Open Forum


  • 1.  Hoarders

    Posted 07-12-2018 05:00
    Good morning all,

    I have a question about scenery and props. We all have the “junk drawer” in our homes that collects all kinds of things. We eventually have it get so full that we clean it out and reorganize.

    How often do you do that in your theatre.

    I recently worked with a school that had so much junk, sorry “valuable scenic pieces”, you had to climb over to get to the good stuff.

    How long do you keep your scenic pieces? Has anyone performed a six sigma event in your prop room or scene shop?

    Crit Fisher
    Lighting/Sound Designer
    New Albany High School

  • 2.  RE: Hoarders

    Posted 07-12-2018 11:08
    My predecessor was a hoarder for sure.  When I took over, I purged a lot of junk...treasures.  Still have an area of storage to clean out that's full of items I don't think I'll ever use.   Just haven't gotten around to it since the last couple of summers, the school thought it would be a good idea to load up our scene shop with unwanted items (desks, chairs, computer bags, mats, ect). "When things don't have a home, there always room in the Fine Arts Center" seems to be the mantra.  I even have to house dental equipment off all things and I'm not even planning a production of Little Shop!

    But I digress...even though I've cleaned out a lot, I still have many pieces that I keep around.  I want to free up space, but given our lack of budget, I don't want to get of anything that might be useful in the future.  Not to mention, the more space I free up, the more items the school tends to bring in for me to store.

    Derek Friederich
    Thespian Troupe 417/Speech Coach/Jr. High Drama/Fine Arts Center Technical Director
    Postville IA

  • 3.  RE: Hoarders

    Posted 07-12-2018 12:15
    One of my favorite topics!  :-)

    A couple of years ago I took some of the best thoughts and ideas on this that I've seen over the years and wrote a post on my blog about them. You may want to check it out at Saving Stuff (or not).

    George F. Ledo
    Set designer

  • 4.  RE: Hoarders

    Posted 07-12-2018 17:48
    Edited by Sydney Thiessen 07-12-2018 17:51
    I've been at my current school for 2 years now, and we just did a massive clean out before the end of the school year.  It helps that we have a stagecraft class, and next year, we're back up to 2 stagecraft classes!  We have slowly been chipping away at it over the past 2 years, as lots of areas had been collecting less than desirable items; the costume shop, lumber rack, flat rack, cabinets, paint area, props, furniture, and booth.

    Things get forgotten, or saved for a while, and it had been pretty bad before I got there.  It appears that when a new TD/manager comes in, they like to reorganize things in a specific way, sometimes with and sometimes without getting rid of things.

    The drama teacher and myself have created "rules" for keeping things:
    -Paint: cool (turns gray) and warm (turns brown) paint are added to the slop buckets after a show is struck, unless it's commonly used/basic color.  They are great for primer.
    -Built objects (e.g. flats, platforms) that aren't reusable (aka stock or are just warped/hole-y), or were built specifically for a show, get torn apart, because we can often use some of the pieces again, just not in that configuration.
    -2x4s: If it's shorter than 24", pitch it.  If it has an angled end (especially a slightly angled one, that is harder to catch than a 45˚), it should be cut off.  Short stuff accumulates.  Boards are sorted by length and stacked nicely: short (2-3 feet), medium (3-5 feet), long (5-8 feet).
    -Sheet goods: Generally we want at least half a sheet, or a stock size.  We may keep scrap if we have space, but after that's full, then they get pitched (or given to the wood shop, if they need smaller stock)
    -Weird materials: chip board and nasty old anything are trash, and it's okay if you pitch something that's just taking up space
    -Props, furniture, costumes: You should be able to imagine another show for it.  Things in sets >>> things by themselves.  If it's a one of a kind, then it should be unique in a good way.  For things like books, we only keep nice hardbound books (paperbacks are rarely needed, and look terrible on most large bookcases), but a set is better, such as old, pretty encyclopedias.  Also, if a piece can be purchased for $10, and isn't a super commonly used thing, we can get it when we need it.
    -Students, especially older students, are good at recognizing what may be poorly built, or not worth saving.  I like to give them at least some decision making power in all of this, so that they can put their training to good use, and I don't have as much decision fatigue during a large clean out.

    The hardest part isn't the decision making, or the getting the students or staff to let go.  The hardest is actually figuring out where all the stuff can go afterward: Giving it to others (who will actually want/use it), trying to get facilities to move it, throwing it away in a small dumpster, recycling it, recycling it back to the thrift store it came from, leaving it outside to get rained on, having IT remove the e-waste.  In visiting lots of schools, lots of them keep too much, or have a hard time getting rid of things.

    As Derek mentions, stuff accumulates in the arts.  I have to combat this by having students move furniture to another space, where if they take it there, facilities, or another staff member will take it.  These are things like old school furniture, but that doesn't necessarily help with set pieces.  It's also having buy-in from admin that you know what you need, and you'll ask for it, if you want it.  I've set out times to visit the facilities warehouses, and I've found some really interesting things, but only because I went through piles of stuff that I didn't want.  That taught them that I need specific things, not general things.

    You will inevitably get rid of something that you need for a production.  But, you got all that space back, and that is more valuable than all of those things.  Plus, you may find things you didn't know you had/couldn't get to, which will actually save you money, because you won't be re-buying something that you already have.

    Now that we did the initial clean out, and reorganization (furniture got new shelves!), we feel we can strike after a show with more confidence, since there's a space for everything.  We can also pitch things more easily, since our space isn't fighting back against us.  We'll probably need to do a "goodnight theatre" at the end of each school year now, to make sure that we're maintaining what we created.

    Sydney Thiessen
    Fine & Performing Arts Coordinator and Technical Director
    Reynolds High School
    Troutdale OR

  • 5.  RE: Hoarders

    Posted 07-13-2018 10:34

    My predecessors had been paying monthly rent on one of those big, steel storage containers that sat out back of the theatre. After doing the math, I saw we would be spending over $1,300 a year on the storage - easily the set budget of a show. So we purged. It took us a couple of weeks to get through it all, but we ended up keeping the doors, the few flats that were still in good shape and not odd sizes, and some of the furniture. Everything else we deconstructed to reuse what we could and tossed the rest.

    We periodically would purge costumes  - if you do it around Halloween you can have a costume sale at the school and make a few bucks selling pieces to the students.

    Props...we keep as much as you can of the stuff that is "generic" and likely to be used again. Super specific or really big pieces would get dismantled. 

    Ashley Bishop
    Birmingham AL

  • 6.  RE: Hoarders

    Posted 07-13-2018 11:27
    My school has the opposite problem, I showed up to a scene shop with zero set pieces, and spent the year slowly rebuilding the stock only to have the facilities admin try and throw it all away over the summer. I have to explain every time that we need a stock of sets, props, and scenery so we don't have to beg for donations or pay for things for every show.

    Rebecca Fahning
    Desert Pines High School Theatre/ Tech Director
    ITS Troupe 6125, Troupe Director
    Las Vegas NV

  • 7.  RE: Hoarders

    Posted 07-14-2018 11:01
    Me too. I started at a new Catholic school 3 yes ago that had no program so nothing but a huge stage with storage in the wings, including 3 altars, a huge bingo machine, soccer nets etc. I’ve been building & collecting! I have to store props, costumes & small scenery, in my basement or it will be thrown out. The stage is high so the first year I had a platform with a lip built for the spotlight & student to fit on & it got thrown out by school over summer. It took 2 yrs to find someone to build another. My husband is unhappy with my basement being the drama storage facility & that he has to carry the boxes up & down twice a year.

    Maria Stadtmueller

    Sent from my iPhone
    Worlds Wealthiest People Reveal Brain 'Booster' Supplement
    The Brain Insider

  • 8.  RE: Hoarders

    Posted 07-14-2018 00:03

    Something to consider with your venue's collection of 'junk' is that 99% of it is 'fuel'. Fuel for a really big hot fire.  Many theatres neglect to construct scenery, props, and costume from non-combustible materials and/or treat them with fire retardant.  The requirement to do this has been on the books for over 100 years now, so maybe it's time to get with the program.  Cleaning-out the old 'fuel' and constructing new goods properly (legally) should be part of the education process.  The students should be taught that the application of fire retardants is part of the cost and process of making theatre.  Constructing scenery, props, and costumes that are not in compliance with fire codes is not really an option, and they should never think of it that way.  If / when they go into the 'real world', this will be expected and their first interaction with a Fire Marshal should be a good experience.

    Another good reason to clear-out the stage area is to free-up space to do theatre.  Who ever has enough space on-stage?  No one!  Store un-used equipment and goods somewhere else - NOT ON THE STAGE.

    Erich Friend
    Theatre Consultant
    Teqniqal Systems

  • 9.  RE: Hoarders

    Posted 07-14-2018 07:53
    We started our first major "clean-and-reorganize" project last week. Parent volunteers were contacted through Sign-Up Genius. I also recruited my assistant directors and costumer. Some students have shown up too.
    When we removed everything from our first storage area, we realized a pipe had leaked and ruined some costumes. Everything is now going into clear plastic covered boxes. We work from 9-12 and many parents are coming back for more dates. We are having so much fun working together.
    We are moving much of our furniture and bulky props to an off-site storage locker. These items include a beautiful prop piano, a deer head, and a full dining room set. Some costumes (such as band uniforms, choir robes and morning suits) will also be moved to free up rack space.
    Deciding what to toss is the hardest part, but I have some tough-minded folks saying, "Kate, honestly, when will you ever use this again?"  The fun continues next week.

    Kate Costello
    Theater director
    Arlington Heights IL

  • 10.  RE: Hoarders

    Posted 07-15-2018 16:27

    Any of you found a good system to catagorize and store costumes?  I got a response from a company that sells a program but we've had a hard time figuring out how to give access to it to hired directors since our server is private.  I'm an old school  theater geek not an IT geek so this is daunting.

  • 11.  RE: Hoarders

    Posted 07-16-2018 11:29

    Margaret at Costume Inventory Resources has some wonderful software to help with costumes and other things we all keep in storage.  I believe her email is

    Bob Fowler

    Interactive Educational Video, LLC