To this props man, it's work - or no play
What should I call it? The "limedark"? I love the mystique of offstage/onstage. Nothing quite matches that intense, heart-in-mouth moment of stepping out, in the guise of some character quite unlike your humdrum self, equipped with lines presumably so well learned and movements presumably so well rehearsed that nothing can possibly go wrong - can it?
I suppose professionals come to take that momentary leap of faith and fantasy for granted, hardened by years of familiarity. But as an infrequent amateur, the terrifying exhilaration - a split second when you think: "What on earth possessed me to even think of taking up the dangerous art of acting and put myself through this?" - doesn't get any tamer.
But I have also long been grabbed by the inner workings, in the dark, of backstage, by the secrecy of setting things up behind the scenery so that everything works with magical perfection in front of it.
Puppeteering satisfied the need for a period of my childhood, and an element of pulling the strings is still with me. I don't grow up easily, it seems. And I don't observe other members of the club, however much they would prefer to be acting, becoming blasé about helping backstage.
James, our casting director, put it this way: "You did have large parts in two productions in a row, so I wondered if I could twist your arm and ask you to do props this time?" I messaged back: "No need for blackmail. Happy to do it."
So that is why now, a mere four days before the dress rehearsal, I find myself making lists in notebooks, on odd paper scraps, and even on the palm of my left hand.
That is why I am encumbered about with hockey sticks, rubber frogs, hot water bottles, an inkwell, a hairbrush, two buns (one creamy and sticky, the other plain and uninteresting), two white mugs (for hot cocoa), 16 hymn books (to be "borrowed" surreptitiously Sunday to Sunday by an intrepid club member from her church), a ball of wool, and oh, six wooden school desks.
The play is a pastiche of 1920s schoolgirl stories. Called "Daisy Pulls It Off," it was a success some years ago in London. It is the date, 1927, that is the cause of most of this props manager's difficulties. I mean, what did a doughnut look like in 1927? How precisely "vintage" is that hockey stick I have spotted on eBay? Is it a 1950s hockey stick (fairly stubby at the hitting end) or a true 1920s stick, with a very long end gracefully curved like a laid-back banana? What would a school mug look like at that period, and where can I possibly find two of them?
We now have too many hockey sticks and any number of hot-water bottles. But one of our vintage members came to a rehearsal last week and pronounced all of the hockey sticks "completely wrong, clearly modern."
She told the director (a stickler for authenticity who wants, for example, notices on the school notice board typed on an old typewriter) that she knew an old lady who had kept her genuinely old hockey stick. She would see if she could borrow it.
So today we have two true 1920s sticks, one borrowed, one bought on the Internet. We are still hunting for two more.
Meanwhile, a message reaches me that the crutch used temporarily in Act II by the plucky and friendly girl, Trixie Martin (Daisy's best friend), needs to be lengthened by 4-1/2 inches. Not 4, not 5, but 4-1/2.
I had already lengthened it by 3 inches, but actors will be actors and make fastidious demands. Then I remembered that someone at a rehearsal two days ago had said they would help out with a few things, so I e-mailed him: "Alistair - Did I imagine that it was you who said you would come up with an inkwell and a blotter to sit on the headmistress's desk? Or was that someone else? Please advise (as they say). Thanks, Christopher."
Today I shall go to Millers, a large art store in town, to see if they sell anything like old writing pens - pens of the pre-fountain pen, pre-rollerball era, pens of the dip-and-scratch-and-dip-again variety.
One of our younger members asked me: "Would they have used quill pens in 1927?" I suddenly realized how long ago 1927 must seem to recent generations. On the whole I felt that goose-feather pens would have fallen out of use in schools by then.
I also will visit the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, where it is rumored there are more really old hockey sticks and an ancient hairbrush for hire.
This afternoon I plan to go to one of the more exclusive Glasgow schools, known as "Hutchy," to try to pick up 12 bentwood chairs. En route, I plan to reconnoiter a cake shop or two to investigate sticky buns.
The frog situation has resolved itself. June (one of the actresses) brought a wonderfully joggly and trembly little rubber frog. I thought it was perfect except for its size - I felt it wouldn't be seen by the back row. (It is mischievously put in bed in the "dormy" as a jape.) So after a citywide hunt, I found a rather large, jauntily articulated plastic frog at Glasgow's Science Centre.
Walter, the director, seemed to like my frog at first. But then he thought it looked "too modern," and so we've gone back to June's little fellow. I hope the back row brings binoculars.
As for the school desks - I failed. I found a few here and there, but nobody has six that match. So I have made them myself out of bright new pine, with hinged lids that lift.
Now, hastily aged with an eccentric mix of light oak wax and mahogany stain and made to look grubby and kicked around, ink-splattered and graffitied, they aren't half bad. They are a bit wonky in places, but what would one expect from desks that have survived nearly 80 years?