- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 16, 2014

SAN ANTONIO (AP) - A few years ago, Dave Morgan got a call from someone asking if he’d be interested in an assortment of oversize fake fruits and veggies. “I said, ‘Of course.’ Why wouldn’t I?” said Morgan, artistic coordinator for Magik Theatre in San Antonio. He was pretty sure he’d find a use for it. And he was right. An enormous strawberry and a giant banana both factored into Morgan’s elaborate set for last fall’s staging of “Willy Wonka.” The giant carrot, however, has yet to strut and fret its hour upon the stage. That’s show biz. Live theater - which, in San Antonio, includes Magik, Overtime Theater, The Playhouse San Antonio and Sheldon Vexler Theatre, among others - frequently requires all sorts of odd and everyday items to make shows come to life. So theater companies’ storage areas tend to be bursting at the seams with all sorts of stuff.

Magik, for example, has a spinning Texas made for “The History of the Great State of Texas Told in 45 Minutes”; a supersize tape dispenser from “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie”; an assortment of planet cutouts and Rafaella Gabriela Sarsaparilla’s beloved aardvark from “Schoolhouse Rock”; a typewriter from “Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type”; and a bright red on/off switch that’s been in a slew of shows.

“We don’t have a lot of normal props,” Morgan said. “Most theaters have a lot of dishes; we don’t need that stuff.”

The Playhouse San Antonio does. In its packed prop room, shelves are filled with dishes that have been in all sorts of shows. There’s also a working lie detector machine that was used in “Betrayal,” an oversize turkey that appeared in multiple stagings of “A Christmas Carol,” dainty petit fours that Production Manager Ryan DeRoos made for “Drowsy Chaperone,” a flock of rubber chickens and a manila envelope labeled “tattoos.”

“We keep what we can,” DeRoos said.

At most theaters, whether a prop or set piece is kept or tossed after a show closes frequently has to do with whether it might be needed for another show, and whether it’s something that might be tough to find otherwise. But it also needs to be something that can be stored easily.

“It’s mostly size,” Morgan told the San Antonio Express-News (http://bit.ly/1eR4cHx ). “If it’s small, can we keep it? If it’s big, let’s throw it away.”

The Overtime Theater has pretty limited space. And the company lost some storage room when it left the Blue Star Arts Complex in 2012 for its current digs near the Pearl. So company members have to be selective about what they keep.

“Primarily, if it’s something that seems generic … that could realistically be used in a season or two, it’s kept,” said Chris Champlin, facility manager of the space. “Or, this is something that is unique and I’m going to kick myself in the ass for years if I don’t keep this.”

Among the treasures currently stashed away is a “Star Trek” Christmas wreath that has popped up in a number of holiday shows, the snake that appeared in “Clowntime Is Over” and a kitchen sink that has been featured in Aesthetic of Waste shows as well as other productions.

There also are a bunch of shutters that were part of the set for “DOA,” the noir musical the company produced in 2011; the shutters were not supposed to make the move from Blue Star, Champlin said, but they’ve been used in some shows since, so they remain on the premises.

On occasion, objects are kept for sentimental reasons. A big red heart with the Overtime’s name emblazoned across it hangs in the lobby right now. It was built for a gay pride parade, Champlin said, and “was too cool to discard.”

It’s fairly unlikely that the centaur body that The Playhouse’s DeRoos built for the 2011 production of “Xanadu” will be used again. But it’s still in the theater.

“We just haven’t gotten rid of it because it’s too dear to my heart,” she said. “This stuff is what I live for.”

At Magik, a bright green dragonfly hangs just outside the door to Morgan’s office. He made it in 2009 for a staging of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” that was scrapped when the theater lost the rights.

“That was at Belle’s house - when you knocked on the door, the wings flapped,” Morgan said. “It’s never been used, but I couldn’t bear to throw it away. There’s little pieces that we hold onto because they meant something to us.”

At the Vexler, the enormous Smaug puppet built for a 2004 kids’ production of “The Hobbit” looms over the women’s dressing room.

“I don’t know when and if we’ll ever use it again, but I just can’t get rid of it,” Artistic Director Ken Frazier said.

Frazier used to have a tough time letting go of his sets in general.

“I used to take a saxophone and play taps when it was time to strike a set,” he said. “After a while, I started realizing it’s like a piece of clay. You build a sculpture, we get to enjoy it for a while, and then you moosh it up again, and then we remold it into something else. Now it’s more of a positive thing.”

The Vexler, too, is space-poor. So if something is kept, it’s pretty much got to have potential for reuse.

The prison cell bars Frazier built for “Female Transport” in 2005 have proved particularly versatile. He used them as a pattern for additional jail bars for “Chicago,” they formed a jail for a production of “Tom Sawyer” and they’re being used in “The Fantasticks,” which opens May 8, to brace scenic panels.

That’s a typical progression for items that lend themselves to being stripped down and reused in a different way. Frazier said, “One time, it was used for something aesthetically pretty; next time, it’s cut up and used for backstage support.”

On occasion, pieces find a second life that has nothing to do with productions. The diner counter built for the Vexler’s last show, “When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder?” is being converted into a concession stand for theater patrons.

Sometimes, of course, items that have had a long, productive life have to be tossed. And, sometimes, that is followed by a reminder of why theaters hang on to so much stuff.

Frazier held onto the cow built for his 2001 production of “Into the Woods” for more than a decade. It became one very well-traveled side of beef. “It was used in six shows at least,” said Dylan Brainard, the Vexler’s production manager.

But it was troublesome to store. It was bulky and hard to maneuver around in the storage space. Finally, last year, it fell over for the umpteenth time and sustained what would be its final injury.

“It was like the third broken leg,” Frazier said. “We said, ‘It’s gotta go.’ We tore it apart, threw it in a dumpster and literally - literally - two weeks later, the Woodlawn (Theatre) announces (it was staging) ‘Into the Woods,’ and of course they came and asked, ‘You still got that cow?’ “

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Information from: San Antonio Express-News, http://www.mysanantonio.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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