A Look at Of Mice and Men's Intricate Props

A Look at Of Mice and Men's Intricate Props

30 March 2016

by Helena Ascough

Assistant Stage Manager Samantha Hopkins explains the process for using props on stage in Of Mice and Men. Interview by Helena Ascough. Photography by Jessica Isherwood, captured as the production reaches the Grand Theatre in Blackpool. 

Backstage on Of Mice and Men, I met Samantha Hopkins, Assistant Stage Manager and understudy to Curley’s Wife, to find out more about the props used in the production.

I was taken onto the set and was struck by the attention to detail; the furniture was old and rustic to suit the 1930s period and interestingly, three buckets were laid in the centre of the stage,  Samantha tells me that each bucket is used for a different purpose throughout the play. One of the buckets is for Lennie and George to drink out of, the other is for Lennie to place his feet in! As part of her role as an ASM, Samantha fills up the buckets before each show. During the performance, the buckets are not visible to create the illusion that George and Lennie are drinking from a stream.

 

I was amused by the task that Samantha calls ‘find the mice’. During the play, Lennie throws a mouse into the reeds on the stage. After every show, Samantha gets down on her hands and knees and searches through the reeds looking for the black mouse. She states that there “is no clever way of doing this”. 

Samantha searches for the mice hidden in the reeds on stageSamantha searches the reeds for the missing mice! Photo by Jessica Isherwood

Samantha explains why the mice were there “We have two during the show. One is preset, the reason for that is when it gets thrown into the reeds, if the actor playing Lennie cannot find it, he needs one set there ready”.  I asked whether it took a long time to look for it, she told me it was unpredictable “Sometimes, sometimes I don’t find it and have to get a spare one out!”.

 

I asked Samantha what her typical performance day consists of, she says “I come in a couple of hours before the show starts and the first thing I do is open the can of beans”. During the play, the characters eat from a can of beans; which she drains before every show. Samantha tarnishes the bean can to appear old and leaves the lid slightly open so that the can is easily accessible for the actors. She then “sets all the props how they need to be, once they are all set, I check my tick list”. “Some of it” she explains “is setting things up for the next show, for example, the blanket rolls that the boys have, I can set in the second half ready for the next one”.

Farmers Pride: the cans of Lima Beans used in the show

George Milton's work cardTop: 'Poor Man's Meat', the 30s style labels reveal common place produce during the Great Depression
Below: George's work card. Photos by Jessica Isherwood

Samantha tells me that if anyone is interested in becoming a Stage Manager, they have to be aware that on average it takes “three-quarters of an hour to set up” and not every show runs smoothly. I asked Samantha whether any props have ever gone wrong during the Of Mice and Men tour, “Yes”  she says, “A couple of weeks ago, right at the beginning of the show, the boys came in with the blanket roles on their shoulders and Lennie has the hobo stove on his shoulder…” as the actors leant down, disastrously the stove fell off and rolled under the stage! "I watched it happen and went oh no, right what do I do, I thought about leaving it but I couldn’t as they had lots of lines about lighting the fire”, so she found her spare. “I clocked eyes with the actor that plays Lennie and placed it down, as subtly as I could”.

Dangerous work: Tools on the ranchFlit Powder: 'Kills roaches, bed bugs, water bugs, fleas, ants, lice'. Useful for the difficult living and working conditions on the ranch

Props table shows the collection of guns used in the productionPlaying cards used by George in a game of solitaire

Of Mice and Men premieres at Birmingham Repertory Theatre, where it runs from 4 to 13 February 2016. It then tours to Cheltenham, Nottingham, Wolverhampton, Darlington, Blackpool, Cambridge, Brighton, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Oxford and Leicester where it concludes on 28 May.