Monday, March 5, 2012

The Snow White dream again

Snow White’s babies were missing and I couldn’t find them anywhere. Just as I started to panic, they turned up in the art room of my old elementary school.

No, this wasn’t a fever dream, though I realize it certainly sounds like one. It was a typical moment in my somewhat mercurial tenure as Co-Chair of Props for the Seventh Grade Play.

“Let’s do this together; it will be fun!” I said to my friend Leigh on a beautiful sunny evening last May as we gathered with about thirty other parents to plan our kids' upcoming seventh grade musical. Leigh and I were poring over the sign-up sheet and noticed a big blank space next to the line for co-chairs of props.

I have very little background in the theatrical arts other than reading plays and attending them, but I didn’t think being in charge of props sounded too difficult. In fact, I thought it would be like a scavenger hunt. Something along the lines of finding, say, a flashlight, a set of postcards, a book of nursery rhymes, a stopwatch, some pieces of fruit; boxing them up neatly; and delivering them to the auditorium a couple of weeks before showtime, and we’d be done.

But when Leigh and I received our list of items from the producers the first week in January, with two months to go before curtain, I realized it wasn’t going to be quite that easy. Leigh and I pored over this list just as we had the initial sign-up, only this time was notably different in that neither of us uttered the words “It will be fun!”

“A bloody cloak?” we muttered to each other instead. “A sheep-herding crook? A pumpkin…in March? Watermelon…in March? And what in the world is a glowing bag?”

One of the producers leaned over. “About that bag….it needs some kind of remote control so that the actor can alter the amount of light emanating from within as the scene unfolds. You’ll probably need to work with a fairly accomplished electrical engineer.”

Okay, it wasn’t quite that bad in the end, but it also wasn’t quite as lighthearted as a scavenger hunt. Still, being co-chair of props gave me plenty of opportunities to hone my somewhat meager arts-and-crafts skills as well as my hunting-and-gathering skills. I collected bunches of straw and sticks for the three little pigs; I fashioned a mock “Princess for Dummies” book with a bright yellow and black construction paper cover (my props list included only the title, leaving me free to ad-lib the rest; I listed “Kate Middleton” as the author, “with a foreword by Maria Shriver”).

Meanwhile, helpful friends and other parents involved with the play contributed plastic bread loaves, scarves, knitting needles, and tea set items to our collection of props; my 9-year-old even let us borrow her beloved plastic sword acquired when she was a knight for Halloween.

Nonetheless, hard as I worked to collect what we needed and keep track of it all, during the weekend before our final week of rehearsals, I couldn’t find Snow White’s babies in their carrier (the play we were doing has sort of a post-modern fairy tale theme). I looked everywhere in my house and garage; I even emailed the young actress who was playing Snow White to see if perhaps she’d taken them home after the last rehearsal. No luck. One of the costume committee members had hand-sewn the baby carrier, and the stage manager had provided four dolls that fit in it perfectly; re-creating this prop was way beyond my creative aptitude. So yes, I really did put in a sleepless night worrying about where Snow White’s babies might be.

But the next morning at nine a.m. I stopped by the kids’ school and searched around the auditorium until the babies and their carrier turned up, in the former art room that now serves as the “Green Room” where actors sit before their stage entrances.

The play ran for three consecutive days late last week; now it’s all behind us. Leigh and I agreed that our initial instincts were right, if admittedly a little short-sighted: it was a lot of fun to do together, the kind of experience that cements a friendship the same way that, say, being lost on a mountaintop during a blizzard for a night or two awaiting rescue might do.

It’s another three years before my younger child will have a seventh grade play, and that gives me plenty of time to decide whether I would choose to work on props again. Most likely, yes: I had fun doing it and learned a bit about theater and crafts in the process. But next time I’ll be sure to appoint a special group within the Props Committee: Snow White’s Babies Child Care Subcommittee. No more sleepless nights for me next time around.

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