Friday, February 5, 2010

Gifts from the prop Gods


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week, Heather Cunningham

OK, here’s where I show you all what a geek I am, as if those of you who know me didn’t already have ample evidence of that.

I went to the Catskills last October to a dear friend's wedding. She is herself a costume designer that I have had the pleasure of working with, so I feel quite certain when I say she will forgive me to learn that one of the things I did while I was there for the weekend of her wedding was to hit up a yard sale in a barn that had a sign out reading “estate sale”. In addition to several fake pearl necklaces (perfect for any number of periods but in particular for the 50s), a brown clutch, and some playing cards that were not plastic coated, the prop Gods bestowed upon me not one, but two vintage match boxes. One for Ohio Blue Tips and one for Birds Eye Diamond (Red Tip) Matches. At the time I was collecting props for Holy Days in which there was a line “Could you get the matches off the stove? Both boxes. OK. The red tips are five cents and the blue tips are ten.” I stood in the barn and stared in disbelief. When I had gathered my wits about me I asked the man how much. He told me $3. I bought them on the spot. He must have thought I was crazy, but I couldn’t believe my good fortune to find vintage packaging in perfect shape (that I wasn’t even looking for).

One of the things that Retro Productions does to a) raise money and b) clear out our limited storage space is to have one or two yard sales a year. Because the people of the neighborhood and our company members know that these sales raise money for the companies productions, we are often the recipients of large donations of, well, junk. But last year the mother of a company member brought out a box that she had rescued from her neighbors basement, thinking I’d be interested in its contents. Apparently her neighbors’ parent had been a paper and greeting cards sales person and had this box of samples in storage for about 50 years. What timing! Our spring show this year, The Desk Set, which takes place in the mid-50s, has a scene on Christmas Eve and strings of Christmas cards make up some of the d├ęcor. Done and done. Of course, we are scanning the images and printing them on stronger paper, but now that we’ve done that if anyone is interested in buying them you should give me a holler or come to our next yard sale.

I was doing a little Ebaying last month and was very excited to find a 1953 TIME magazine with Shirley Booth on the cover. Ms. Booth, one of the most well regarded actresses of the 1950s played Bunny in The Desk Set on Broadway. You better believe I bought it… and I’m gonna put it in our production next May!

There have been other, less impressive, but no less amazing gifts from the prop Gods… like the day I was walking through a flea market and found a violin for $10 (I thought for sure that would be a big ticket item I was not looking forward to paying for), or the donation of vintage suitcases from a neighbor of my parents what was cleaning out her attic. But these are some of my favorites, and I think illustrate just why I’m such a geek for Retro, and the thrill of getting the details right!

I’m not much for dedications, but I would like to dedicate these blogs to my parents, Jack and Rebecca Cunningham, without whom I might not have bitten off the constant project that is Retro Productions. Theater professionals themselves, they have taught me not just everything I know about period work, but most of what I know about theater. I could not do what I do without them.

I would like to thank a few people who helped me with my guest blogging this week. First of all to Shay and Morgan for thinking of me, giving me the confidence to attempt this (I’ve never thought of myself as much of a writer), and for giving me a few laughs in the process. I’d like to raise a proverbial glass to the company members of Retro Productions whose combined talents and generosity blow my mind every day. I’d also like to thank my dear friend and terribly talented costume designer Viviane Galloway for her input… come see her designs at Retro in May!



  1. Ah, the gods can be merciful! I have had similar moments of joy, disbelief and relief at finding the perfect item in the most improbable place (and at the right price!). It is those moments that make it all so fun! Keep up the hard work, Heather!

  2. Yes and estate sells are my favorite. When I used to live around Forest Hills, it seemed they were every other week. Found some amazing things.