Working in the theater has been one of my great joys in life. I write the plays, cast the plays, and choreograph the plays–okay, so I just make sure that nobody is standing directly in someone else’s way onstage–choreograph sounds better.
I have done a lot of plays over the years and, and because of this, I have collected a lot of props and costumes. At first, there was nowhere to store them except for a couple of untidy cabinets in my classroom. I had to move them out, however, when the kids began to report that all those hats and feather boas and gun belts sticking out of the crowded doors, made them feel like someone in the closet was watching them.
My first little prop room was a dark little space in the corner of the old gymnasium. It featured a wire cage (don’t ask, because I don’t know why), about ten coat hooks and a few feet of floor space…if you didn’t count the old toilet taking up its share of the floor. Alas, this inauspicious space did not stop me from acquiring even more props and quite a few articles of clothing as well. I removed the wire cage and put in a plastic set of shelves and strung an old broomhandle between two of the coathooks. This wasn’t ideal, but it kept the clothes off the floor–after I had acquired some clothes hangers, of course.
A sane person would have become more discriminating about the theater baubles I collected, but not me. I just kept attracting items like a magnet attracts metal and when the plastic shelves began to sag under the weight, I bought more plastic shelves and stacked them one in front of the other. This made it hard to find props, but they all fit in the tiny bathroom-turned-prop room.
The generous administrators at my school eventually reached the conclusion that I was going to keep collecting without culling, and they built a new, larger, better lit prop room. I moved in my plastic shelves, changed my broom handle for a regular closet rod and didn’t worry overmuch as the years went on and as a result, I kept the cardboard carnival sales trays I had made and the pig’s ears and snouts we had constructed and the five candy-striped shirts we used once in 20 years. My hoarder’s instincts served me well.
Finally, it became clear, as props and costuming began trickling out the prop room door, that something would have to change. I used a beautifully contrived photo of a nearly organized prop room for this article because I would never show you the nuclear bomb test site I call my theater “home-away-from-home.” It was time to begin cleaning with an eye towards throwing some things away.
I began with the costumes. I ruthlessly discarded the yellow dress with the lace ruffles that I hadn’t convinced anyone to wear in 20 years. I threw away the tatty-looking grey suit that has seen one too many performances. I even seriously considered throwing away the black cape that I made ten yeas ago from a bedsheet and a shiny piece of black material. All, all of them were in the garbage, when I decided I just couldn’t part with them. The cape and the suit had so many memories for me and who knows? I may convince some girl with terrible taste in clothes to wear that yellow dress yet.
I think you can see the problem here: there are two kinds of things in that prop room. First, there are the things that have been used in productions over the years that I am fond of. I really can’t toss away the old black suitcase–sure, it smells bad, but it has graced the stage and offended the noses of so many actors so many times. It just has to stay! Second, there are the things that I have never worked into a play–but you never know. I may have use for 12 football helmets or ten office phones in a production I haven’t even thought of yet. In the meantime, I will store the football helmets right on the floor so they are easy to trip over and the phones, well, they could go on the plastic shelves that aren’t sagging quite so much!
It is my belief that I will never clean my prop room. It will continue to accumulate “stuff” until it is so stuffed it explodes. But I cheer myself with the thought that maybe it will wait until after I retire–that way, it will be somebody else’s problem! Good plan, huh?