Behind the scene: Books on stage

Tina Chilip in Huntington Theatre Company’s “after all the terrible things I do.”
Tina Chilip in Huntington Theatre Company’s “after all the terrible things I do.”T. Charles Erickson

WHAT: The authentic-looking bookstore set for the Huntington Theatre Company’s “after all the terrible things I do.”

WHERE: Wimberly Theatre, Calderwood Pavilion at Boston Center for the Arts, through June 21

More than 1,500 books line the shelves on the set of the Huntington Theatre's "after all the terrible things I do." Real books, as opposed to painted backdrops or foam-filled stage books, are an integral part of Clint Ramos's set design.

The action in A. Rey Pamatmat's drama takes place in a bookstore, where Linda, the owner, and Daniel, her new employee, talk as they shelve books and take inventory.

"The play is so rooted in the cozy, protected world of a small, independent bookstore," says Ramos. "So much of what the characters do is take care of the store, so we felt it was important to make it as real as possible for the actors."


Pamatmat and the actors were involved in choosing the titles of books that would be included on the shelves, Ramos says. But it was up to prop master Kris Holmes to find all the books and then fill the shelves with them.

Holmes, who works in the off-season as a set dresser for PBS's "Antiques Roadshow," turned to "Roadshow" appraiser Ken Gloss, owner of the Brattle Book Shop, for help.

"Ken lent us about 450 books and really gave us free rein around size, topic, and colors," she says. "Our other source was the Citywide Friends of the Boston Public Library, which holds sales of books that are donated to raise money for the library. They lent us another 550."

The final sources were the theater's stock — those foam-filled books — and donations from Huntington Theatre company staff.

"We organized them by size and subject," says Holmes, "and it took about five people to get them all up on the shelves. The stage manager asked if we were going to alphabetize them, too, but that's where I drew the line."

To accommodate the weight of all those books, Ramos's design required a steel frame rather than the lightweight wood usually used for onstage sets.


"It was tricky," Ramos says, "because the playwright has these lovely poetic moments, and we wanted to give the appearance that you can see right through the set, but it also had to be solid enough to hold the books."

All the books borrowed from the Brattle Book Shop and the Citywide Friends of the Boston Public Library will be returned, Holmes says, "so they all have little sticky notes in them indicating where they came from and where they go when we strike the set."


Terry Byrne can be reached at trbyrne@aol.com.