NEWSIES: Meet the Head of Props

Five months of hard work and dedication will soon pay off, as this year’s Senior School musical theatre production, NEWSIES, hits the stage at the McPherson Playhouse. More than 90 students have been putting their creative skills on display on stage, backstage and in the pit orchestra to each play an important role in bringing our musical to life.

In the coming weeks, the SMUSpaper will sit down with students who are performing as actors, singers and dancers; students working behind-the-scenes; and students who help create the live soundtrack as members of the orchestra to talk about their experiences.

This week, we’re pleased to sit down with Grade 11 student Ria Sheoran, who is Head of Props, to talk about her experience and to learn what it takes to make props for a SMUS production.

Ria says there are two key responsibilities in her role: creating props and managing props.

“Leading up to the show, I’ve been responsible for making a lot of props and keeping track of them during rehearsals. Once we get to the McPherson Playhouse, I’ll need to make sure I’m always aware of where every prop is,” she says. “I work using a copy of the script and a list of all the scenes, characters, sets and props so I know everything that’s going on at any point and I know which actor needs what prop and where they need it.”

Ria has enjoyed the experience as Head of Props and is excited about the performances next week.

Below, Ria and prop builder and art teacher Mr. Brad Ingimundson highlight some of the stories behind some of the props you’ll see on stage during the musical theatre production of NEWSIES.

Newspapers

“We had to make 200 fake newspapers [in addition to getting copies of old, browned newspapers as props],” Ria says. “First there’s a regular newspaper that has a picture of the newsies on the front page. But then there’s a different paper we need to make that gets used during one of the dances. Those ones we need the dancers to be able to hop on it and break the newspaper apart, but all of the first ones we made were too thick so we needed to alter them to make them usable for the dance. It took us a really long time to make all the newspapers – we just made an assembly line and someone does cutting, someone does gluing, someone does folding.”

Newspaper Carrier Bags

“We have about 30 white fabric bags that we’re using as newspaper carrier bags. We got them new so we had to age them to look old and well-used. First, we burned cork and it becomes like a charcoal crayon almost, and we use that to make it look like newspaper ink residue on the bags,” Ria explains. “Then we soaked the bags in a bucket of tea until they stain brown and then we hung them to dry.”

Jack’s Drawings

“The main character, Jack, does sketches. I made some quick and messy landscapes that are used as props that the audience doesn’t really see, but there’s one drawing that he does of Katherine as the show is happening. I tried sketching Katherine, and I had one of my friends do it, too, and I also reached out to [Grade 10 student] Ava Galloway; we’re using her sketches,” Ria says. “In the show when it’s happening we’re planning to project the sketch on a screen, so we took photos after every couple of Ava’s brush strokes and we will layer one after the other so it looks like a drawing in progress.”

Printing Press

“This is a printing press that they would’ve used at the time [of the musical, set in 1899], but it was already an antique at the time, so it had to look quite mechanical,” says Mr. Brad Ingimundson. “I looked at printing presses of the time and watched YouTube videos trying to figure out what the moving parts were and what their purpose was. I dug deep into my LEGO childhood to figure out what connecting rods would look like and the position of the fulcrums and so on, and then I designed it in Inkscape as two-dimensional images and sent it to a fabrication company to cut all the pieces. We decided to go to town to make it as lifelike as possible, even though if you look closely it’s two-dimensional and made out of plywood, rather than steel or cast iron. It really is the most elaborate thing that the set requires, and it’s a centrepiece of an entire song, so it’s been the worth the time I’ve spent on it.”


NEWSIES runs from March 5-7 at the McPherson Playhouse. There are three evening shows (March 5, 6 and 7) and one matinee (March 7). Tickets and more information are available on the McPherson Playhouse website.

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