The Official Blog of the
Williamstown Theatre Festival

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Interview | Stephanie Polhemus, Props Master for Our Town

by Sarah Slight, Dramaturg

I caught WTF Props Master, Stephanie Polhemus, on an afternoon that she wasn’t in tech to find out about her job and specifically props for Our Town

Sarah Slight: What does a props master do? What is your job?

Stephanie Polhemus: My job is to find/make/borrow/whatever all the props for the shows, which would consist of any furniture, set dressing, or hand props. Usually you can think of it as anything that you would move into a house—anything that is already in the house is the scenery and anything that you bring in (rugs, lamps, sconces, that kind of thing) is all props. Sometimes there are cross over items between scenery and props and between props and costumes so we fight that out and sort out who’s going to do what. Here it’s also running the shop so all the shows get what they need in rehearsal and on stage.

SS: Do you pick what you feel is right for a certain show or does someone design something?

SP: It depends on the designer. Usually we get packets of research or random research for each item. Sometimes it’s a few pieces of research or sometimes it’s just, “here’s a picture of a room I really like so pick something that feels like this.” Other designers will just give you a basic idea and you show them stuff and they pick what they like. So it really varies. The scenic designer is the one who has the final say but a lot of times you balance between what the director wants and what the designer wants. Usually they are on the same page but sometimes they’re not so trying to figure out the balance that makes both of them happy.

SS: Oftentimes it seems like Props or Scenery can add to what’s already in the script. Is that common practice?

SP: A lot of times it’s interesting because you could have a show that has a very small props list as far as what is called for in the script specifically, but then as it develops there’s always a lot of things added, things that can add to the character or set dressing that can really add to the feel of the place. You really can get you get an idea of the character based on little things they have. Even something as simple as a coffee cup. Is it a plain coffee cup? Does it have a funny saying on it? Or is it a funky shape? It gives insight into the personality of the character.

SS: In Our Town much of the action is mimed and much of the props are mimed, but the actors will have some props, right? What was the conversation about that? What all was considered in making the decision about which props are real and which are mimed?

SP: Yes. A lot of it we decided was to go traditional, a traditional Our Town. Most of the props are furniture—there some chairs and some tables and some ladders—and they create the different places. But then there are some, for instance for the funeral scene there’s 18 black umbrellas. So whatever props there are make more of a statement, such as that many umbrellas on stage.  There are also a few character props. The newsboy does have a bag of newspapers. It just makes those few props very specific and very tied to the character. They make a statement.

SS: Anything else we should know about props for Our Town?

SP: Well this version of Our Town is interesting because the scenery is made from furniture. I don’t know if you’ve seen the rendering but it’s a giant furniture sculpture. We went from not really having any props to having 100 pieces of furniture on stage, most of which are not moveable in the giant sculpture.

SS: How many seasons have you been at WTF?

SP: This is my second season.

SS: Why did you want to come back?

SP: It’s so much different—I’ve worked at some other summer theatres before and the pace is just so crazy here, but the production value is really high! It’s pretty amazing, the people and pace. It’s always changing. This season is completely different from last season. You know we had a lot more props last season.  It was really intense trying to get all of them done whereas this season is a little lighter on props, so we’re able to be more specific and pay more attention to smaller details. Which is really nice.

No comments:

Post a Comment