In this fresh and funny “holiday” drama, the Schwartz siblings gather for a Yarzheit – the anniversary of their father’s death.
And like with any distanced relatives, things get awkward and complicated when everyone’s closer.
An Interview with Monika Browne-Ecker, Properties Designer and Production Manager, The Last Schwartz
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 discovered that I’m a theatre generalist. I’ve worked in a variety of management positions (stage and production), I’ve costumed shows, coordinated props, taught dialect, ran crew. 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 properties designer do?
Properties designer works on coordinating and creating props for theatre and other media. I think of this role as the person 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. For The Last Schwartz, my main focus is on coordinating props, though there is also a lot of research and some actual creating involved. This show takes place indoors so, in liaison with the scenic designer, Rebekah Fornes, I provided multiple items that would live in an old-ish home where adult siblings reunite for an anniversary for their father’s death. This included all place settings at a table, dinner service, coffee service, utensils, napkins, a family heirloom, luggage for the characters, specific cultural elements for the Yahrzeit, etc.
What part of the design process do you find to be the most fun? What about the most challenging?
The most fun is researching all the different details that are specific to a prop. The most challenging and usually also the most fun is the actual fabrication of a prop. I’m a very good researcher but my history with making props is not as developed, so I’m always learning as I go.
What are some specific aspects of The Last Schwartz scenic design that make you really happy or proud?
In The Last Schwartz one of the characters, Herb is an affluent man whose idea is to sell the family home. I loved researching the potential location of the Schwartz home, where it might be in the world, and then realtors who could potentially sell such a home in the Catskills region – all this in order to put a real estate proposal together that Herb holds on the stage for all of 5 minutes. It turns out that there really is a town of Lake Huntington in the Catskills! I’ve also had a lot of fun in fabricating fake food. For this show, I had to make fake chopped liver (pate) and fake brisket. This was also the most challenging part of the design process.
What is something an audience member should look for, or pay attention to when they see the show?
This show is so incredibly rich in story and interaction that it’s hard to tell what to focus on specifically. One of the things that are the most meaningful is the Yahrzeit candle which is lit in the middle of the show. Candles are magical and this one has a very specific meaning in Judaism.