Staff vacancies restrict prop warehouse operating hours

The college’s prop warehouse will open for the second and final time this semester for visual and media arts students, after losing both its director and its assistant prior to the beginning of the academic year. 

Chair of the Performing Arts Department Robert Colby said both Director Ron DeMarco and Assistant Lisa Guild unexpectedly left the college, leaving the warehouse with no staff. This prevented it from opening on a weekly basis as it did last year. However, because VMA students require props for academic projects, the college decided to open the warehouse twice this semester, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Nov. 4 and Dec. 11. 

Colby said students who took out props on Nov. 4 could return the props on Dec. 11, or if they needed the props beyond that date, they could return them at the beginning of the second semester. 

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“They don’t have prop staff at Emerson right now,” Lauren Corcuera, associate production manager for Lyric Stage and head of the warehouse on these two dates, said. “They’re just killing themselves to stay afloat.”

The warehouse, which is located at 50 Tufts Street in Somerville, houses the majority of free props that performing arts and VMA students use for their productions, as well as students participating in extracurriculars. The space was also open to community theater organizations.  

Colby said that the college has made a job offer to a potential new props director, and if this individual accepts, the props warehouse will hopefully be operating normally again next semester. He also noted that, while they hope to open the warehouse to the general public again as soon as possible, Emerson students will be prioritized.

“Depending on the backlog of work to be done, we may wait a bit longer before extending that opportunity for others so we can get at least the campus demand met,” he said. 

Corcuera, who is also an Emerson graduate, retrieves props on a case-by-case basis for students in Emerson Stage, since the props are the organization’s property. However, non-VMA students and community theater organizations will not have access to props on these two dates.

“A lot of people felt jilted because they didn’t know that it was open specifically for academic projects,” she said. 

Corcuera said students seem grateful the warehouse is open at all this semester.

“They’ve been fairly respectful and understanding of the staffing issues,” she said. “Being able to have this resource back, even in a limited capacity, has been really helpful.”

Ryan Rock, a junior props assistant for Emerson Stage, said that, while some props are available on campus, many theatre students who do not currently have access to the warehouse are facing significant obstacles in putting together their productions. 

“It’s been a real big stress for a lot of students in the Theatre Department,” they said. “A lot of student theater productions that want these things from the props warehouse are not allowed to use them.”

Rock noted that students have shown resourcefulness despite their frustration about the warehouse’s closure. 

“Theatre students will have to find other ways around it, which is frustrating, since this is a school and these are our extracurriculars and this is building our resumes for the future,” they said. “It’s definitely a hindrance to not have someone in the role, but I think that everyone’s doing their best and that overall, it does lead to more innovation.”

On the Facebook page for the prop warehouse, multiple community members have offered to volunteer to help mitigate the staffing shortages. However, Colby said that accepting volunteers wouldn’t be feasible. 

“Things have to get signed out and signed back in, they have to get stored properly,” he said. “When they come in they have to be assessed for damage and sent back to our shops for repair when things break. Without anybody in charge, just taking a volunteer, it would be essentially opening an extremely valuable resource for people to just kind of go through.”

Mel Gillespie ’01, who runs the Milton-based Mel O’Drama School of Acting, used the prop warehouse to store set pieces between productions. She suggested the college begin charging members of the community a membership fee to use the space in order to ease any financial burdens that may be a constraint on staffing. She said the closure of the warehouse has affected community members. 

“We’re feeling the loss,” Gillespie said. “Big time.”

Rock said they understood the difficulty in finding a long-term props director on such short notice. 

“We need someone who will be good, who can learn everything, who could stay here for years,” they said. “It is a process, I understand, of hiring, but it’s just unfortunate timing.”

Colby said that he realizes this solution wasn’t ideal, but the department had no alternative.

“I don’t think this was perfect, and I’m sure if I talked to a dozen students they were grumbling that they would have to miss a class or make extraordinary arrangements to try to get over to the prop warehouse when there were such limited hours,”  Colby said. “But it was that or close it altogether, for everybody. Hopefully, this is a short problem.”

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