Tickets are $10, unfortunately, racquets are not

May 21, 2009

Jon Ward, Properties Master at the Arden, discusses the tricky prop of Something Intangible.

When a play opens at the Arden, the Production Department is the first to kick back and celebrate. We’re the ones who have been putting in 10, 12, even 14 hour days during technical rehearsals and previews, after all. When a show is finally “locked”, we’re more than happy to hand over the day-to-day running of it to the trusty stage manager, her crew, and the cast.

But a Prop Master’s work is never done, as it turns out. Not really. Take Tony Wiston’s tennis racquet in Something Intangible. Bruce Graham’s script calls for Tony, the world renowned Hollywood cartoon mogul, to smash his racquet in half night after night as he puts the fear of God into rebellious whiz kid animator Leo Baxter.

Something Intangible runs for 7 weeks. That means 67 separate smashings, not including what happened during rehearsals and previews. Now, in a perfect world, we could purchase enough tennis racquets for the actor to smash a new one every night. But the world’s not perfect, and my budget’s not limitless.

Solving the – ahem – “Tennis Racquet Problem” has been one of my greatest challenges all year. Preview after preview, I’d gather in the house for notes with the director, the set designer, and the rest of the production team. What could we do? How could we design a racquet that could be broken and put back together again night after night? And not just any tennis racquet, mind you. A period specific tennis racquet. Something Intangible is set in the early 1940s, during the golden age of Hollywood animation, you see. The racquets they had then look very little like the ones we use today.

Wooden racquets chip and give actors splinters. Could we stain a modern-day metallic one? Or should we try building our own, specially rigged, “trick” racquet? It’s four weeks into the run, and I’m still trying to answer these questions. To date, we’ve gone through 10 separate racquets.

Are we closer to a solution?

All I can say is…thank goodness Conor McPherson never got it in his head to have those lovable louts in The Seafarer start tearing up their playing cards.

Thanks a lot, Bruce Graham!

Think you know more than our beloved Props Master? Feel free to post your own solutions to the “Tennis Racquet Problem” right here in the comments section of the Arden Blog.

Tickets to this world premiere are now just $10 for all performances through June 7!

One Response

  1. Anonymous says:

    How does the racket break exactly? Have you considered using dental floss to restring the racket?

    Please tell me your answer, Johnny W. My first job ever in the theater was as the props designer for Angels in America, and boy, was it tough. Try finding a feather that’ll float down on to Prior’s lap every night. And a flaming book? Man. I wish all I had to deal with was a broken tennis racket.

    Have you heard of this Sam Shepherd play “True West”? I hear they murder a typewriter in that one. And a period piece at that. I think you should take that on.

    And the dead goat in the Albee play? try keeping that smelling sweet night after night.

    thinking of you, and counting the rackets,
    Katie C.

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