I’ve needed a new hobby for a while now. Specifically, I needed something to get myself out of the house and out of my own brooding thoughts for a while, so when a theater friend from high school told me she was appearing in a community theater play up the road from me, I really had no excuse not to reacquaint myself with the theater. And wow, I’m glad I did!
“You Need a Hobby”
It might seem incongruous for a dedicated introvert to be joining up with a theater company of all things, but it makes sense if you recall that there are theater jobs that don’t require you to perform on stage perfectly in front of a bunch of strangers. As a high school “theater jock,” I was on the techie side of the house, covering anything from scenery to lighting to box office.
Box office, it’s true, does require interacting with the public, but you’re not expected to perform the same lines the same way and coordinate them with movements and facial expressions. There’s business to be conducted. I understand money.
This time, as part of the Horizon West Theater Company’s inaugural performance (The Music Man), I decided to sign up for props, which was backstage but required less time or mechanical skill than scenery. This resulted in me running around in my free time shopping around thrift stores, antique shops and Party City of all places to acquire any portable objects not technically considered part of a cast member costume. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I could take pictures of items and send them to the director and other two prop committee people to get approvals for real-time feedback.
That was fine, so far as it went, but I was pretty much on my own, and I needed to meet new people. It’s made me wonder if I’m really an introverted extrovert or an extroverted introvert. Anyhow, the opportunity to interact with the cast and crew finally happened during the final week of production when the company got access to the theater at Windermere Preparatory School.
Running Around Being Useful
At heart, I seem to be a logistics guy: handling all the unglamorous background work that, while not part of the show, still needs to happen for the production to go on. That’s how I ended up on props, I suppose.
I was learning along the way. Originally, I had a couple prop tables backstage, one stage left, one stage right, each organized in order of when they were needed in the play. After the first day, the lead actor suggested that I organize things by object type so they’d be easier to find. So after removing and redoing the masking-tape labels on the tables (“money,” “costume items,” “notes and books”), the cast rolled with that system and, much to my pleasant surprise, put things back where they found them after using them.
Re-watching the Robert Preston film was instructive. I watched the actors interact with the props, and the cast or I identified items they still needed–requiring yet another more runs to Party City and other places. Once the system was in place, though, I had worked myself out of a job because the cast had the system on automatic pilot. I watched the first two performances with the audience because I had nothing to do.
By Saturday, when there were two performances scheduled, I decided to be more useful. After checking to make sure that the props were in place, I scanned tickets; helped set up food for the cast for the time between performances; helped with meal cleanup; scanned more tickets for the second performance; cleared out and packed props after the show; helped load, unload, and put scenery and props into storage; and finally made an appearance at the cast party to a room packed with talented and fun people.
Needless to say, between the physical and social activity, I’m now exhausted and will probably need a couple days to get caught up on my sleep, but I’m glad I did this and renewed my old affection for the theater. I can be useful, active, and semi-social without performing on stage, and that works just fine for me. Huzzah!