Building new purpose: theater props repurposed, recycled

Scene design professor Tony Hardin discusses what happens to props after a production in the Fine Arts Building on Tuesday. Photo by Jonathan Krueger | Staff

Scene design professor Tony Hardin discusses what happens to props after a production in the Fine Arts Building on Tuesday. Photo by Jonathan Krueger | Staff

By Anne Halliwell

Contents of the Lexington Opera House stage were scattered in piles of wood, metal and sawdust across the backstage of Guignol Theatre.

The projections screen was rolled up and cast to the side of the Guignol Theatre main stage.

Scene designer and associate professor of theatre Tony Hardin wheeled out a large black cabinet filled with props from the previous weekend’s production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

As the doors popped open, baskets of faux food and knick-knacks spilled out onto the stage.

“Many smaller pieces will be reused in some capacity in a later show,” said Hardin, producing an oversized foam corn cob trailing sequins and PVC-and-plastic shackles from the recesses of the closet.

The theatre department employs a “green theatre” mentality, Hardin said, which means that many of the props and scene pieces are refigured to work in other shows or are “recycled” for use by architecture or art students.

“We do have stock scenery, but so much of the stuff we use is so specific that we really can’t use it again,” Hardin said. “My job as the scene designer is to tell the story. If I get hemmed in with a lot of stock scenery, I’m not really doing the production or the director justice.”

Steel lengths used to fortify the set pieces and lengths of wood can be salvaged and reused until they are cut down into an impractical shape, Hardin said. They are then set out on the loading dock for art and architecture classes to pick and choose what they can use.

“It’s like a cost-benefit analysis,” Hardin said. “You have to figure out … how you’re going to store it, if you’re going to use it and where you’re going to use it.”

This way, Hardin said, the theater department can “recycle” much of what they can’t directly reuse.

Hardin pointed out that even large wooden pieces like staircases and flats used to hold up scenery are taken apart after the show. The 30 feet of stairs, for instance, were large enough as a whole that they had to be split into smaller sections to fit into two trucks along with the rest of the set.

“Everything here was onstage at the opera house …things are modular, and that’s how we transported it,” Hardin said.

Students from Hardin’s scene-painting class contributed to the work, but Katherine Field, a theatre junior with an art studio minor, contributed heavily to the set design.

“I probably painted at least 90 percent,” Field said.

Field began acting in the theatre department, but quickly discovered that she preferred set work, she said. She is now in her third year of set work.

Production of the new set began shortly after Guignol Theatre’s production of “Eurydice” wrapped in February, Hardin said.

After about 7 weeks of work, the set was moved to the Opera House for a week of rehearsals and a weekend of shows, Hardin said. The stage was bare again by Sunday evening.

“I think it gets to students sometimes … You’re going ‘Eh, that’s a lot of work,’” Hardin said.  “But a lot of people saw it … and you’re always working on the next production.”

Hardin and Field work on five productions a year, plus outside work.

“It was a long show,” Hardin said. “It’s what we do, though.”