What do a bathtub used in Candide (1995/96 Season), two birdcages seen in The Importance of Being Earnest (1950/51 Season), and a tuba from The Suicide (1980/81 Season) have in common? These items, along with countless others, can all be seen on stage in the Kreeger Theater in Ride the Cyclone!
The cast of The Importance of Being Earnest (1950/51 Season) with the birdcages. Richard Bauer, Paul Binotto, and the cast of Candide (1995/96 Season), but sadly no bathtub. Photo by Stan Barouh.
This co-production, set in the depths of a carnival warehouse, proved quite the conundrum for the Properties Department at Arena Stage. While some of what you see on stage came to Arena by truck from McCarter Theatre Center, the Properties team soon discovered that there remained a lot of space to fill. Properties Director Jennifer Sheetz, Associate Properties Director Lance Pennington, and the Properties team jumped into action, using Arena’s past productions to complete the visual puzzle of this quirky, cult musical.
The “creepy” baby doll can be seen with Ashlyn Maddox (Jane Doe) and Eli Mayer (Mischa Bachinski) in Ride the Cyclone, as well as with Baize Buzan (Linda Seton) in this season’s Holiday. Photos by Margot Schulman.
With only a week to pull everything together before tech, the team had little time to imagine (and reimagine) the look and feel of the space. For Lance, who has worked at Arena Stage for 45 years, searching through the Arena warehouse was also a trip down memory lane.
They found a wealth of items from Arena history, unearthing pieces that were used in productions going back to the 1970s. A fringed throw from Cabaret (2006/07 Season), floral baskets from Light Up the Sky (1987/88 Season), and mounted zebra and rhino heads from The Mystery of Irma Vep (2007/08 Season) all made their way onto the stage.
Some might recognize items from more recent history, like the skeleton “grandpa” from Mother Road (2019/20 Season), a green suitcase from Catch Me If You Can (2021/22 Season), a wagon from August Wilson’s Seven Guitars (2021/22 Season), and hat boxes and baby dolls from Holiday (2022/23 Season).
Additionally, there are barrels, chandeliers, luggage, and trucks from too many productions to count, fish masks from Passion Play (2005/06 Season), a large tricycle from Gemini (1977/78 Season), an empty television from Damn Yankees (2005/206 Season), gold and red mannequins used in both productions of Candide (1982/83 and 1995/96 Seasons), and even two white tigers gracing the stage, last seen in Kleptocracy (2018/19 Season).
Christopher Geary with the white tiger in Kleptocracy. Photo by C. Stanley Photography. Joy Jones and Roderick Lawrence with the red crate in August Wilson’s Seven Guitars. Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.
It is hard to consider the full breadth of history and craftsmanship of every individual item on stage when it all looks so visually cohesive, stunning, and effortless, but that is a testament to the work of the Properties team. At the end of the day, they say their job is simply “making everything look good.”
For those in the audience, that is a gross understatement, as the final result magically transports you to another world. Whether it’s layering items and textures on the shelves to create the seamlessly maximalist feel of Ride the Cyclone, building a reinforced suitcase that dancers can tap dance on in Anything Goes (2018/19 Season), or handcrafting a carousel (that spins and lights up!) for Carousel (2016/17 Season), every production is a tall order that they execute with mastery and precision.
A carousel horse can be seen in the background of this scene with Eli Mayer (Mischa Bachinski) and Nick Martinez (Noel Gruber) in Ride the Cyclone. Photo by Margot Schulman. A carousel horse is also featured prominently in this photo of Nicholas Rodriguez (Billy Bigelow) and Betsy Morgan (Julie Jordan) for Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel. Photo by Tony Powell.
With the increasing cost of producing theater, it is impossible to build and buy new for every production. As Lance says, “Budgets aren’t growing the same way costs are growing.” Sourcing materials and items proves to be increasingly difficult, with sellers moving their businesses online. Luckily, our Properties Department is incredibly creative. Jenn notes that “it is wonderful to be able to pull items from stock and not have to buy new items for each production,” especially when the budget is not reflective of the production quality desired. Time and resources are especially valuable, so the team keeps props that are intricate or that they think they can easily use again. And in a show like Ride the Cyclone, it’s always fun to see where Arena history ends up filling in the gaps.
So, the next time you see a gorgeous piece on stage at Arena, take note. You just might see it again.
The full list of past Arena props currently embedded within the Ride the Cyclone set
(compiled by Arena Stage literary manager Otis Ramsey-Zöe)
“Creepy” baby doll from Holiday (2022).
Wooden elephant from A Doll’s House (1990) and Holiday (2022).
Hat box from Idiot’s Delight (1979) and Holiday (2022).
Green suitcase from Catch Me If You Can (2022) that was full of all the money!
A chicken and red wagon from August Wilson’s Seven Guitars (2021).
Grandpa, a skeleton in overalls, from Mother Road (2020).
Two white tigers (one from rehearsal and the other appeared onstage) from Kleptocracy (2019).
Gold framed with green fabric chair from Design for Living (1979), which subsequently appeared in Born Yesterday (2005), Metamorphoses (2013), and as an emergency replacement in Disney’s Newsies (2019).
Striped luggage that is reinforced for someone to sit on from The Cocoanuts (1988) and Anything Goes (2018).
A small metal carousel from The Fantasticks (2009) — it appeared in projections as part of a magic show in the musical’s opening. The carousel was seen onstage again in Carousel (2016).
Large milk cans from The Piggy Bank (1986) and Fiddler on the Roof (2014).
Several gold ballroom chairs that were used as orchestra seats in Candide (1983 & 1996) and later as set pieces for My Fair Lady (2012).
The Angel/Devil costume designed by Ilona Somogyi and worn by Kurt Boehm in the opening sequence of The Fantasticks (2009).
Zebra and rhino heads featured in The Mystery of Irma Vep (2008).
Fringed throw from Cabaret (2006).
The money jacket and hat worn by Brad Oscar during “Money” in Cabaret (2006).
Paper lanterns with fringe from On the Verge or The Geography of Yearning (2006).
Little stucco house from Señor Discretion Himself (2004).
Fish masks from Passion Play, a cycle (2005).
Empty television from Damn Yankees (2005).
A helmet and armor from the Round Table sequence in Camelot (2003). One of the helmets was worn by Parker Esse!
Green floral urn from The Importance of Being Earnest (2004).
Shield from Agamemnon and His Daughters (2001).
Longhorn skull featured in The Faraway Nearby (1998), a John Murrell play about Georgia O’Keefe.
Several items onstage appeared in both productions of Candide (1983 & 1996). These include a bathtub, gold and red mannequin, and pink fabric leftover pieces from our sheep puppets.
Painted oil drums from A Small World (1994).
Suitcase with travel stickers from The Cocoanuts (1988).
Floral baskets with ribbons from Light Up the Sky (1987).
A small wooden horse made for The Crucible (1987). The production went to Israel, and Zelda Fichandler was gifted the horse. Zelda later donated it back to Arena!
Red tassels from The Wild Duck (1986).
Victorian bench used in Man and Superman (1985).
Birdcages from The Importance of Being Earnest (1952).
Tuba from The Suicide (1981) that Richard Bauer learned to play.
One large stuffed Pluto from Emigrés (1980). It was created by combining two smaller Pluto to stuff with money.
Green glass pendant lamp from You Can’t Take It with You (1979); the production went on to be presented in Hong Kong.
Paper lanterns from A Streetcar Named Desire (1978). Several paper lanterns were destroyed in every performance during the run.
Large tricycle from Gemini (1978).
Three gold waiters stands from The Piggy Bank (1986).
Gumby and Pokey were donated to the Prop Shop by Head Props Artisan Niell DuVal.
Other items from the Arena warehouse include every available crate, barrel, chandelier, luggage, and truck used in various past productions.
Items appearing onstage for the first time in Ride the Cyclone (2023) include red lanterns, a toy piano, and paper flowers.