Winging It—or Not—With Props

By Megan Freemantle, HGO Properties Design Director

We always work to make even the smallest details of our props historically accurate because it helps the performers really believe in the world they are creating onstage. For the upcoming world premiere of It’s a Wonderful Life, we bought some historical bank deposit slips on eBay and Amazon. With computer technology we recreated them using the name of the bank that the main character, George Bailey, owned. Starting from an old newspaper, we mocked up the page one spread of a newspaper from the fictional town of Bedford Falls. Then we sent it to a printer in Chicago who still prints in the same size as the old broadsheets. We got travel magazines with fabulous 1939 covers, scanned the images and printed them on a large format printer so they look just like the ones George collected. And we bought a real National Geographic Society members’ certificate and put George’s name on it.

We’ve also been having fun making angel wings for the four adult angels in the opera. Their wings have to open and be gloriously outstretched, then stay closed through a lot of the show. But the angels also have to sit, and how can they sit if the wings go below their hips? We looked online and found a pneumatic wing set (mechanical wings) that the designer and director liked.  So we bought six pairs from the creator in North Carolina. We are coordinating the harness with the costume shop. Now we are working on one of the sets to accomplish the wing “skin.” This is our eighth version; the others either didn’t spread or couldn’t take the weight. Then we will mount the fabric feathers on them.

We are living day by day, part by part, because we are trying to create wings we haven’t seen before.  This whole show is about trying to create something that is not traditional, that comes from a different world. We have to please the director, the designer, and the audience. The challenge is to get a gold star from all three.

Looking ahead to Nixon in China, the production has 12 TV sets that are supposed to be from the 1970s.  But the screens are actually new flat screen monitors so that they will all show the same projections.

Now we have to figure out how to make the cabinet trim look authentic.

And for Götterdämmerung, we will be collecting all different sizes of clear plastic water bottles. Then we will bundle them and melt them together. In the show the Valhallans wave them to create the ocean.

It’s exciting to learn more about the physics and science of how things work. The best part about this job is that there’s always something new to learn.