Jack Blake's desk in Slave Shack

Slave Shack set props

Slave Shack, at the Algonquin Theatre, opened this past Monday. It is my first off-off-Broadway Props Master credit, as well as the first off-off-Broadway scenic design credit for Natalie Taylor Hart (my lovely wife). It is directed by Debra Whitfield and stage managed by Elizabeth Salisch, with lighting designed by Deborah Constantine. Today, I’ll be looking at some of the set props and dressing and what went into this show. Once the show closes, I’ll examine the hand props; as of now, just showing them will give away too much of the story line.

Scenery for Slave Shack
Scenery for Slave Shack

As you can see, the stage is tiny – around twelve feet by fifteen feet. The setting is the corporate office of a senior executive vice president in Manhattan. Natalie did an amazing job capturing that grandeur in such a small space. My advice to her was that since the furniture pieces couldn’t be grand in scale, they would need to exquisite in construction and appearance. Everything in this photograph was built, found, modified, and painted by the two of us.

Jack Blake's desk in Slave Shack
Jack Blake's desk in Slave Shack

I originally built the desk so it could be taken apart for easier transport up to the theatre, but we were able to get a large enough vehicle from Zipcar. I built the structure out of 3/4″ plywood that was left over from the Public Theatre’s Bacchae and was headed for the dumpster. I covered it all in Masonite which was literally being carried out to the trash; the smooth surface saved me a lot of time in sanding and filling. The metal surface is from an off-cut piece of sheet metal I’ve saved for a few months. I worked over it with a wire wheel brush hooked up to a drill to give it that pattern.

The bar and decanter in Slave Shack
The bar and decanter in Slave Shack

I built the bar the same way I constructed the desk. The Masonite already gives you a fairly smooth and neutral surface. For added smoothness, I put on two coats of primer, sanding in between each coat.

The decanter on top was a tricky find; all the scotch decanters we could find were either too expensive, too ornate, or had the word “scotch” engraved on them, which we didn’t want. Natalie finally found the perfect one on Etsy. I knew Etsy sold handmade objects, but I was surprised (and pleased) to discover they also sell vintage items.

Ethnic artifacts in Slave Shack
Ethnic artifacts in Slave Shack

We needed a number of artifacts to dress the set. Natalie did not want to limit the artifacts to Africa, and asked for artifacts from other places where Jack Blake, the lead character, mentions he has traveled. In addition, she did not want any of the objects to be functional, so all of them (save for the jar on the left, which was needed for a bit of stage business) were figures or instruments. The large woman statue is from the Harlem Market, while the foo dog and other creature is from Pearl River. The drum is from the director, while the jar is from Natalie.

Fertility Goddess in Slave Shack
Fertility Goddess in Slave Shack

Debra, the director, wanted a fertility goddess statue placed apart from the rest of the artifacts. We could not find an appropriate one within our budget. Natalie collected photographs of a number of fertility statues, and working with the director, developed her own design which she then sculpted out of foam.

Stay tuned for next month when I can discuss the hand props. Until then, keep coming backĀ  for your normal dose of prop news and stuff you can use!