Some of the most powerful performances happen behind the scenes

March 1, 2015

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Artist. Problem-solver. Suspender of disbelief.

Charlotte Hunt likes a challenge. Three years out of art school in Nova Scotia, she discovered two things: she was bored in a retail job and surprised to find she didn’t like painting alone in a studio. In college, she was able to share ideas with her peers and joke about how being an artist meant having two full-time jobs: your creative practice and the job that pays the rent. It was all too real for her now.

To help pay the bills, she moonlighted as a set painter for Halifax’s Neptune Theatre. She enjoyed the behind-the-scenes work, but knew there was more to set painting than her arts degree covered.

“I was enjoying the theatre aspect so much that I wanted to get some training and do this for real,” she says.


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So Charlotte began thinking about going back to school to learn more, though she wasn’t keen to start another degree. Friends told her there was abundant theatre work in Edmonton, and that MacEwan’s Theatre Production program offered just the challenge she needed.

“So I moved all the way across the country to go to MacEwan,” she says. “It was scary, but it was a good change.”

She had taken three years of drama in high school, but it never occurred to her that she could have a career in theatre. Career prospects became even more real as she became immersed in the intensive theatre production program, where she had an idea of what the working world would look like—the jobs, the hours, the lifestyle.

“The difference from my undergrad degree was you didn’t get a sense in art school what it was going to be like when you graduated.”

Now Charlotte had a clear idea, and a new interest. Although she came to the program focused on set design and scenic painting, she soon discovered that building props was really what she wanted to do.

“Props are anything on the stage that the actor is carrying or that dresses the set,” she says. “It’s a flower vase or food they eat on stage. If they’re sitting on a couch, the props department finds or upholsters that couch. We make the drapes or hang the paintings. But we don’t paint the set and we don’t have anything to do with costumes.”

She graduated in 1992 and after a few years working freelance around the city, she took a job as a props builder at the Citadel Theatre. In January 2015, she celebrated her 20th anniversary with the company.

“ I like the collaborative process, I like being able to bounce ideas off others, and I like having the environment where I can do that.” 

“It’s different every day,” she says, now the assistant head of props. “I can’t imagine having a job where I do the same thing day after day.”

As one of three people in the Citadel’s props department, Charlotte gets to produce and procure the props required to add realism—and sometimes magic—to the theatre’s season of shows. Her role also requires her to become a “mini-expert” and problem solver of any number of unusual on-stage requests—from how to paint a prop tortoise to match the appearance of a real century-old one in Arcadia, to making easy-to-clean-up fake vomit for God of Carnage.

“It’s collaborative, that’s a big thing,” she says. “I wouldn’t have thought that I would enjoy that in my early days. I thought I liked to do things by myself—I don’t. I like the collaborative process, I like being able to bounce ideas off others, and I like having the environment where I can do that.”

Even shows that regularly play at the Citadel—Othello, The Wizard of Oz and Romeo and Juliet, to name a few—come with new designers, directors and actors, and new challenges.

“The job is interesting and fascinating, but it’s also challenging because there are a lot of deadlines and people involved, and different ideas of how to do things. I really like the problem-solving aspect of it.”

Her curiosity to understand and find a solution makes Charlotte a good fit with her close-knit team. “My favourite part is the people I work with because even though the job is really fun, if you didn’t have good people to work with, you wouldn’t last more than a season.”


Charlotte Hunt is an alumna of the Theatre Production program. Learn more at MacEwan.ca/TheatreProduction.

 
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