THE PROP MASTER
“This is definitely the largest prop warehouse in Canada,” beamed Wayne Reierson, Property Master of The Shaw Festival as he greeted me in the company’s 50,000 square foot St. David’s warehouse, a veritable slice of theatrical history holding literally thousands of pieces from the past 50-plus years of Shaw performances. Props are instrumental in bringing a production to life and play a vital role in creating a look and a mood to a stage performance. That’s why this vault of memories is packed with seemingly endless racks of furniture, lamps, china and anything one could think of filling aisles from floor to ceiling.
Ramping up for the 2015 Shaw season, Reierson confirms he is in high demand by the theatre’s set designers who all need him to help complete their vision. “Sometimes there will be five designers standing in line outside my office to give me their wish list”, he states. “The first place we look is through our catalogues here to see what we already have in our inventory”.
Repurposing and reusing existing props is tantamount to cost savings for the productions. “If we can’t find it here we will have to go out and find whatever it is we need,” explained Reierson. Sometimes that will involve building a piece from scratch, searching the internet or scavenging the area to find that perfect piece. There are buyers on his staff whose role it is to do just that. Attention to detail is so important to keep the production authentic.
“In most cases the audience won’t know whether a desk or typewriter is actually from the play’s period in time, but you never know when there may be someone who will know,” he suggests. “And that will be the audience member who appreciates the attention to detail.”
Reierson comes from the small town of Lynn Lake, Manitoba, working first as a minor in the local nickel industry then moving on to become a bus driver. It makes you wonder how he wound up where he is today, in Niagara-On-The-Lake at one of Canada’s premiere playhouses. “When I left Lynn Lake I went to Winnipeg and worked as a waiter for the Stage West Dinner Theatre,” laughs Reierson. “I was able to assist the designer Jack Timlock, for extra money. By a twist of fate I got fired and was lucky enough to be hired by Donna Hrabluk, who gave me my first job in props at the Manitoba Theatre Centre.” When Donna was recruited by the Shaw to head up their props department back in 1986, she contacted Wayne to join her. A few years ago Donna left to head up the Props department at the Stratford Festival and Wayne was a natural to take the lead role at the Shaw.
The 2015 playbill promises a stellar season for regular patrons as they bring back the George Bernard Shaw classic, Pygmallion. This year “it will have a twist”, teases Reierson, “the classic story will be set in modern times.” In fact, one of the star props for the show will be an authentic London taxi found only blocks from the theatre in someone’s back yard. The piece will be salvaged and brought back to life by Wayne and his team so that Liza Doolittle will be able to ride off in typical English style. Other performances include the classic Shaw play You Never Can Tell, plus Sweet Charity (set in 1960’s New York) and Peter & The Starcatcher (a prequel to Peter Pan) whose stage recreates the deck of a boat. For a full listing of openings, dates and performances visit the Shaw’s website at www.shawfest.com
In the meantime, Reierson and his crew will continue their round-the-clock efforts to bring the visuals to life. As George Bernard Shaw said, “Imagination is the beginning of creation. You will imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will. “ Remember Reierson the next time you are enjoying a Shaw performance and an actor opens an umbrella, drinks from a teacup or stares into a mirror. And if you witness sewing tables transform into elegant dining tables right before your very eyes, you can bet Reierson and his team have worked their magic to bring Shaw’s words to life.
By Jenifer Cass