In a theater production, each object that an actor picks up or uses is a prop. The fountain pen. The handkerchief. Even the picture frames and books on a coffee table are part of the set dressing.
The more elaborate a show, the more props that are required, and a properties master is responsible for finding each piece. It takes a lot of time to visit antique shops and thrift stores, or search online, to build a collection needed for each show. Then once the show closes, that prop may never get used again, sitting forgotten in storage or even thrown away.
“Props are important because they add realism to theater on a level that other pieces don’t quite reach,” said Selena Naumoff, a local properties master who works at Denver-area theaters.
When producing a show, theaters need various props, costumes, set pieces, lighting equipment and more. Generally, each theater company works independently to find, pay for and store these materials.
Aurora’s Megan Davis seeks to make the art of creating theater an easier process by revitalizing a concept she is calling the Resource Sharing Initiative.
“As theater companies, we spend a lot of time creating worlds that we share with other people,” Davis said. “I think the Resource Sharing Initiative would really help us to focus on building the world that we work in.”
The Resource Sharing Initiative would serve theaters by housing and keeping track of materials available for communal use such as props, lighting equipment, set pieces, costumes and more.
The end goal is to have a membership program for participating organizations and central warehouse locations for storage. Those that opt into the program would be able to store their items while also participating in the rental of others’ items. Davis would keep records of everything stored, and work with a team of people to organize conversations among theaters for scheduling and pick up of items. This would allow theater production teams to worry less about logistics and more about the creative process.
“By streamlining the process, we can take the weight off of small organizations who maybe only have a core group of people doing all the work,” Davis said.
Many organizations already work together to share resources, Davis said, but nothing like her vision for the Resource Sharing Initiative currently exists in a whole form.
The initiative is still in its formative stages. Davis first came up with the idea for the concept about a year ago, then she had her first roundtable discussion, hosted by the Colorado Community Theatre Coalition, in January. Then, a small committee supported by the coalition presented initial ideas at a summit that took place in September. An outline with sample database items, membership ideas and a project plan were presented. The next step is to expand the committee and get more voices involved, Davis said.
Davis has more than 20 years of theater experience and knows what is required to put together a successful production. Her journey began as a youth in middle school. She started working the technical side of theater in college, and eventually got into stage managing. Through the years, she has gained experience in carpentry/set building, set painting, graphic and program design, ticket systems and installation, and nonprofit consulting.
Since moving to Colorado in 2018, Davis has worked in various roles with numerous theater organizations across the state. Today, Davis splits her time between Vintage Theatre, 1468 Dayton St. in Aurora, as the set painter and assistant carpenter; and Firehouse Theater Company, 7653 E. First Place in Denver, as the resident stage manager.
“I was constantly part of conversations where we were like, ‘we need this set piece or costume piece,’ and someone would say, ‘such and such theater has it,’” Davis said.
So she began to wonder: “Why can’t we just have a database to have these conversations all together?”
Additionally, because Davis worked at theaters with varying budgets, she noticed that the cost of props was also sometimes an issue – smaller theaters with less funding had to preclude certain plays due to budget.
Davis then discovered a great interest in resource sharing, but a lack of time for anyone to organize it and make it a possibility.
“So many of us (working in theater) are filling multiple positions (and) working other jobs,” Davis said.
Davis believes the Resource Sharing Initiative might be the solution for many – if not all – of these setbacks because it could potentially help participating organizations save money, time, waste and stress by joining forces.
“It’s about sharing in the moment when creation isn’t an option,” said Davis.
Larger theaters can also benefit from the initiative, as any financial savings gained from participating can support other budget line items like hiring more technicians and crew members needed to support a show.
Naumoff, the local properties master, has more than 30 years of props experience and has worked in theaters in Colorado, Arizona and Illinois. She is in support of the Resource Sharing Initiative and believes it will encourage communication and cooperation between theater companies.
“This initiative can serve everyone,” she said. “If we could share props, we could save money, time and storage, and also expand our networks and build cooperation.”
Jeff Jesmer, a set builder at Vintage and Firehouse theaters, agrees. Jesmer added that the initiative has the potential to unite theaters so that “no theater company feels alone.”
“With the Resource Sharing Initiative, everybody’s needs can be seen,” Jesmer said. “Help is out there, and everybody wants to be a part of it.”
Davis’ goal is to ensure that participation in the Resource Sharing Initiative is affordable and accessible to everyone, regardless of the size of the theater organization.
“To me, theater means community, freedom and education,” Davis said. “Freedom to be a part of a community, to feel safe in your environment and to get to be not only yourself but a number of characters and parts of worlds that reach people that you would never get to interact with in day-to-day life.”
For Davis, the sky’s the limit on how big the Resource Sharing Initiative could get, but she hopes to start with a warehouse that would serve the Denver-metro area, then expand to Fort Collins and Colorado Springs.
“I see this growing into something that we can only dream of right now,” Davis said.