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STAGES

A props co-op sets the stage for theaters to save money

Yorick's skull, made of foam, is among the many stage props that can be shared by New England theaters through the Prop Co-op.Courtesy of the Prop Co-op

From a fully decorated 10-foot Christmas tree to an assortment of classroom chairs, from an elegant fan to a soup ladle, theatrical props provide the details that bring audiences into the world of a play.

For theater companies, however, sourcing, building, and storing the dozens of props needed for each production can be expensive, not to mention time-consuming. So award-winning stage designer and StageSource board member Janie E. Howland took advantage of pandemic downtime to create the Prop Co-op, a shared props storage warehouse serving theater companies across New England.

“In a weird way, it became the perfect moment,” says Howland. “Companies had the time to go through stock at the same time that one warehouse stopped loaning things for free.”

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Working with her colleagues at StageSource, which is serving as the organization’s fiscal manager, Howland identified a 3,500-square-foot space in Worcester available for $5 a square foot.

“I had called lots of places in Boston and the surrounding area, but nothing was available for less than $25 a square foot,” she says. The Worcester location, though, is central for more theater companies in the Berkshires, the Providence area, Boston, and north to New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont.

“Our hope is that this central resource will save money for companies who are looking for props, and for those currently renting storage space,” Howland says.

The Prop Co-op’s easy-to-navigate website (prop-co-op.com) is already up and running and has hundreds of options, from set dressing such as a Victorian loveseat and kitchen chairs to hand props, including Yorick’s skull, musical instruments, and 3D-printed monkey jaws.

Membership in the Prop Co-op is offered on a sliding scale, depending on a company’s budget, and props may be rented for a weekly fee. Props are also available to non-members for a slightly higher rental fee, as well as to the general public.

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“We have all sorts of items, including lots of holiday and Halloween decorations,” she says, “so anyone interested in throwing a party can rent some really unique items, including those monkey jaws.”

Some individuals have reached out to donate pieces with sentimental value, Howland says. “One couple donated a beautiful Victorian loveseat and asked that they be notified when it was rented so they could go and see the production it was a part of.”

Howland has hired Becky Gray, former co-owner of the custom fabrication shop Bent, as part-time manager of the warehouse, to help with the inventory and also provide advice and assistance to members.

“Props designers are artists,” Howland says. “They are really creative about finding solutions for pieces that help create the magic of theater.”

To cover the initial launch of the warehouse, including shelving costs, inventory, and repairs of stock, Howland has launched a GoFundMe campaign with a goal of $5,000.

“Much Ado” on the Common

Megan Sandberg-Zakian, currently directing the luminous “Mr. Parent” at the Lyric Stage Company, has been tapped by Commonwealth Shakespeare Company to direct its Free Shakespeare on the Common production of “Much Ado About Nothing” this summer. The show will run July 20-Aug. 7 on Boston Common.

In a statement, Sandberg-Zakian said, “One of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies, [’Much Ado’] gives us a community emerging from a time of war into an uneasy peace — where there is plenty of feasting and dancing, but where trust is fragile and trading insults feels safer than intimacy.”

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Casting will be announced soon.

“Passing Strange goes online

Moonbox Productions is offering a streamed version of its recent production of “Passing Strange,” Jan. 31-Feb. 27. The coming-of-age musical, led by a thrilling Davron S. Monroe and supported by a first-rate ensemble, recounts the memories of Black musician/composer Stew finding his voice by traveling from his home in California to artistic enclaves in Amsterdam and Berlin. The production was filmed at a live performance Dec. 19. Broadway on Demand is the platform, and the link is https://bit.ly/SeePassingStrange