Example of a Design & Production Artistic Statement
Example of a Design & Production Artistic Statement
Carly Anders is a 2014-2015 recipient of the William R. Kenan, Jr. Excellence Scholarship program, the most prestigious scholarship program at the UNCSA. The School of Design & Production includes several in-depth concentrations in stagecaft and technical theater.
“Letting Opportunity In”
By Carly Anders
The arts are a sensory experience unlike anything else this earth has to offer. Our ears are wrapped up in the sounds of four part harmonies, and the patter of tap shoes. Our eyes are lost in a flurry of ball gowns and castle walls, flashy lights and dazzling special effects. But our minds, our imaginations, are carried by the show itself: by this idea that, in this small sacred space, a whole new universe has been created, just for us. But it’s a universe that can’t be completed until every last detail is in place. And that is where stage properties come into play, and finally step into the spotlight they deserve.
As a lifelong performer and theatre lover, I’ve seen my fair share of shows. From middle school “junior” performances to professional college productions, I’ve witnessed the best… and the worst. And for some reason, no matter how fantastic the set or terribly tailored the costumes, my entire life, my eyes have always gone to props first. I can’t put my finger on the first time props fascinated me, but I can remember the first times I noticed that they were never anyone’s prime concern. I knew when, in Annie in kindergarten, FDR’s wheelchair was really just one we borrowed from the school nurse’s office. I also realized when, in Beauty and the Beast, Belle’s dinner plates were made of paper that they were not only atrocious but also historically inaccurate for provincial France (and a prince’s castle, no less). As time went on, and tech weeks and the years between began to blend, my mind and eye grew sharper; always scanning the stage for the props I wanted so desperately to fall in love with. Until one day, I came to the realization that instead of watching from the wings or the audience again, I had an opportunity before me to really steal the limelight: not as an actor, but as a props master.
The day I stepped off the stage and into my director’s office, I knew I was making a change in my life. I just had no idea, at the time, how major its impact would be. For me, props are an integral part of any successful performance. They create the time period, they decorate the home, and they make the scene. Props are, quite possibly, the most underappreciated aspect of a production. Like the old saying “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til its gone”, people don’t realize the significance of props until they simply aren’t there. Charlie without his Golden Ticket means no chocolate factory to explore. Brick without a crutch has no way to limp away from Maggie the Cat. And Elphaba without her Grimmerie is just a green girl shouting nonsense.
I know that people in the last row won’t see every paint stroke. But I tell myself that someone in the first row might. Someone will notice and someone will appreciate the hard work that they can see was put into what they’re watching.
I see props as an incredible way to add depth to a show. In my experiences, whether crafting puppets or staining crates, the impact props can have on an audience is mind-boggling. As a designer, I strive to go the extra mile in the details of my work. I know that people in the last row won’t see every paint stroke. But I tell myself that someone in the first row might. Someone will notice and someone will appreciate the hard work that they can see was put into what they’re watching. In Doc’s Shop in West Side Story I could have easily chosen to decorate the shelves with solid colored cereal boxes and call it a day. Instead, I researched, edited, and recreated iconic labels and advertisements that would be found in a 1950s drugstore: a tiny touch, seen as unnecessary and a waste of time by most. But without it, Doc’s Shop would have never made the transition from half-painted platform to full corner store in just a few days of tech rehearsals.
As I begin my search for schools and start out on a career path I never imagined I’d be taking, I find myself overwhelmed. Not because I am stressed, but because I am amazed by the opportunities my passion for props has revealed. In the musical Into the Woods, there’s a line sung that says, “Opportunity is not a lengthy visitor.” Though I always understood its meaning within the show, I don’t believe I realized its significance in my own life until this year. Taking on every task I can, seizing every chance that comes my way, I’ve taught myself to grow and expand my horizons as a designer: something I can only hope I am given the tools to continue doing in college. Whether sketching sets I doubt I’ll ever bring to life, or staining crates I’m positive will never be noticed, I’ve taken this year, this final year, to make the most of the time I have left to experiment. Before it’s time for opportunity to pack her bags and leave me on my own a while, I’ve got to continue to try, continue to create, and continue to play.
Trial and error is the key to what I do. I know that someone somewhere in the world has probably devised a foolproof method for making puppet eyes that can blink. Someone else has probably posted a dream video on the perfect way to age a leather notebook, or whip up a do-it-yourself stain. But the reason I do what I do isn’t because I want an easy way out or a tutorial that will most likely backfire: it’s because I love finding my own solutions to the problems I face. I often joke that, when it comes to my work, most of what you see as a finished product is thanks to something that went wrong along the way. Accidents happen, and sometimes, what’s broken can’t be fixed. But as an artist and designer, it’s my job to take the fragments of what was and turn them back into something that can still be.
I don’t pretend to be perfect, as a person or as a props master. I have my flaws in organization, in execution, in experience, and in expertise. But each day, when I’m given a new task, I find new joy in my work. Picking my way through never-ending antique malls and countless Goodwill’s, making trip after trip to Michael’s because I never have enough hot glue or balsa wood… every task is a new adventure.
The theater is a place where never-before-seen worlds are created on what seems like a daily basis. Audiences are led on fantastic journeys through time and space, traveling from the Paris Opera House all the way to Alphabet City, NYC. Accuracy is required, details are crucial, and good craftsmanship is just the icing on top. As a designer, it is my job and my goal to ensure that the people seeing my work are not only excited by it, but also impressed.
My props are my hobby, my passion, and my future. I so often meet people who are confused and disappointed in my decision to pursue them for a career. I’m chided and criticized, and often met with scoffs of disapproval. Met with comments like, “What a waste of talent!,” it’s not been unusual for me to begin doubting myself, wondering if I’ve made the right decision, if I’ve wasted my time, if I’ve let myself get distracted…and that’s when I hear it: a faint knocking, a reminder of the chances standing impatiently outside my door. A reminder that Opportunity has noticed me, taken time out of her schedule, and given me a chance to prove myself as the person I’ve dreamt of being. A reminder that she won’t wait all day.