Triad Stage’s warehouse hoard

by Lenise Willis

Walking through the aisles of Triad Stage’s warehouse, I thought to myself how much I would have envied this place while shopping for my first apartment — or prepping for a Halloween party. The warehouse, though carefully organized, is busting at the corners with vintage and modern furniture, appliances, props, light fixtures and so much more — even a “car.”

The 38,000-square-foot building, located on Holbrook Street near the Greensboro Coliseum, was acquired by Triad Stage in 2011 and houses the theater’s storage for props, costumes and set pieces, as well as its costume and construction workshops.

As I rounded each cluttered, yet carefully labeled corner, I began to expect the unexpected, especially after sighting a mummy coffin, tombstones and a cat “surfing” the back of a turtle. I could have only dreamed of such a place as a young child eager to play pretend. There are dozens of racks struggling to grab hold of all of the canes, wands, umbrellas and — most importantly — the hats. Oh the hats, from all periods of time: Victorian, the Roaring ’20s, the classical ’40s and more.

And I’m not the only one who’s been captivated by the warehouse’s bounty; the production staff, and even Artistic Director Preston Lane himself, have a few favorite items and stories.

“We have some fantastic vintage furniture consoles with the built-in speakers and record player that I just love,” says Ryan Retartha, Triad Stage production manager.

“I hope we can find an occasion to use one of them. We have a red-and-white striped blazer in costume stock that I’m fond of, and there is also a creepy animatronic mannequin from our production of Sleuth that has been used in countless attempts to scare Triad Stage staff members over the years.”

And although, unfortunately, I don’t have my pick of the place to furnish my home, there are a few perks that come with being a co-founder.

“It’s no secret that several of the more beautiful props that we’ve made over the years have ended up in [Lane’s] office, and my department takes that as a very high compliment,” Retartha says. “The furniture set we handmade for Dial “M” for Murder is currently in his office, as is the plush red lounger we upholstered for The Illusion.”

Retartha adds that several of the larger props they’ve acquired for Tennessee Playboy will no doubt become treasured stock items, as well, especially the gas pump, jukebox and “truck stop” sign.

Other staff-admired items include individual handmade pieces, as well as the many vintage items the company has acquired over the years.

“Each of those items has a story to tell, and are direct products of our artistic process, so they are truly unique,” Retartha says. “Also, the wrought-iron stoves, heavy vintage refrigerators and hardwood furniture are items that are very hard to replace without spending a considerable amount of money at an antiques store.

“They truly just don’t make furniture and appliances like they used to, so we put a high value on our vintage stock.”

Of course, all chaos has its purpose. A note to ward off the judgmental few ready to submit Triad Stage for an episode of “Hoarders”: Most of the items are actually kept for rentals.

“We rent out full prop, backdrop and costume packages for several particular plays or musicals,” Retartha says, “and I’m constantly told how often our prop package for Steel Magnolias is rented out.”

With so many items moving in and out of storage — and, well, with thousands of items — organization is pivotal. “It’s critical for several reasons,” Retartha says. “Most importantly, our prop master and costume shop manager must always have a very clear sense of what is in our stock so they can help designers and directors choose props and costumes for our shows.

“It would be unfortunate if we spent money on acquiring a prop or costume that we already had in storage. Secondly, we rent out props and costumes to theaters and schools all over America. Having an organized warehouse and online database helps our rentals coordinator, Mary Beth Pazdernik, do her job effectively and efficiently.

“Additionally, these two reasons have to also coordinate with each other. We can’t use a prop for one of our shows that is already out on a rental, and vice versa.”

But no matter their purpose, one thing is for sure: Each item is intriguingly unique and anyone strolling through the aisles would almost hear the whispers of the fascinating stories they might tell.