Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s Shannon Rae Lutz is a busy lady. Not only does she serve as Property Master and Design Assistant for each of our main stage productions, but as as the Director of Intern Programming, she also is constantly searching for young theatre artists to join the ETC ensemble. Here, she explains how to transform an empty stage into a work of art:
Q: How do you go about finding props for shows at ETC?
A: Depending on the needs of the show it is usually a combination of shopping, renting, borrowing, building and pulling from our own stock.
Q: There is a lot of detailed decorations and tchotchkes on the set of Freud’s Last Session. What kind of secret treasures can we expect to find on set?
A: Freud’s London Study has been preserved in his home and is now a museum. The museum provides a beautiful website and has helped us know what his space actually looked like. It is known that Freud had over 2,000 antiquities in his study as well as prints, photographs and carpets. Most of the relics were representational of gods and goddesses from his frequent holidays to Italy and around the world: a glorious irony to his protests of the existence of a God. This reference gave us a great foundation to render our interpretation of this existing space into our theatrical space. Click here to view photos from Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s production.
Q: What is your favorite prop in Freud’s Last Session?
A: I don’t think I have one in this show as much as I truly enjoyed recreating this space, so I think the set dressing wins this one.
Q: What has been the most difficult pieces to obtain, both now and in the past?
A: For FLS it was most difficult to understand what Freud’s mouth prosthesis, or “the monster,” actually looked like. He had several prostheses, which are not directly accessible to the public, so I did a lot of reading about his mouth surgeries, for which he had over 30. I also did historical research on dentistry, oral cancer and surgical procedures of the time, which was all very unpleasant. It was like looking through a window into the intense ordeal that he had to live with for years.
In general, my experience has taught me that often the more common items prove more difficult than a more specialized or exotic one…so I try not to take for granted I can run out and find the perfect item quickly. Every thing we do and use has to be so specific. Each prop has its own long list of how or why it needs to look a certain way and how and why it needs to function a certain way. I am a stickler for detail and will not settle until I think I have exhausted all the resources I can to have come up with the most suitable prop for each moment, no matter if it is a pen or a prosthesis.
Q: How do you decide how props should look on stage?
A: It always needs to be a combination of form and function. In a historical piece like FLS, you begin with a template of the time period. A lot of knowledge and research of time and place is necessary. Probably the most important is considering how the prop must function. If the prop is historically accurate and looks the part but cannot do what you need it to do, it is not very useful. Each prop has a purpose and a provenance or a story of its own and a relationship with its user. I try and keep track of what that relationship is to subtly help tell the bigger story of the play.
Q: What has been the most difficult play to get props for, in your experience?
A: I get excited by the challenge of a seemingly difficult show. I prefer to be busy and to have a show with a lot of props. They all have their usually surprising challenges and each show is so different, so this is a tough question. In general, a show with a lot of food comes to mind as difficult. Food is always a challenge because it not only has to look and behave the way you want it to, but it also has to be palatable and safe for the actor, not to mention it is usually expensive. The actor must eat it over and over again and they may have specific dietary needs that add to your challenge to provide the suitable solution.
About Shannon Rae Lutz:Shannon Rae Lutz, a graduate of University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music master’s program, began her tenure at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati in 1996 and has been with the organization longer than any other current employee. Trained as a performer, she first appeared on ETC’s stage during the 1989 New Works Festival. In 1991, she was granted an ETC Internship and has since appeared on stage in Fiction, Poor Super Man, A School for Scandal, Zorro, The Frog Princess, and Sleeping Beauty.