By MFTA Executive Director Harriet Taub
One of the greatest things about working at Materials for the Arts is our access to very talented people. For those of us who love performance, we are eternally grateful for the designers and artists who work behind-the-scenes making magic creating theater sets, costumes, and props. This past Friday, I headed to the 6th annual Prop Summit held by the incomparable Jay Duckworth, Prop Master at the Public Theater.
Here is how Jay describes the Prop Summit: “Just before the fall theater season, props masters, artisans, and special effects people meet in the East Village, deep in the heart of the Public Theater. Professors from Emerson, Yale, Julliard, NYU, and Princeton, along with their students, meet with Props Masters from The Met, The Public, and Broadway and off-Broadway freelancers to share ideas and talk about the trade.”
Over drinks and snacks, the group of about seventy was able to kibbutz, regale each other with tales of great successes (and perhaps some fizzles), and network the night away. Midpoint, the group moved from the Public’s awesome prop shop to the newly carpeted Newman Theater to listen to guest speakers that included Tony Award-winning Set Designer Donyale Werle and me, Executive Director of Materials for the Arts Harriet Taub.
Jay says, “This year’s theme was A Greener Theater, and I was so happy to get two people who are really at the forefront of their discipline. Donyale and Harriet are role models for all of the young artists in the field, and we as a collective could not have two more informed leaders to speak to us.”
Donyale is passionate about reducing material throwaways in theater and moving towards using more environmentally friendly materials. Her set designs focus on sustainability, which seem to come naturally to her. She uses found objects, thrift shop finds, and many other second-hand materials. She serves as the Co-Chair of the Pre/Post-Production Committee for the Broadway Green Alliance.
“The materials teach me, instead of the other way around. I couldn’t force a material to do what I wanted it to do,” says Donyale.
This idea comes out of her upbringing in Nashville, Tennessee. “I come from a family of environmentalists. My dad is a landscape architect who was involved in the solar movement in the 1970s, so I grew up that way.”
I was thrilled to be part of this summit and have the opportunity to wax poetic about what we do at Materials for the Arts. Most importantly, I am an advocate of creative reuse. Thinking about the materials we are surrounded by and then giving them a new purpose is a passion of mine. We send way too much to the landfills…repurposing and rethinking helps divert lots of valuable materials back into the community through the work of artists, designers, students, teachers, and other creative minds.
The best part of this summit was that it connected a group of very hard working, like-minded props people. In their hectic schedules, they are often working in isolation. A favorite part of being out on the MFTA floor on shopping days is watching folks network and ask each other questions like, “What are you going to do with that?”
I wish that this type of event could happen for set designers, choreographers, costumers, and art therapists. Whether folks have access to MFTA or not, this Summit helped kickstart the conversation of how professionals in the props field use each other as a resource to either give or get stuff. The sharing economy – you gotta love it.