We were lucky enough to have brought on two interns, courtesy of the LA County Arts Commission, this summer. Sophia Nguyen — our Community Engagement Intern — has been spending part of her hours working in our Warehouse Co-Op. One of our newest programs, the Warehouse is rapidly evolving into a significant way for the LA performing arts community to collaborate with one another, enrich the technical aspects of theatrical productions, and promote sustainability.
We asked Sophia to give us a look into her day-to-day work in the Warehouse. Below is just a taste of the goings-on. For more information about the program, check out Warehouse Co-Op page of our website.
“Working in the Warehouse is an adventure I embark every morning― armed with a mug of freshly brewed coffee, I walk the few paces from my newly-beloved workspace (which lies on the second floor of our LA STAGE Space), down into the land of props, costumes, and knick-knacks. Briefly: The Warehouse is home to a vast variety of props, costumes, and set pieces. It acts as a communal resource and storage for theatres who pay to become partners of the Warehouse Co-Op. Partners are not only able to access and rent all the items in the Warehouse for upcoming shows, but they can also offer their own supply of props and pieces that may be rented by other Co-Op partners. Enter me and Elizabeth― the two interns that have been learning the tumultuous ways of the Warehouse. Our first challenge? There is a good corner of the Warehouse dedicated to incoming props and set pieces; these are items that have been sent to the Warehouse to be put up for storage and rental. Since these items are fresh, they must go through several processes: First, the props need to be categorized; then, they need to be entered into the system; and finally, they are stored onto the shelves.
I admit that categorizing new items can be a tedious process― it means diving into the large pile mixed things and somehow make sense of it all. How large is the item? What theatre does it come from? What material is it made of? What period is it from? Is it a piece of furniture or a prop or a textile or a costume? We fill out slip after slip of forms answering these questions― but it is a necessary stage to establish order in the all the madness.
Perhaps what keeps us entertained while doing this is that once in a while we stumble across fascinating or unusual items through our excavations. There are some items that hold no hint as to what they were used for― bags and boxes loaded with fabrics and broken trinkets that can’t be rented or used. We grapple with items that have clear descent: a cassette holder clearly hailing from the bumpin’ 80s or a pair of men and women blue restroom signs, seemingly ripped from an actual restroom somewhere, somehow. There are tubs full of fake flowers and apples and pears and grapes; we’ve met with every creepy baby doll imaginable. And then there are the occasional rare items that make my head spin.
As an English major, one of my favorite items I have come across was an old Algebra book from the early 1900s; its pages were still folded and uncut, a phenomenon I’ve only read about in my literature books. Coming across these sorts of items make me love and appreciate the opportunity to work in the Warehouse.
Once we have categorized the items, we are able to input them into the system― this includes entering descriptions, assigning rental prices, adding photographs, and attaching barcodes to all the new items. This step is a vital part of the process because the Warehouse staff and both existing and potential partners are able to access the inventory and track specific items.
After the new inventory of props have been inputted and photographed, Elizabeth and I wheel the cartload of props into the back of the Warehouse. This is quite possible my favorite part of my day: wandering into the back of the Warehouse.
Entering the back of the Warehouse is comparable to entering a different dimension, packed with every item possibly imaginable. Yet, somehow there is order in this strange chaotic world. It’s comforting to know that the fake, rubber human heart I’m putting away will belong somewhere on those mysterious shelves. There is usually a place for every item― there are drawers occupied by gun holsters and metal handcuffs; a shelf carrying the plethora of sculptures and decorative busts; a corner filled with delicate and frilled parasols.
But I suppose what I find most enchanting about being back there is that there is a sense of history walking down these isles brimmed with odd and intriguing artifacts. Every item on these shelves has its own past― I see an old payphone and picture the life it has had. I imagine the roles it has played, onstage and off. I think of how it presently lives amongst these crowded shelves, just waiting for its next big break.”