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Props and egos

05 Mar 2019

Props and egos Image

By Rhonda Dredge

It’s blissfully quiet in the props room. Even the musical instruments have forgotten how to kick up a fuss.

The timetable for the year is sketched up on a large whiteboard and hundreds of pairs of shoes are neatly graded according to size and colour.

Duraan Reid is getting ready for the student impresarios by creating a bit of space and order before the productions begin.

First out the door was a Schmidt and Sohn piano. The harp will soon follow if it doesn’t get a gig.

Visuals count for a lot in the world of theatre, convincing the audience that a drama is real but props just have to look good. They don’t have to be functional, even musical instruments.

Last week Duraan dragged the authentic-looking piano out onto the footpath. It hadn’t been used for five years and the poor thing was gathering dust, after its starring role in The Boy from Oz.

A few hours later it had been rescued by a group of students and was being wheeled across the road to be repurposed. It had no internal works but some pretty ivory keys and walnut veneer.

“It’s only a prop,” Duraan said. “It would make a nice drinks cabinet. They gutted it so it wouldn’t play. You don’t want noise in a performance. A little kid jumped on it.”

The golden harp was used last year in the Steven Sondheim musical Into the Woods, a fantasy about a baker’s wife seeking a child, but it could go as well if it’s not used again soon.

“This is prime real estate,” said the props and wardrobe co-ordinator at the Victorian College of the Arts. “We don’t have the room any more. We’ve put a 12-month tag on the harp.”

The world of props is a constant source of fascination for this witty reader of student pretensions. He can tell you what kinds of costumes are popular and has a fund of stories about the trials of designers.

Period costumes are no longer favoured, for example. The current crop of dramatists prefers to put a contemporary twist into performances, even when they’re adaptations of fairy tales, preferring glass cubes to frilly hats and aprons.

“Sometimes student designers buy something from K-Mart and sew on lightening bolts,” Duraan said. “There are lots of costumes left over. The productions are not as traditional as they used to be.”

“In classics such as Jack and the Beanstalk you probably wouldn’t favour a classic t-shirt from Target,” he said, but actors can overwhelm designers and they tend to prefer athletic wear.

Duraan is gentle on student egos, however. “You have to place yourself inside a 19-year-old. This is my chance to shine. I want to be given a chance.”

There’s plenty of opportunity for being outstanding with a busy schedule of productions up on the wall. Shakespeare begins this week and adaptions of novels and the big musical On The Town are on the list for the student theatrical productions in the Grant St theatre.

The musicals are Duraan’s favourites. “Westside Story, Forty-Second Street … old classics … music still drives the tradition. A lot of people still like them.”

And his preference in props is a bus stop, not because it’s easy to store, but because it’s a practical solution to his own little productions. When he has students in for tours “people stand near it and wait for my attention.”

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