Appears In

In a place like the prop shop, located on the lower level of Centennial East, things aren’t always as they appear.

Bridgid Burge, a third-year graduate student pursuing her MFA in scenic design, is charged with making sense of this eclectic and vast collection.

It’s a deceptively big place, lined with shelves of fascinating trinkets and treasures that twist and turn like a labyrinth deeper into the building. Crossing the threshold into the dark, windowless space brings a sense of suspended reality. But no matter the genre—musical, drama, comedy, dance, etc.—the wonderful storytelling that comes out of the productions put on by Illinois State’s College of Fine Arts would surely suffer without this place.

In other words, the show would not go on without the prop shop.

  • The weapons in the prop shop can look quite imposing (note large axe and swords), but they are all non-lethal, safe props. Professor Paul Denhardt is the department’s weapons expert, fight coordinator, and is a director. He teaches classes in movement.
  • Weapon props also include colonial-era guns.
  • That stick horse with the purple face was made by Burge and her team for Illinois Shakespeare Festival’s (ISF) 2015 production of Love’s Labours Lost. This one-legged mount is all paper underneath a resin outer that’s filled with expanding foam filler. Burge said in the play four men rode on stage aboard horses of descending sizes.
  • That’s a pretty giant club that Capp is working on, but have no fear because it doesn’t carry much heft. It’s made of muslin, a cotton fabric, which is actually what gives it such a wrinkled appearance. The surface is hardened when a paste-glue compound known as scenic dope is applied.
  • Rows of books are spines only, with not a single page to turn. They are made from scratch out of hard foam, carved, painted, and designed by grad student Samantha Gribben. These look-alikes—there’s a second set on the floor in the foreground—aptly played the part of books on a shelf during Illinois State’s 2016 production of The Coffee Bar, directed by Janet Wilson, director of the School of Theatre and Dance.
  • Because of the prop shop’s close ties to the ISF, a bust of the Bard of Avon himself provides inspiration and acts as a reminder to the crew of the importance of its work in creating authenticity.
  • The Victrola, like similar items in the prop shop, looks like it should make music but does not. It is, Burge said, just a wood box constructed to look like the real thing, but the comparisons end there. Same for the hand-carved lute, just next to the Victrola, which she called “totally fake.”
  • So, where do you purchase a flamingo-headed umbrella? Nobody knows. But, if you needed one for a prop, you’d have the prop shop create it. First, buy a regular umbrella and then have the talented students in the prop shop make up a flamingo head. This one also doubled as a croquet mallet in an Illinois State production of Alice in Wonderland in 2016.
  • This large trunk was made for ISF’s 2016 production of Peter and the Starcatcher, a prequel to Peter Pan. The play actually calls for two trunks, but only one held the stuff of magic within.
  • Goblets are a go-to prop for anything Shakespeare, and thus are a favorite for ISF productions. Burge said that opaque goblets are preferred so that it’s easier for actors to pretend they are filled with something other than water. Cheers!