Set Pieces At Home

Sometimes I joke that half of what I own was used in a show. It’s not far from the truth, actually. So many of the items around my house were originally purchased as a prop or set piece for a play, or they were already my belongings and I cast them in a show. Or two. Or three. That’s one of the things that happens when you do small budget theatre.

There is a step stool in my kitchen that I’ve just painted a deep red. While I was sanding and priming first, I thought over the history of that little stool. It’s been in the kitchen for a couple of years. Before that, it sat in my living room for five years. In front of the fish tank. As a perch for the cat, so she could watch the fishies. Which she loved to do. For most of the time I’ve owned it, it stayed in my bedroom, where it provided a way for me to reach the top shelf in my closet.

Originally, I bought the stool as a prop for an Off-Broadway show. I remember it was not easy to find exactly the right one. It had to have round legs, not square, and had to be unfinished wood, although I don’t remember why. Most importantly, it had to be a step stool, not the kind of high stool you would find at a bar. In the end, I think I found something close at IKEA, and cut it down to the size I wanted. It has made an appearance in half a dozen shows over the years. Since it looks hand made, it fit in easily with different time periods.

When I perform on stilts, I usually get comments about the four foot tall, bright yellow, wooden ladder that I bring with me to set up backstage. It’s the perfect height for getting onto the stilts, or for resting upon between sets. Especially if I’m performing outdoors, and there are no sturdy tables or short walls, and the car is parked too far away for me to use the roof.

Plus, it’s not as cumbersome or heavy as a standard sized ladder. This was another great find. I used it as a set piece in a show. The set had to be flexible enough to suggest various locations, and the budget was very small. So, a ladder, a chair, a table. Simple pieces, all painted the same bright yellow. Economy disguised as design. Who knew this many years later, I would be using it as a prop again?

For that same show, my mother sewed six long silk scarves of different bright colors. They were hanging from the light grid, in place of a backdrop. (It helps to have a mom who can sew.) Now those scarves are also part of my stilt act. I’ll choose one to wave around while performing. It’s a striking visual. Long beautiful colored scarf dancing in the air. The guests usually grab their phones and start filming.

The curtains hanging in my living room were originally legs that my mother sewed for another play. The theatre was a black box, and I wanted to create a proscenium. So these long curtains were made to hang from the light grid, on either side of the stage. Two rows of them. I dyed them green, and crinkled them up to suggest trees. I’d always rather loved them, and even though they never appeared in another show, they have been hanging in my living room for fourteen years.

Glancing around, I can spot a few other items in my living room that were props in shows. There’s a pewter tea pot on the coffee table. Over a hundred and twenty years old. I got it at a thrift store, for five bucks. I don’t think they bothered to check the date stamped on the bottom, or they would have raised the price. For that matter, if the person who owned it previously had checked, they most likely would not have given it away.

Unless it was donated by a theatre company that had been using it as part of a tea service in one of those British parlor comedies. Like the one I was directing. I was thrilled to find it, even in the dented banged up neglected shape it was in. I cleaned it, with care, gently hammered out the dents, and cast it in the play. Now it sits on the coffee table, and when I watch Antiques Roadshow, I imagine the conversation:

“Pewter isn’t in as much demand any longer, but it’s still worth between $200-$300.”

“Oh my gosh, really? I got it at a thrift store for five bucks!”

Come to think of it, the coffee table started out as a thrift store find, and has appeared in more than one play itself. I just shortened the legs, applied a coat of paint, and added some antique looking hardware.

Then there is the tear drop shaped, amber glass vase that I bought at another thrift store, for another show, at a summer theatre. It was rejected by the director, since it was glass, which is risky on stage, but I loved it and kept it, and now it sits on the mantle over the fireplace. When it catches the light, it really is quite magical. A genie stirring inside.

Or the small wooden treasure chest I brought from home when I moved into my first apartment. That has appeared on stage in a few classical plays, and a couple of children’s theatre musicals. Just the sort of secret hiding place you’d find in a medeival fairy tale, for safely storing enchanted keys, or other sparkly things.

When people come into my home for the first time, they often comment on how warm and cozy it feels. I wonder if that’s because so many of the objects have a story to tell? They carry a residual layer of pixie dust. From being on stage. They have been in the spotlight, and maybe they are glowing a bit still.



About anunperfectactor

Actor performer storyteller.
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