Do you ever wonder how exactly a play at Arena Stage is put together? While the actors, designers, and directors arrive weeks before the show starts, our shops are hard at work months in advance.
Some productions Arena Stage receives ‘completed’ — such as Cambodian Rock Band (a co-production with Signature Theatre, Alley Theatre, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, and ACT Theatre/5th Avenue) or Ride the Cyclone (a co-production with McCarter Theatre Center) — in which our staff adapts the designs to Arena’s spaces. But for an original production like POTUS, the creative team along with our artisans design, create, and collaborate to bring the show to life.
Preparatory conversations with the set designer center on how an object will look, while the director focuses on the action the object needs to achieve.
All the work is done before the company arrives. Then, after rehearsals begin, the team makes improvements to how the items look, feel, and move, based on feedback from the actors and director.
Jonathan Borgia, Associate Props Director; Jenn Sheetz, Props Director; and the entire props team began working on POTUS in June. Farces like POTUS are often reliant on physical comedy and provide opportunities for some stage trickery. Without any spoilers, early in the show, ‘blue slushie’ is a notable projectile. But how do you create blue slushie for the stage?
In our case, it’s a mixture of uncooked grits and food dye to imitate the icy treat… sans ice and sugar. Three ‘barf rigs’ circulate on two-show days, rotated in and out by the crew setting the show.
Some props, like synthetic stage blood made of laundry detergent, are convenient to purchase. Then there are props like the leather chair found in our prop shop. While a perfect fit for the show, it had a tear and proved too expensive to replace or reupholster.
The props team’s creative solution for POTUS was to find a cheaper leather swatch and then attach it using Mod Podge, an all-in-one glue and sealer, to imitate the original leather.
The talent and ability of Arena Stage’s in-house shops sets our theater apart. Arena’s props shop is known for creating magic on our stages as well as crafting and building incredible pieces that look beautiful and move fluidly alongside actors.
Talking about the team’s work on POTUS, Jonathan said, “I am proudest of the bust of Alice Paul and the incredible glass White House suspended above the stage.” These props require the skill and craftsmanship of our staff and a great amount of resources, both in time and material, but the outcome is worth it. The props team loves the opportunity to build a show from nothing.
We’ll give the final word to Jonathan: “That’s what this building is for, and what we are known for — creativity, collaboration, and boundary pushing.”
Photos of Kelly McAndrew, Megan Hill, Sarah-Anne Martinez, Natalya Lynette Rathnam, Felicia Curry, Yesenia Iglesias and Naomi Jacobson in POTUS by Kian McKellar.
Photo of the POTUS Set by Margot Schulman. Set Design by Reid Thompson.