Photo by Graham Carlow
I’ve been Head of Props for 15 years. It’s a position you keep hold of – there have only been six of us since the Glyndebourne Festival started in 1934. But until this year, there was a big problem we had to deal with: there wasn’t enough space to do all the things we needed to do.
That’s not an issue anymore, because the company has just had a state-of-the-art production hub built on site, and the whole of the bottom floor is dedicated to our department. We now have more than three times the space we used to have and the whole process has become much more efficient.
We make stuff. Or rather we make, source, adapt and buy in all the stage props and scenery needed for the shows. And with all the Tour shows as well as the six Festival operas every season, that’s up to nine a year.
And it’s not just the current season we’re thinking of. As well as working on repairs and maintenance for current shows, we’re planning two years in advance for future events. Each one has a different director and different designers, and we have to adapt to their different ways of working. It’s a good challenge to have.
There’s no end to the variety of props we deal with, from huge things like giant chandeliers, period cars or three-metre-high peacocks, to tiny details like sugar-tongs and plastic ice cubes. The main eye-catcher in the assembly room as we speak is a 1940s MG 1500 sports car which has been converted into an electric vehicle. That’s for Rigoletto.
The assembly room is the central hub around which all the other studios radiate. There is a mould-making room, a fabric space, a woodwork studio for small-sized items, a wood workshop for bigger-sized items, a paint shop, a room for fibre-glass work and a metal workshop. Before, we had to perform most of these activities in the same space, which wasn’t ideal: sawdust flying into newly-painted props, and that sort of thing.
It was important to choose a good, flexible architect to build the new hub. What we do here is very odd, when you think about it, so the process was extremely consultative: we all had a say in how it would look and work. Nicholas Hare Architects did a great job. The old building was demolished in December 2017, and we were back here in February of this year.
Upstairs there are different departments, like the costume department and the wig department. It’s good to have them so close, as there’s a lot of crossover. For example, we recently had to make 400 rubber fish for the sleeves of a costume for Mozart’s Magic Flute.
Including the dress rehearsals, I get to see each opera that’s performed four or five times. My favourite Glyndebourne Festival show, over the years? It’s got to be The Turn of the Screw.