An Interview with Monika Browne-Ecker,
Properties Designer and Production Manager for The Roommate
What is your theatrical background? What is your history with Theatre B?
I studied theatre in Poland, where I’m from, and at VCSU after moving to the United States. My main focus has always been in acting but over the years I’ve developed additional skills in other theatre fields. I’ve worked in a variety of management positions (stage and production), costumed shows, coordinated props, taught dialect, worked on dramaturgy, worked as a stagehand. It’s all great fun and contributes to the art in ways that I really appreciate and value. In terms of Theatre B, when I moved to North Dakota in 2008, I discovered that theatre and became an instant fan. Theatre B reminded me of the theatres which I frequented in Europe and I dreamed of becoming involved with this group of artists. Little by little I transitioned from fan to volunteer to actor and now I’m a member of the Ensemble. It’s been a goal many years in the making.
What does a props designer do?
The properties designer works on coordinating and creating props for theatre and other media. I think of this role as the artist who tells stories through objects. Each character carries or handles items that have to be very specific to who that person is, and their history. I’m fascinated with the life of an object probably because I’m an actor first and the details of prop design have always been a part of my work on characters.
What part of the design process do you find to be the most fun? What about the most challenging?
I love combing through the script for clues of what objects live in the world of the play and their relationship to the characters. Are they just decorative or do they have a specific meaning for the people of the story? Research is another fun part of the process – figuring out where to get a historically-correct item, or figuring out how to make a thing, maybe even learning a new artistic process to produce an object. That last one is also the most challenging.
What are some specific aspects of The Roommate design that make you really happy or proud?
Let me start by saying that this is one of the most prop-intensive shows I’ve ever been a part of. It takes place in a kitchen and there are specifics about both characters that meant we needed props to be very, very specific. We had to furnish and populate a kitchen with a multitude of kitchen tools, decorations, and edible food. They couldn’t be just any kitchen tools – they had to be the kitchen tools that Sharon in Iowa City would have had. I also needed to provide edible props for a month of the show run, fistfuls of fake IDs, a portable dispensary, and about 80 clay dolls. 80 clay dolls that had to be designed in a very specific way (South America and voo doo-ish look), and made from scratch! I had a very tight budget to make or coordinate all those things but thanks to the generosity of our wonderful community (especially Prof. Dave Swenson at NDSU) and the theatre world (Katie Pelkey at Aurora Theatre, Flora Vassar at 1812 Productions, Kate Cannon at Capital Stage Company, and Stephanie Hettrick at Lyric Stage Company of Boston) I was able to pull that off within those budgetary parameters. The clay dolls were by far the biggest and most time-consuming aspect of The Roommate prop design. I don’t often pour clay in my spare bathroom, or have to turn my dining table into a pottery workshop. It took a ton of effort.
What is something an audience member should pay attention to when they see the show?
I would recommend that the audience looks at the set as much as they can before the show starts. I think the audience will have a lot of fun noticing very specific, Midwestern details on the set. Once the show starts, Carrie and Pam will take everyone on an incredible ride. The set, props, lights, and sound are all great in this show, but what you really want to pay attention to is this masterclass in acting and storytelling from the two amazing performers.