Florida Gulf Coast University graduating senior Roxanne DuBois has her sights set on a career in theatre. Not as an actor or director. Coming out of a family tradition of making things, Roxanne sees herself as the ultimate Props Goddess.
The prop god or master is the professional who supervises the use of properties, better known as props, in theatrical productions and films. She’s the one who is tasked with procuring or making, keeping track of, and ensuring that props are placed in the correct location on stage so that the actors can reach for them at the appropriate time during a scene. Her job typically begins in meetings with the director, costume designer, set designer, and lighting designer, where she gleans a vision for the finished piece and generates a list off the props that will be needed for the production. Most theater companies and movie studios have a library of props, but the prop master must often pop tags in her local thrift store a’ la Mackelmore or make her own props in house.
Which is precisely what DuBois has done for the Theatre Department’s production of The Laramie Project that opens February 14.
“I’ve been working closely with [FGCU Theatre Department Associate Professor] Anne Carncross, and she thinks I’d be really good at props because I have background in sculpture, ceramics and painting,” Roxanne relates. “So she got me into props and I’ve made props for the last two shows that the Theatre Department has put on. Right now, I’m working with Michelle Hayford, who is directing The Laramie Project, and decided to do props for that production as my senior project,” which DuBois has titled Wings over Wyoming.
Laramie is a small town in Wyoming that became infamous overnight in the fall of 1998 when Matthew Shepard, a gay college student, was found tied to a fence after being brutally beaten and left to die, setting off a nationwide debate about hate crimes and homophobia. A month after the crime, writer/director Moises Kaufman arrived in Laramie with a handful of actors from his New York theater group the Tectonic Theater Project and began to interview people who lived in and around the town in preparation for a production they planned to do on the town’s reaction to Shepard’s assault and murder. The result was The Laramie Project, which was first performed in early 2000 and in Laramie in the fall of the same year.
Tectonic Theater Project collaborated with HBO to make a film based on the play. Starring Peter Fonda, Laura Linney, Christina Ricci and Steve Buscemi, it opened the 2002 Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for 4 Emmys. Since then, the play has been performed by high schools, colleges, and community theaters across the country, and still generates controversy in many locations where it is presented.
“There are only a couple of props that are used in the show,” Roxanne explains. “There are umbrellas and four big sets of wings made out of paper.” DuBois had initially planned to make the wings of feathers, but decided that traditional wings would be neither interesting nor unique.
“[Director] Michelle [Hayford] gave me freedom to go with it however I wanted,” says Roxanne. “While doing research on other artists’ versions of wings, I found several that were making them out of paper, and this inspired my final decision to create paper wings.”
She crafted her feathers from thick cardstock and poster board, spray painted them different colors, and glued them in layers in order to create the illusion of depth. For now, they are displayed on gray-painted walls, a color that serves to make the colors pop. But in February they will be worn by the actors who play the Angel Action activists that countered the Westboro Baptist Church anti-gay protestors who slung hateful slurs toward family and friends who’d gathered at the courthouse in support of Matthew at the trial of the two youths accused of Shepard’s murder.
“The umbrellas are for the funeral scene,” notes DuBois, nodding to the black parasols hanging from invisible fishing line from the ceiling of the FGCU Art Gallery. “I wanted to make them more dramatic so I tore off the fabric and put black lace on the frames. They’ll be using the umbrellas for special lighting effects as well, so I guess I’ll have to find a way to make them fire resistant.”
Such is the plight of a Prop Goddess.
And Roxanne Dubois credits the FGCU Art and Theatre Department faculty with giving her a jump on other graduates who will soon be pounding the pavement in search of precious few theater internships.
“I’ve learned a lot here at FGCU that I wouldn’t have learned somewhere else. I received a lot of valuable one-on-one time with my professors. I got a lot of focus from them. I’ll always be grateful for that,” says DuBois, whose will return to Florida Gulf Coast University in February to work her magic as prop master in the Theater Department’s production of The Laramie Project opening Valentine’s Day, 2014.
But for now, you can meet Roxanne DuBois and view her Wings over Wyoming senior art project on Thursday, December 5. The Fall 2013 Senior Projects Exhibition opens at 6:00-8:00 p.m. in the Art Gallery at Florida Gulf Coast University, with introductions and oral presentations by the graduating seniors beginning at 7:00 p.m.