by Tom Hartman

Feast of St. Visa of Palatine
At age 23, St. Visa was called to become a hermit by bill collectors and spent the rest of her life kiting checks at the liquor store.

So, Susan Lersch says to me, "Yeah, the prop designer for POPE JOAN resigned." "Why? The props for that show aren't that hard." "Her car died. She says that she can't do it if she doesn't have a car." "P'shaw," says I. "I mean there's really not that much. I could do it for Chrissakes."


Now, not only am I doing props for POPE JOAN, but I also have access to the worldwide infotainment web, and soon Pinky, we will have accomplished what we've plotted for every night for years: we will take over the world!

But I digress.

My job is made even easier since somebody else is providing the swords and Chris is taking my approved approach to properties: less is more.

There was once this production of CARMEN where the prop person decked the table in Don Jose's death scene with plates, cups, silverware and a variety of real foods, along with Carmen's knife. Well, after endless hours of caterwauling in a language I don't understand, Carmen finally gets to the point where she stabs Don Jose, reaches for her knife, and thrusts a banana in his stomach.

Those things happen with extraneous props. So anyway, I guess I'm supposed to impart some wise theories on the creation of props. Well, I have only one thing to say: everyone who reads this will like me for no discernible reason! Everyone who reads this will like....

But I digress.

I must admit that ever since the infamous hot glue gun incident in Southgate, Michigan of 1978, my approach has been:

"If you need a prop,
Then you gotta shop."

So gentle readers (see, I like you for no discernible reason) my contribution will be a guided tour of Chicago's own "Mall of Medievalry," if you will. (Personal note: talk to Chris re: adding a "Who put the evil in medieval?" number.)

OK, here's our shopping list:

Casting bones and carrying bag - the bones were part of a pot of ruined chicken matzo ball soup. The bag I got at one of those little incense shops at Clark and Belmont. Brazier rigged with battery operated lights -- this was a major pain in my butt. I had to end up doing papier mache. There's still flour paste all over my kitchen, my clothes and the lamp in the living room. Papal shepherd's staff - this I found at a used furniture place in Newtown across the street from where they filmed that little girl getting blown up for the beginning of The Untouchables and about three doors west of where John Candy and Maureen O'Hara lived in "Only the Lonely." (Personal note: write essay about the weird juxtaposition of life and art when you find yourself "living" on a movie set. Include experience in Dallas and Zapruder film, Georgetown and Exorcist, Central Park and Hair.) Thurible (incense burner) - this item was in the possession of our own Susan Lersch, having been bought at the selfsame above mentioned store ten years ago when I produced a workshop production of Susan's play, "Sisters: Some Theatrical Rituals of the Nunnery." Self lighting charcoal - Athenian Candle Co. in Greektown. They also sell incense and oils. They had one little jar of oil labeled "Bend Over." Of course I had to smell it. Of course it was intended for straight women and reeked of flowers, which I can't stand, and of course, I got it on my nose and had to smell it for the next three hours. Funeral incense (myrrh or frankincense) Athenian Candle Co. Matches - oh, I forgot to get matches. Thank Goddess theater people still smoke. Paschal candle Athenian Candle Co. Book of gospels - this was brought in by Will Hepp. It's actually a Book of Kells. Of course I can't tell a Kell from a Trill, but I digress. Holy water bucket I found this object, actually a little handle bowl that I later rigged with a chain, at this antique shop in Andersonville where I live. Unfortunately, they're going out of business. But then again, they were underpricing the things they had. Eucalyptus sprigs to sprinkle holy water - Bregstone's display in the south loop.

Bed dressing - Minnesota Fabrics. This was two pieces. Blue material that stayed stationary on the bed and two strips of fur sewn together that could be spread on the bed and wrapped around Joan. Our own Susan Lersch handled the sewing. Cross necklace for Joan - this little antique shop in Andersonville that is not going out of business. They know what their stuff is worth and are not too unreasonable in their prices, although they were trying to sell a broken Talking Pee Wee Herman doll for $30. The voice box on mine still works. And I have the matching Chairy doll too. Wonder what I could get for them?

St. Peter's ring on pope's body - this I got at The Alley at Belmont and Clark. It's an eyeball ring. One coin on pope's body - they had Mardi Gras coins at Bregstone's. I want to go back to Mardi Gras. I drove down there two years ago, had the time of my life.

Switch - The Drum in Andersonville Kerchief - The Unique Thrift Store in Uptown Food tray - Some hospital resale shop on Diversey Cushion - Pier 1 Casting bones and bag - same as before. (Personal note: buy Susan a timer for her birthday. Coins - Bregstone's Coin-I got the coin purses at some handbag store in the Loop that's going out of business - That's Our Bag. Maypole - this one drove me crazy, figuring out how to do the top so that the dancers around the maypole could wrap young Joan in the streamers. Everything I tried ended up looking like a lampshade in a Victorian whorehouse. Eventually, Chris decided it didn't need a top. I love tech week.

St. Peter's ring - Flashy Trash on Halsted.

Acacia sprigs - Tom Thumb in Evanston Olive oil jug Pier 1 Etruscan pottery - this was some old thing my roommate had lying around the house. Polenta bowl - ended up being a basket after I was unable to find a large wooden bowl that wasn't a salad bowl. Striped magenta cloth - Minnesota Fabrics. I had to glue the stripes on to the cloth. Then some actor tells me how he hates that ugly fuschia thing. "That's magenta," says I. "I took the crayon into the fabric store. It's magenta. You're fined two Streisand albums." Furs Minnesota Fabrics Feathers - peacock - Bregstone's Two keys - this is for the line in the Forum song "a chastity belt with two keys." In the Bailiwick production, they had an actual chastity belt that kept cutting the actors' hands. I thought only having the two keys was cheaper and funnier. Chris agreed. Change purse - That's Our Bag

Altar cloth - Minnesota Fabrics Small, dark hard roll to be used as communion bread - Jewel's Chalice - same store I got the staff Paten - ditto Laurel wreath crown to fit Louis - this is another one I had to make. Got the leaves at Bregstones.

Battle plans - The Drum. Rags - my closet

Three books, loosely tied together - these were graciously lent by Susan Lersch and Denny Kineslla

Stool - Salvation Army on Broadway and Montrose. Bowl of "Sweetmeats" - I got the bowl at the same store I got the cross. The food I bought at Jewel. Goblet - this antique store on Clark St. across the street from the Organic.

Scourge - I bought silk cord at Minnesota Fabric. The actual prop was created by Susan Lersch. She had experience making them while researching her Off Off-Broadway play, "Sisters: Some Theatrical Rituals About the Nunnery." Coin purse - That's Our Bag Realistic newborn baby - Toys R Us.

I must admit that doing the props were fun and presented a challenge. Particularly since I was doing all this running around in sub-zero weather. Maybe that woman who said she couldn't do the props without a car wasn't so dumb after all.

I will leave you with a meditation:

Eartha Kitt, Brad Pitt
Make Pope Joan a great big hit.

Repeat three times daily and buy a ticket to Pope Joan and all your problems will resolve themselves.

No, actually I will leave you with one more story about props:
There was once this outdoor passion play and one night the Roman soldier who is to lance Our Lord in the side during the crucifixion, grabbed the wrong lance. When it came time to poke Jesus in the side, the actor playing Christ nearly jumped off the cross and yelled, "Ouch, you stabbed me, you son of a bitch."

If you're going to have props, have a well-labeled prop table.

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