Sunday, February 28, 2010

Scavenger hunts

Sometimes finding an elusive prop is more luck and persistence than knowledge and research. Often it's about asking nicely, making lots and lots of phone calls, not being embarrassed to ask a strange question and never being shy. I finally found that spinning wheel I was looking for (the one that inspired me to start the Chicago Props Forum facebook group) and I found it today using some good old fashion props detective work. I thought I'd share the story because it's a perfect example of the "intangible" part of props work.

I started looking for the spinning wheel, for "Sleeping Beauty," by calling props rental houses I use and by putting out the word to friends to see if any of them knew of a theatre that had one in stock. I also checked craigslist and a couple of antique stores. I had no luck there, but the stage manager of "Sleeping Beauty" mentioned to me that she had used one in a show three years earlier. She gave me the phone number of the theatre and of the props master from that show. I left messages for them. The props master got back to me and said that the spinning wheel had been from his personal stock, but he had sold it a few months ago becuase it was taking up space. He suggested though that I look at knitting and yarn stores, that they often had spinning wheels and might be willing to rent one. I called 10 knitting stores today and left messages. Specifically the messages were not just, "do you have a spinning wheel?" but also "do you know anyone who might?" Three stores called me back and all told me to go to a store called The Fold, which wasn't open today, and whose website showed their prices for new spinning wheels as VERY high. I called and left a message there anyway hoping maybe to arrange a rental. The forth knitting store that called back, as it happens the one right around the corner for my house, suggested I look into a club called the "windy city spinning guild." Many of the members, she told me, have more than one spinning wheel at home and might be willing to lend me one, plus one of the members used to work in theatre. I looked them up online and called the contact number. The woman who picked up the phone barely let me finish explaining what I needed before she offered to loan me a spinning wheel. She gave me her address, I hopped in my car and 20 minutes later I had the prop I needed. She wouldn't have asked for anything in return, but I offered to get tickets for her and her grandchildren to see the show and she loved the idea. 

It's part of what I love about my job. I never know where the day is going to take me and I never know who I'm going to meet, but you have to trust that at the end of the day, it will all work out and the show will go up.

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