Jeff Smith noon, March 8
Stage props: a tale of two chairs
"Anyone have 2 good late 19th/early 20th century Scandinavian or Danish high-backed chairs...in gray of black, or that you are open to having painted?"
Sean Fanning, one of local theater's busiest and most talented scenic designers, posted the request on Facebook January 9. He needs two thrones for Intrepid Shakespeare Company's upcoming production of Hamlet.
Theater audiences - and critics - often go to a play as if to a restaurant. They sit and say "okay, feed me," unconcerned that someone had to chop the carrots or grate the cheese - and that in theater the "meal" may demand untold amounts of legwork.
"The simple act of putting a chair on stage, much less a set, or costumes, can be such a drain of time and resources," says Fanning. "Our audiences don't, or can't, even realize the thought that goes into it. Nor should they - and that is the point.
"The item has to belong to the world of the play, and compliment the actor. Take the journey of a chair, or chairs, and multiply that by the scale of a set, or the multitude of clothes in a show, and you see the process of putting on a production.
"And the smaller the theater company, the harder it gets, because in the end they must carry the same burdens as the larger theaters. Shortcuts and lack of resources show so clearly in small budget productions that it's up to theater artists to make the best of what they have - to make ten dollars look like a hundred. It's about imagination."
Intrepid Shakespeare's doing an early-to-mid 20th century version of Hamlet. The two chairs ought to invoke thrones from that era. Since the set will be gray granite columns and multi-toned gray tiles, Fanning needs chairs to "fit into this stark, monochromatic environment." His post on Facebook was one of many requests.
"Unlike in larger regional theaters, designing for a smaller one requires a certain local savvy: an ability to make friends in the business, cast nets about for hard-to-obtain items, and kind of 'mooch' a bit for donations and free things. It feels shameful at first, like trying to take advantage of others, until you realize how many other companies are in the exact same boat."
Pat's Corner, an antique/junk store at 3409 30th St., used to be the first place Fanning and others turned. But the store closed.
"They always had the coolest, mismatched period chairs and furniture items. Often the pieces were left outside, painted crazy colors, or hung on the wall and marked down to ten bucks per chair. Once purchased things like chairs could be painted and repainted, used for multiple shows, and angle-bracketed and stabilized until they were more metal than chair! I'm afraid we won't see another store like Pat's in the near future."
In the meantime, Fanning's on the lookout for the chairs. "Being creative in this situation means thinking beyond the basic 'what should this item be in my ideal production' to 'how can I find the perfect piece in two weeks with limited funding and a hatchback car'?"
To be continued.