-ing things backstage. What does it look like during the run to have to manage the props? Are you the one managing them?
Glenna: Yes – me and another ASM… We are both fairly small women but there’s this huge toilet and big stands and we were panicking before the show started because we didn’t know what to do. I made a list for Adam [Mazerolle-Kuss, the Director] and highlighted the places where we need help and the next day he had assigned actors to help us… In a larger production, there would be more technicians, so it wouldn’t just be two people. But because it’s a smaller production and you don’t really need more people, it was fine. It’s up to the director whether they want the actors helping.
Jenna: What was your most challenging prop to find?
Glenna: All the cigarettes were kind of annoying. With the one that Jeanette smokes constantly, I found this one that vaporized and we all really liked it and thought it looked good but it took up too much of her breath to make it work and it made this weird whistling noise and we knew that would be picked up by the mikes. So, we didn’t know what to do – we thought about getting herbals, but the problem with herbals is that you need to light them and how does La Cite feel about having a flame on stage? In the end Martin[Galba, Set Designer] ended up ordering some novelty cigarettes from a joke shop that you blow into and it puffs out the other side.
Jenna: Is there anything else that you, as a propsmaster, insist on (personally) during a run?
Glenna: I’m really anal about dramaturgy… There’s nothing more annoying to me than seeing a play set in the states and having them read the Edmonton Journal. That doesn’t make sense. Some people wouldn’t notice, but I do… [Also] I couldn’t find any American cigarettes anywhere. What I ended up doing was buying a really cheap Canadian brand and appliqueing a Marlboro label to it.
Jenna: Why are you interested in props, specifically?
Glenna: I like making things, and I like telling a story. You can tell a story with an object.
Jenna: What do you mean?
Glenna: I can use an example from a prop I did for a school production. We needed a flask – a really grimy, disgusting flask for this sketchy abortionist to have – we were doing Spring Awakening. I covered the flask in leather and I figured out where does he spill? Where are the rust stains? Where does he hold it? Where does it wear down? So, I’d sand off parts of the leather to give it that worn look and sort of gave the flask personality based on how it was used.
Glenna’s upcoming project is stage managing Rent at the Edmonton Fringe Festival, August 15 – 25.
– Jenna Marynowski