Actor turned prop master expands skill set

By Teresa Acosta

As a theater major, Crystal Juarez began taking classes to hone her skills as an actor in the college’s theater department. 

Her most recent acting role was as Sabina, the fast-talking and pessimistic maid in last month’s production of “The Skin of Our Teeth.” 

Along the way, she has discovered new interests and explored the many different ways to contribute to a theater production. 

In a theater production, a prop master is responsible for overseeing and contributing to the design and creation of decorative and functional props for a stage show. 

Working as a lab student in the Props Practicum class, she has worked on props for past shows and watched as her friend Alexis Castro worked as prop master. 

Juarez saw how much Castro enjoyed the position and the opportunity he had to be creative. 

“Seeing how much fun he had with it and how you get to be so creative and find different ways [of] making props, it seemed so interesting to me,” Juarez said.

When the second show of the semester “The African Company Presents Richard III” had an opening for a prop master, Juarez decided to try it out. 

Castro said Juarez was, “a bit shy to present her ideas at first, but after a while she gained confidence.” 

Juarez echoed this statement by describing her inexperience in leadership roles. 

She said she found it challenging to take charge. 

She said she did not want to overstep but she also wanted to be assertive about her ideas. 

Working with director Rodney Lloyd Scott she was given a lot of creative freedom. 

She sat through many rehearsals at the suggestion of Scott to try and figure out what props the actors needed to enrich the storyline and scenes. 

She said she knew she wanted to create the prop posters herself. 

These 8.5”X11” signs were used for a scene where an actor hangs them up to indicate the closing of the African Theater.

Juarez said she also trusted classmate Armando Aguilar knowing that they both had the drawing skills. 

Aguilar was a graffiti artist growing up and specialized in lettering. 

“I was mostly given artistic freedom with the [poster] … I thought a stamp [saying] ‘CLOSED!’ would add a nice touch,” Aguilar said.

Juarez originally thought the signs were only going to be used in one scene as tangible props. To her surprise, they were subtly projected all over the set. 

Creating another one of her favorite props, the percussion bongos, was a different kind of challenge. 

The two wooden bongos came from Juarez’s own personal collection. The challenge here was building a holder that the actor could wear. 

She said after trying many different suggestions from classmates, she decided to go with an idea she had from the beginning. 

She said she built the holder from wood and muslin by sewing and using staples and then painting it brown and it worked. 

Juarez said she liked that the decoration on the bongos matched some of the makeup designs in the show.

The character using the bongos was the illiterate Papa Shakespeare, played by Peter Lopez Bolanos. He has a heavy Jamaican accent and finds it difficult to communicate. The way he expresses himself is through his bongos. 

Juarez said she had to teach Bolaños how to play the drums, telling him to hit the rim for the right sound.

She said she wants people to realize all of the many creators that work really hard to design and build the world that plays exist in. 

“When people come [to] watch plays there needs to be more recognition for the things that nobody ever notices but was probably a giant challenge for people, for something you see on stage for two seconds. 

“It’s a lot more than just acting,” Juarez said.

Juarez said she still wants to be an actor but now realizes she has a portfolio of work in other areas of the theater. 

Juarez said it has opened up more job opportunities, so if she doesn’t land the acting roles in shows she wants to be a part of, then she can still contribute in other ways.

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