Behind the Walls

In this next installment of Intermission Dishin', we take a closer look behind the walls at the Grand, learn more about the team in our Props Department and remind you to take a GRAND Walk with us!

We wish everyone a safe and healthy long weekend.

Deb and Dennis
(We are pictured above with Elizabeth Drewlo - standing in the future Drewlo Lounge)

Ghosts of Theatre's Past

A copy of the Grand Opera House 1891 program of "Chimes of Normandy" was discovered in a wall behind the left box in the theatre. Stage Director listed as Alfred D. Holman and Musical Director Chas. W. Wheeler. We're speculating that Ambrose may have been behind the stashing of this artifact!

Speaking of the Past ...

This photo is a wide shot of the left wall of the former women's washroom on 4th Floor. The cut-out shows the original outer brick wall of the theatre (1901). A close up of the wall appears in the next photo.

Original Outer Brick Wall - 1901

When RENO2020 is complete, you will be placing your order for an intermission beverage at our brand new bar and you will be leaning against the original 1901 brick wall!

 
Wardrobe Wall Part 1

One of many "back of house" improvements being made during RENO2020 includes a significant expansion of our current wardrobe working room over the Props space that is immediately below. The wall on the left in this photo is just about ready to come down.

Wardrobe Wall Part 2

Here is a sneak peek looking through the first hole punched into the Wardrobe Wall. A cool view of the floor below what is to come!

Wardrobe Wall Part 3

And just like that .. the wall is down and we are ready for the much-needed expansion!

 
Before

The set was designed and built over a complex revolve system that was disassembled with great care for future use.

During

Scaffolding up! Jack Hammers out! Ear Plugs in!

Close your eyes and channel a Jeans 'n Classics concert of Pink Floyd - ♫ 'All in all it's just another brick in the wall!'

After

As we await the truck, a final look at the full set disassembled and ready for storage.

 

Meet the Dynamic Duo in our Props Department!

Natalie Kearns and Natalie Tsang

Natalie Kearns and Natalie Tsang sit outside with their dogs.

Pictured above (left to right) are Natalie Kearns (Head of Props) and Natalie Tsang (Props Buyer/Builder) and their canine companions Rocky and Finnegan.

What does a ‘Head of Props’ do?

Natalie Kearns
I am in charge of running the Prop Shop and overseeing the staff that works there. My work includes talking to the director and the scenic designer about the props needed for the show, making decisions about purchases needed for the show, researching, talking to stage management about rehearsal props, and keeping the show on-budget. I also build and alter props alongside my management duties.

What does a Props Builder/Buyer Do?

Natalie Tsang
Dependent on the production I am creating, renting, borrowing, and buying props (short for "property"). I work very closely with the Head of Props, the Set Designer, the Stage Management team, and the director and actors to make sure they have what they need and is safe to handle on stage.

How long have you been working at the Grand?

Natalie Kearns
This year would be my 8th season.
 
Natalie Tsang
I've been with the Grand since the 2012-2013 Season, so the 2020-21 season would have been my ninth.

What was your education pathway?

Natalie Kearns
I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre Design/Tech from Emerson College in Boston MA and did an apprenticeship at the Huntington Theatre Company.
 
Natalie Tsang
I went to the Sheridan College Theatre Arts - Technical Production program, now called the Technical Production for the Performing Arts Industry.

What got you into props/theatre?

Natalie Kearns
I had friends in grade 6 who wanted to act and I had no interest in that but I wanted to hang out after school so I joined the stage crew. I was always a crafty kid. Throughout high school I participated in school shows as a stage manager, set designer, and builder/painter. I considered studying history, but I had a high school teacher tell me that majoring in theatre design was an option. In college, I realised I preferred props to design and switched my focus there.
 
Natalie Tsang
My grade 10 careers teacher was also the high school's drama teacher. She saw that I loved working with my hands on all the aptitude tests. She asked if I would have any interest in building her set for the school show the following year. Ever since then, I've worked in theatre in some form.

Do you have a favourite show you worked on and why?

Natalie Kearns
There's a few favourites for different reasons. I think Intimate Apparel was one of the prettiest looking shows I've worked on at the Grand and I liked working on a historical piece. My first big holiday show at the Grand was Elf, so that one is also special because it was so fun and cheery. And I enjoyed Cabaret because it's a show I always wanted to work on professionally since I was first introduced to it when I was 15!
 
Natalie Tsang
One of my all-time favourite shows I've worked on was during my first season at the Grand, Kim's Convenience. I loved it because we had to build it to tour, which meant that everything you saw on that stage had to be light, durable, and removable. Everything that you could ever imagine a convenience store having, we had on stage. We had to remove the package off 100s of candy bars, chips, pasta, canned goods, cleaning supplies, pop cans/bottles then replace it with items that were non-perishable and lightweight. We even faked the magazine rack. We took the covers off of real magazines and glued them onto pieces of foam board. It was a lot of fun and hard work but the show looked fantastic and I was very proud to have been part of that show's journey.

Can you give us a fun behind-the-scenes props story?

Natalie Kearns
Every show has some strange or funny story behind it so it's hard to decide! I've learned a ton about instruments in my job at the Grand, because anytime an actor plays an instrument onstage, I am in charge of sourcing it and providing all the associated accessories. For Once, we probably had upwards of 20 different instruments and dozens of accessories like straps, instrument stands, guitar picks, violin rosin, and lots of backup replacement strings! I even had to get replacement fronts for the Cajun rhythm boxes shipped to us from the manufacturer in Kentucky because they got kicked a little too enthusiastically during the run of the show!

One prop shop trick to making brand new shiny instruments look older and worn (and to prevent them from reflecting glare into the audience) is to cover the face of the instrument in clear matte contact paper. It dulls the shine, allows you to add paint if needed, and is removable without damaging the instrument. It's pretty finicky work to cut contact paper to perfectly fit all the intricate curves and cut-outs of a mandolin, but I've done it twice in my time at the Grand so far. I've done some form of this trick for guitars and other instruments in Once, Fences, This London Life, and Juno's Reward, among others!
 
Natalie Tsang
With Mary Poppins, there were a lot of trick props. Luckily for us, the show has been done a lot and there are lots of video and resources of how people have done some of them. I was in charge of the kitchen shelf unit that Robertson Ay knocks into and everything comes crumbling down. Mary Poppins waves her hand and suddenly everything restores itself. Keeping in mind of what the designer had in vision, we did lots of R&D about the type of plates to use (size/weight/material), and where should the fishing line should attach to (the top of the plate, the centre of the plate, off-centre). We specifically wanted the plates to do different things and be different sizes. It was quite the challenge. We tested many different strengths of fishing line but also remembering we didn't want to see the fishing line. In the end, every plate you saw on that shelf unit had a counterweight on the backside. The shelf unit had to be triggered manually by two people. Stage management would give them the "GO" and it was all done in sequence. I spent about 3 weeks working on that unit.

What is keeping you busy during the shutdown?

Natalie Kearns
I am collecting (and mostly keeping alive) houseplants, knitting, and working on my ceramics side business Little Paws Ceramics. I am also hosting weekly trivia online for friends, volunteering locally, and doing a lot of reading and listening to podcasts about the Black Lives Matter movement and anti-racism work.
 
Natalie Tsang
I've been wanting a dog for a few years now and with covid-19 giving me a work break, I adopted a dog, Rocky, from a shelter in Chatham. He has been keeping me very well occupied. Besides that, I've been sewing masks for my family, playing more ukulele with friends over Zoom, and watching a lot of HGTV and Food Network.

Answer this question: when we re-open, I can’t wait to ...

Natalie Kearns
Get back into the building with my colleagues who inspire and motivate me. And hopefully to have Londoners finally get the chance to watch ROOM, because it was such an honour to work on that show!
 
Natalie Tsang
Build a show in our newly renovated space and finally open our doors to an audience. That first applause in that theatre is going to bring me to tears.
Natalie Tsang and Natalie Kearns working on a dragon for Shrek.

Natalie Tsang works on the inside and Natalie Kearns works on the outside of the dragon as they work on Shrek the Musical.

 
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