Thursday, July 22, 2010

Secret Lives of Interns: Field Trip to Center Stage, Housewerks and Second Chance

A blog post by Sara Patenaude-Schuster

Sometimes at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, people might mistake us for grade schoolers based on the amount of laughing, crafts, and occasional party hats. They wouldn’t be entirely wrong—the sheer number of field trips we’ve taken so far this summer have far exceeded those I took my entire time in middle school. Last Friday, we had a multi-part trip that taught us about exhibition creation. For the first part, we visited Center Stage Theater to learn how creating an exhibition is not unlike crafting a set for a play. For the second part, we visited two of Baltimore’s largest salvage stores to see how we can use their resources to find less expensive pieces for an exhibit.

At Center Stage, we were given a tour by the very nice docent named John. He showed us not only the theater and café spaces where everybody can go when they see plays, but also the behind-the-scenes spaces that usually only actors and theater staff members see.

Behind the stage at the Pearlstone Theater

In the trap room of the Head Theater- the space underneath the stage

Because there are no plays currently showing at Center Stage, we were able to go into the set workshop, where all of the sets for the plays are built. It was a huge room, but it was easy to imagine how quickly it could fill up with set pieces when the theater season is in full swing.

Admiring the set workshop, where all the set pieces are made

The favorite parts of the tour for most of the interns, though, were the prop and costume rooms. Just as in an exhibition, the museum staff have to come up with every piece of the display including the display stands themselves, Center Stage has to have every prop and piece of clothing its actors need for the plays. That means not only having tables and chairs, but also fake food for the actors to “eat” on stage.

The food table in the prop room

The prop pieces look so real, it’s hard to resist trying a bite!

We also happened to notice while in the costume room some of the hatboxes that Center Stage has as period props. Several of them are also hatboxes that are in the JMM collection from Hochschild & Kohn’s and Hutzler’s. It was a neat piece of Baltimore history that is still in use in an unconventional way.

The hat boxes that Jobi recognized from the JMM collection

Just a few of the amazing outfits in one of the costume rooms

Our tour of Center Stage made it clear to the interns that we need to think outside the box when it comes to exhibition design. Much in the way that the set helps to bring a play to life, good design and set-up of an exhibition enhances the story that is being told. Exhibitions aren’t just about showing interesting objects from the museum collection, but bringing the visitors in to the story, just like when they see a play. It was also a lot of fun just to see all the neat things Center Stage has to offer.

The JMM Interns and John pose with the lucky beetle

After lunch, the interns moved on to the second part of our field trip. We had been given an assignment- think of an exhibit that you might be creating, and pick out one piece that you need to complete your exhibit. Then try to find that piece at the stores. Each intern thought of her own item, and they ranged from cabinets for a kitchen display, a couch for a 1970s living room, and a crystal doorknob for a fake door.

The first place we went, Second Chance, is a series of several warehouses that contain everything from lumber to lamps. We had a lot of fun looking around at all the different items for sale. I think all of us found at least one thing we wanted to buy for real, in addition to the item for our pretend exhibition.

Stained glass for Rachael’s windows

Kristin modeling the ultra-modern electric kitchen-
it has the stove, oven, and refrigerator all in one!

After crawling all over Second Chance’s warehouses, we went down the street to a similar business, Housewerks. ( Though Housewerks focuses on architectural salvage, we were excited to find all sorts of interesting pieces throughout the building. Even though our assignment was to find a specific piece to fit an exhibit, I couldn’t help but think of all the exhibit possibilities stemming from some of their items. As soon as I convince the JMM to have a carnival exhibit, they’ll know where to go for items!

Exploring inside Housewerks

Just one of the many carnival- and
circus-related items I loved at Housewerks

This fieldtrip made for a very full, but very exciting day. I think we all came away with new ideas of how to think about and create museum exhibits, and new places to look for the necessary materials to build those exhibits.

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