Closer Inspection: Shakespeare Theatre Company’s prop shop

August 11, 2011

When Chris Young lifts a large blue bin, a round object falls out and bounces on the floor. “That’s one of our first heads,” he says matter-of-factly, scooping it from the ground. “He’s one of our oldest ones.” What may sound like a scene in a horror movie is not an uncommon occurrence at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Mount Rainier prop shop.

The latex noggin is one of thousands of oddities and knickknacks housed at the 10,000-square-foot warehouse. Young, the shop’s lead artisan, oversees a team of six who work to transform Shakespeare’s illustrative words into tangible realities. Here, Young unearths some of the more interesting stage pieces he has encountered during his 21 years with the Washington-based theater company.

- Young says this 40-inch sword was intentionally damaged for a 1994 production of “Henry IV.” Young bent the tempered steel blade using a vise and filed the nicks himself to make it appear as though it had been in battle.

- These hobby horses are from 2003’s and 2004’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The shop created the larger version when the show moved to a bigger venue, where the original prop would have looked tiny to the audience, Young says.

- “No matter how realistically we do them, everybody knows it’s not real,” Young says of this one-pound latex head, used in 1990’s “Richard III.” He says fake heads “often get laughs if you make them too gross.”

[[CBK if it’s too gross]]

Young says this (fake) bloody burlap bag, which held a latex head in the theater’s recent staging of “Cymbeline,” is a more effective prop than a fake head alone because it “lets the audience connect the dots.”

- This 9-foot-7-inch Roman military standard is one of two in “Julius Caesar,” onstage Aug. 18-Sept. 4 in the company’s annual Free for All series of free shows (www.shakespearetheatre.org). The gold-painted eagle is carved from Styrofoam.

- Cleopatra’s elaborate throne in 2008’s “Antony and Cleopatra” was originally a wooden chair that the prop shop bought at a secondhand store for about $500. “Whatever’s the ‘money shot,’ that’s where the money goes,” Young says.

-In “Julius Caesar,” characters use this sacrificial boar to divine the future. The exterior of the boar is covered fake fur with wooden feet built up with modeling clay.

[[this is plain-looking ax, NOT the ornate ax w/ the curved blade]]

- For a 2007 production of “Edward II,” an actor was supposed to wield a real 10-pound broad ax, but he worried he might hurt someone accidentally. “We just really quickly pulled the ax head” and created this foam version, Young says.

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