Show Souvenirs, or Clinging to the Past

C. Austin Hill

  • OnStage Ohio Columnist

I am moving.  I’m packing my house and my campus office, and in two weeks my family and I will leave for a new home, in a new state (returning, really, to a state we loved for 5 years before moving to Tennessee).  Once there, I’ll start on the theatre faculty of a new university, I’ll meet new students, colleagues, and friends.  Part of the packing process has included boxing up some of the collection of bits and bobs from my past shows.  Some of these souvenirs have been gifts from cast members, others simply collected from amongst unwanted props.  Unwanted, that is, except by me.

My collection would never interest a museum, though some pieces have drawn an interested glance and a chuckle from a student or two.  There are some weird things in my collection.  At one point I had no fewer than three rubber chickens atop my bookshelf.  One of these chickens is painted white and has white feathers hot-glued to it…it played a guest role in my production of Dancing at Lughnasa.  Also from that show, I have a tri-cornered hat, festooned with an enormous feather, which was worn by Uncle Jack (played by my dear friend Ken Erney). 

I must have a thing about chickens, because I seem to collect fake ones.  See, I also have a stuffed nylon, tied in just the right way to look like a whole baked chicken (think rotisserie) that I used (along with 20 more just like it) in a production of Beware the Man Eating Chicken for Evolution Theatre Company in Columbus, Ohio.  It’s particularly convincing when wrapped in foil, but alas the foil has been lost.

I have a wooden stake and a skull from the world premiere of A Night of Blacker Darkness.  I have strips of bandanna, a piece of graffiti and a toilet seat from Urinetown.  I’ve a lovely rosary from my production of Doubt, a Groucho Marx nose and mustache from Twelfth Night (it was Feste’s of course), and pictures of Irish towns from The Weir. These, of course, in addition to cast photos, press clippings, signed posters, and other beautiful gifts. 

I have other things on my shelves too, in addition to books.  I’ve got a Carol Channing ventriloquist dummy that was a gift from my wife; pictures of, and from, my children; a piece of fake bacon that I found in the lobby of my theatre and found hilarious; a cryptex from The Da Vinci Code that I won in an online promotion; and an antique Prince Albert can that was found under the stage floor in my building when the stage was refurbished.

Like I said, my collection wouldn’t interest a museum.  It’d never draw a crowd, and isn’t very well curated (what WAS that fake bacon doing in my lobby?!?).  What is is, though, is a way for me to combat the ephemeral nature of the theatre.  Shows come and they go, and it’s nice to be able to hang on to something tangible to help spark our memories.  I’m excited to pull unpack my curiosities on my new campus, and to be asked about each item by visitors, and to have the chance to tell the story of each and every piece.

What do you have in your collection?