Christy Lassen is the properties manager for Mum's Choir and has made or sourced many of the most memorable theatrical properties seen on-stage here at The Court. Anything that seems impossible or improbable can be solved by a good theatrical prop - fake food, real food, vibrators and even rogue body parts. Over the course of her career at The Court, Christy's seen it all. During preparation for Mum's Choir she sat down to tell us all about it.
Mum’s Choir has a lot of props – family furniture, food, instruments and, of course, mum’s coffin. Do you make everything on site here at The Court?
No, not at all. That would be truly impossible on a show that has this many props. First, we pick off the most expensive items. These usually can’t be purchased so we have to find someone to borrow them off, or hire - but free is always best! The rest are a combination of what we already have in storage and what I can find either in the second-hand stores or on Trade Me. Unless food needs to be consumed by the cast it is usually fake. All the food in Mum’s Choir is 100% fake!!
What do you do with all the props from previous Court Theatre shows?
Some we deconstruct for parts and some get thrown out or recycled, but most are stored in what we call 'Props Alley'. This is exactly as it sounds... a narrow two-storey corridor with A LOT of containers on shelves and free-standing furniture. We have an extensive range of all kinds of rubbish… or treasure depending on who’s looking at it!!
The props in Mum’s Choir have to feel as well-loved and as part of the family as the kids themselves. How do you achieve that?
I spend a great deal of time at second-hand stores. Pretty much all the stuff in these shops has been pre-loved, so it just becomes a question of getting the right era and the right look. The era is easy because that’s fact. The right ‘look’ is information that needs to come from the designers & director. Sometimes they don’t know exactly what they want either, but when they talk about their vision it comes with a feel. It’s this ‘feel’ that gives the right ‘look’ if you can decipher it. Complicated? Yup!!
What kind of instruments are you sourcing for Mum’s Choir?
Well, luckily we happen to have a good baby grand piano at work so that is pretty fortuitous for me & the props department budget! The only other instrument required is a guitar which we also have.
For you, what makes a good prop?
I always say that a good prop is one that can be used over and over and over again and yet still look different. A change of paint colour, decorative bits added, high polish, distressed to look old... there are a lot of things we can do to change the appearance of a prop. As long as it is sturdy, safe and actor-proof (love you guys!) then it’s worth hanging on to.
You’ve worked on a huge amount of shows at The Court – have you got a favourite prop you’ve made or found?
Oh gosh, I don’t know where to start! Generally speaking, since I love musicals the most, I invest the most ridiculous amount of energy into them. I literally dream about props for the two months of production, so most of my favourite props come from those. A couple of highlights over the last few year have been:
- The old fashioned 1920’s reporters cameras in Chicago. I even wired these up with a flash button.
- Mary Sunshine’s microphone in Chicago. It was made out of stuff from the plumbing department.
- The telescopic hat stand and the kite-flying mechanism in Mary Poppins.
- The note magically flying up the chimney in Mary Poppins.
- The head gunshot and resulting splattered brain matter over the set of Macbeth.
- The candle sticks that looked real but weren’t in In the Next Room, or the vibrator play.
- A lot of The Dunstan Creek Séance... but I can’t tell you or I’d have to kill you!
- The best thing I ever bought was an old leather chair that smelt of tobacco and had a secret drawer. It cost 20 bucks from the Ecoshop and wasn’t even for a show… it was just for my office