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Terri Ristow, The Kid Who Re-Purposed Throwaways

As the Properties Designer for Hansol Jung’s Cardboard Piano, Terri Ristow is the extremely organized and detail-oriented person who makes sure that the production has all its props. Flower petals? Check! Suitcase? Check! Those are only two of the items mentioned on the first page of an 81-page script. 

Here is Terri herself to give us an insider’s view on what she did for Cardboard Piano:

1.  Can you describe the process that you went through in your work for Cardboard Piano?   

I start my design process by reading the script and making notes of any props that are mentioned or that I think the actors will need. My next step is to research the time and place of the story. For Cardboard Piano, I explored many aspects of Uganda. I researched the wildflowers of Africa and used this knowledge as inspiration for the church flower arrangements. I read through the war history of Uganda to understand what type of handguns and other weapons were readily available in 1999. As an overall theme, the first part of the play features cheap, brightly colored plastic-ware that is prevalent in many impoverished countries. For the second part of the story, I brought in items that I hoped would convey a richer sense of African heritage and village artistic pride.

2. The cardboard piano is an important symbol in the play. What went into the design of it?

Ah, the piano. The piano was one of the last props I made for this show, for a good reason. The designer in me couldn’t make the piano; the piano is made by a character in the story. Did the character know the dimensions of a real piano, or how many keys are on the keyboard? We really don’t know. In this story, the piano was created in one thoughtful and sleepless evening.  It was fitting that I did the same thing for the prop.  Come to the show and see the results!

Props for Cardboard Piano
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

3.  How did you become a props designer? What was your journey?

I always loved painting and drawing, but a career in art was not encouraged or supported in my family in those days. So I went to college for a science degree and worked in a chemistry lab for many years until my job was eliminated during the recession. With jobs scarce and time on my hands, I had time to revisit my love of art and writing. I took a community education class in acting with the idea of learning how to write character dialog. There I met a wonderfully supportive group of theater fans and a friend who hired me as her props person. It was a wonderful match, a way for me to combine my lifelong love of art, history, collecting junk and gluing stuff together. I have since returned to science jobs, but I can’t even imagine giving up my props designer work. I was always the kid who collected throwaway items and re-purposed them into toys, art and things to sell. Who knew this would become my job later in life?

See more of Terri’s work here

Tickets and information here

Ting Ting Cheng, Blog Author, Park Square Theatre
Ting Ting Cheng

Ting Ting Cheng joined Park Square Theatre's Front of House staff in 2014. Born in Hong Kong and raised in Los Angeles, she became a Minnesotan after graduating from Carleton College with a B.A. in English Literature. She loves live theatre and has a passion for writing.

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