Ashley and Eric chat with Buist Bickley some more about his favorite props, his favorite shows, his least favorite prop, and why Spongebob: The Musical is what everyone should be seeing right now. We also talk about working with stage managers, flame-proofing props, and what materials he absolutely hates.
Below is a transcript of this episode, edited for readability.
ASHLEY: Hey, welcome back to Silk Flowers and Papier Mache Hearts. We are your hosts, Ashley Flowers…
ERIC: And Eric Hart.
ASHLEY: We are with Buist Bickley, and to continue our conversation from last week.
ERIC: Yeah, I think this week we’re going to talk about some specific props that you worked on. So, what is your favorite prop? I know that’s the worst question that a props person can ever get. You know, what’s your favorite prop?
BUIST: The props that don’t break, the props that make people happy. I always like the really small things. In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, our dancing Bavarians that were, like, Augustus’s back up dancers, and um, beer steins. And like, beer steins are in like every play. But ours — Scott up in Prop and Paint made ours, and they were like, absolutely perfect. It was… Just a cup… A vessel with a handle, but he’d rotocasted a ceramic one, and the material they’re made of is like, billy club plastic, and he painted them and sealed them. He literally threw them, like, down on the concrete floor of his shop, they’re totally indestructible. And when you… To look at them, they totally, totally look like ceramic, and like, beautifully painted… It was just like, ‘This is the one! We found the one! This all the time, yes yes yes yes. Times a hundred. I’ll take them all.’ That made me really happy. I had a show — I was really proud of all of the furniture that was in Other Desert Cities, that was from my early career a really long time ago. That was like one of my favorite plays. It’s probably the best play I’ve ever done. But the — Don Lee’s set and the way that the furniture and that all came together, it was like super — like this family had a interior designer and everything is just the right shade of fossil, and mushroom, and oyster, and like they had… the designer Christmas tree that was just like the right shade of off green and, uh, soft golds and I was really proud of that set. Not just one prop, but…
ERIC: Yeah, we did it down here and I think our designer — he kept asking me, like, “Where’d, Where’d the Broadway version get their furniture cause that’s what I want.”
BUIST: I will google regional productions of Other Desert Cities, because it’s one of those shows that’s like — it’s really good, it’s a small cast, it’s going to get produced all the time. And just, like, seeing how it’s copied and like who gets the — the set is totally different, but they got our coffee table.
ERIC: Right. You could tell when they’re trying to copy the furniture.
BUIST: When they’re trying to copy it, but some– whenever — Did your’s have a blue Christmas tree?
ERIC: No, ours did not.
BUIST: Whenever I see one that has a blue Christmas tree, I’m like, these people would never have had a blue Christmas tree. [ERIC: [laughs] [ASHLEY: [laughs] That’s so true.] But that always makes me giggle when I see regional productions of it.
ASHLEY: So I’m going to ask you the second question that prop people hate being asked. [BUIST: Perfect.] What is your worst, unfavorite prop that you’ve done or had in a production?
BUIST: Um, I… there are a couple. I did a play — I did Waiting for Godot with Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen… and Waiting for Godot needs a tree, and it needs a — it has the branch with the hangman’s noose, and they had done this production in England before, and we were making the Broadway version. In England, they had a manufactured tree that was, like, papier mache and — and the designer… it was a long time ago… But he wanted this to be a real tree. And I was like great, we’re gonna get a real tree, fire proof it, it’s going to be great. And this was in the round so it had to move and then come back when they did the no man’s land. Um and, I saw the rendering and I thought, ‘Alright, how am I gonna find this tree?’ And it was a tree that was — it needed to look like it had not been pruned, like it had just grew to this shape, but the scale of it was very small because it was on stage, so it’s like a big bonsai tree. So it looks old, but it’s not big. And you– it’s very specific about this one branch that could hold a hangman’s noose… and I thought, well, where should I start. I wonder what research the, the designer used for this tree that he has in his renderings, so I could find out, like, the species of tree because, is it, like, an olive tree or apple tree, then I’ll go to find where the olive trees are or apples trees– find something that might have grown into that … and his research was a screengrab from a video game. [ERIC & ASHLEY: [laugh]] So my task was to find a tree in the world that I can cut down that has grown into this shape, scale, and size of a tree that is a drawing from a team of people that took years to make. [ASHLEY: [laughs] That’s amazing.] I remember I called, uh — I went up to a friend’s house in Connecticut to, like, literally just walk around his yard to see if some trees I could cut down, and finding trees in New York that you can cut down– uh, not easy. But going… I found an arborist up in Dutchess county, and it ended up being a pine tree that was in this guy’s backyard that he had been pruning for, like, 15 years. So it was literally like a big bonsai tree. We took all the bark off. It was painted and fireproofed. We took all the pine needles off, and we moved some limbs around and it ended up being that tree. It was so frustrating because I’m saying, you know, there’s no– you just have to find a tree that has grown into this shape. And I just kept wanting… [whispers] We could make the tree, we could make a good tree. Like this… designers and producers get hurt by people who made them bad trees, so they think that good trees can’t be made, and it has to be real. It makes it so much harder. It’s like, is it my fault that a tree never grew into this shape? But I have a fun, like, time lapse of — this is the tree when it was growing, this was the tree when we took all the pine needles off, like the process, and this is the tree, like, hung with ratchet straps inside of a box truck coming to the — and it had to be transported in the wall to get to the shop. It was pretty epic. [ASHLEY: It’s ridiculous.] I had… I did Thérèse Raquin with Keira Knightley a few years ago, and they have a boat fight on stage, like, they have water and a boat, and the boat has to capsize. Whenever actors have to get inside of things like cars or boats, it won’t sort of be a big thing, but it has to be a small thing. Those are always hard. And… this wooden slatted boat that when it fell over, it couldn’t hurt anybody. David Brimmer, the fight choreographer, he would say “violence consultant” [ERIC: [laughs]] Eric’s laughing because he knows that’s the truth… We needed to find — I found this plastic boat that looked like it had wooden slats on it but it was part of the mold of the boat and we went… we tried to find a pool that would let us choreograph this fight with this boat, and no one would insure it, like, we couldn’t– they wouldn’t let us do it, and we ended up going to, like, a public lake in Pennsylvania out near his house and we’re like– there’s, like, all this swan poop [laughs]. We’re, like, in boots and he has some of his fight choreo friends, like someone’s Keira Knightley shaped and someone’s the other actor’s shape, and they’re figuring out what the cheoro was for this boat. And we ended up… It had to be painted to look like wood grain and painting plastic is always hard, and painting plastic that is actually in water, and flexes, and padded — that’s, that’s all hard. Water is dumb. Like, water is hard. I did a play called If There is, I Haven’t Found It Yet, that Beowulf also designed that was at the Pels, the Roundabout and the… water rushed the stage. It was like, two feet deep and the whole set was carpet, and there was like upholstered furniture and stocked European refrigerators, and everything fell out into the water every night. But there was a… in one scene, they’re at a museum and there’s podium with an acrylic box that has a skull of a saber tooth tiger inside, and that’s… the podium is covered in carpet, and an actor as to push the podium over into a pool of water every night. That was hard. [ASHLEY: Oh gosh, I bet.] Not sure we ever really did get it right. Thank you for short runs. It looked good. It looked good. I know they had to rebuild the theater after that. [ASHLEY: Goodness] … rotten wood or something… Making things waterproof that look real that don’t look like bath toys is hard.
ASHLEY: Now, do you ever get to actually build props? [BUIST: Yeah!] You do, oh okay.
BUIST: I think I… With the scale of work that I do and the — my thing is, if I don’t do it better than someone else does, then that person who does it better should be doing it. I, but,– there’s some things I think I do better than other people. I’m a really good crafter, I’m an okay carpenter not a great carpenter, but when things are you know, last minute changes, quick changes, it’s like, late at night at my shop fixing things… but for the most part, I’m truly a supervisor, like I’m the prop supervisor. I’m making sure that everything is rolling. Uh, also, I work on commercial shows that I hope are going to run for ten years, and if I’m the person who made it, then when it breaks I’m the person who needs to make the other one, and I need to think of the long term of that, and it’s good to have this… List of people say like, that saber tooth tiger thing broke, and you should call blahblahblah, and they’re gonna work on the fixing that while the backup is in. If I’ve made everything, then it just keeps coming back to me, and that’s just kind of , and I’ll be on to other projects by then, so I just need to be able to… as far as management of my time, I’m not sure it’s best spent making a lot of things.
ASHLEY: Yeah, that makes sense, that makes sense.
ERIC: Mhm. Now are there types…
BUIST: I have a lot of knowledge, a lot of background, of how things are made, and how, and um, being able to communicate with the director and the designers and the stagehands and the makers — like, I have to have a lot of knowledge of carpentry and upholstery and other things and all that stuff. But um… actually doing the making, I don’t do that much.
ERIC: Mhm. Now when you have… when you have these props that nobody knows how they’re gonna be built, uh, do you do mock ups, do you have to sort of prove to the producers or the designer that you have enough that’ll work…
BUIST: Uh… Proof of concept. I have the proof of concept, I do lots of prototyping. With a show like Frozen, what does ice look like? That was a question for about two years. What does ice look like? Prototype, what’s our snow language? What’s our… putting everything on these big musicals, you usually know what they are ahead of time, and I spend lots of time prototyping. I like to be very upfront with the director. This is ugly, but I think it works. I do something five times and just see what sticks. But it’s a lot of prototyping. Mocking up… I start every rehearsal for a big musical with 25 sheets of 4×8 black foam board, and it’s like, that’s not cheap, but I will use all of it, because it’s just like putting sheets together and seeing what that’s gonna be, and mocking up any kind of thing. You know, it all starts with foam taping.
ASHLEY: Now, how long do you have to build and prep for a Broadway show?
BUIST: It’s different, on case by case. I started Harry Potter months ahead of time, and Frozen ahead of time. These big musicals, like, there’s so much planning cause they’re just ssssoooo big, the scale is so huge. But plays, like a month ahead of time. What the contract is, how much preproduction they’re going to pay for. I mean I’ve… I have, in the past, been on contract for twelve or sixteen weeks before we start rehearsal to prep, for prototyping, for figuring out what something is. But um they’re often labs ahead of musicals where it’s like… your things are really rough and sometimes that’s part of the preproduction where you do a rough and tumble version to figure out the shape of it, and then find it later. But for plays, or like revivals, there’s less of that. I feel like recently there’s been lots of labs for revivals of musicals, and I’m like, ‘Do you even know how that worked?’ [ASHLEY: That’s weird.][ERIC: Yeah.]I’m not gonna call anybody out [ASHLEY: Are they changing it?] but that’s definitely… [ASHLEY: Are they changing it, script-wise?] It’s not my shows, other people’s shows, I feel like, what are you doing in a lab for like six weeks, we know that story.
ERIC: So a musical with a long prep period, are there still last minute changes happening during tech. [BUIST: Of course.] Is everything ironed out?
BUIST: I mean uh, they still want to change stuff, you know, I… I’m changing things until the very last minute on a new musical.
ASHLEY: And are they built items? Bought items?
BUIST: Everything. Both. Everything. I mean, huge changes go in at the last minute. But hopefully, eventually you get it right. And you just have to go in knowing that that’s… This is the thing for now. Everything is disposable, everything… don’t get attached to anything because anything could change.
ERIC: So um, with… revivals versus new works, do you have a favorite to work on?
BUIST: I like figuring it out. If I’m tired, I like a small play. I could really use a Miss Julie right now. That’s what my next project I hope will be. There’s not one, that’s just in my mind that like… [ASHLEY: A dream.] Just like, black stove, that sounds nice. I like doing original work. I like really putting my mark on it. I like not knowing at all what something is, and then making it something cool. I loved working on Spongebob, that’s like, so much of the show is props, I felt like Ii really put my stamp on that show. And… this… you know, Bikini Bottom could be anything, and David Zinn created this crazy, zany world, Tina and David, and just kind of figuring out what that world is was really fun. I just, you know, I got a bunch of– I bought a bunch of stuff that I thought was a fun shape and color and I thought would not break, like I wonder what… let’s get a bunch of pink velcro hair rollers and some, like giant, Slinky’s and see how it goes together.
ERIC: Yeah, I got to see some of those props at the exhibition you sent some of your work to up at Wheaton College.
BUIST: I sent things that I can bring on the subway [laughs] I think I had a bunch of small things. [ERIC: Oh, yeah] I had, I think I sent a krabby patty there.
ERIC: Yeah, there was a krabby patty. Now that looked — was that 3D printed?
BUIST: It was 3D printed. [ERIC: Okay.] There’s a giant table of krabby patties that comes out, and it’s brought on by a giant krabby patty. It’s like 250 of them in a big stack and, and uh, we– I had them 3D printed and each layer is like a different print, and it’s printed in color, and they kind of puzzle together. I was really proud of those. I found a guy on Etsy who made hamburger magnets that were 3D printed, and I copied to him — If I give you this drawing, and like, this scale, if I want 250 of these, like, let’s work on it together. And they turned out really cool. And then I used his 3D printed ones to cast and mold into a soft coated foam for when they get thrown around, cause to throw around 3D print, they’ll just fall apart and break. But it was great for use as a mold. We had soft ones and we had the hard ones. [ASHLEY: And was there a reason…] And giant ones. We had all kinds of krabby patties.
ASHLEY: Was there a reason you chose to 3D print it?
BUIST: I just thought because there was so many of them, I just wanted to make one right and have it done a bunch of times. I think now that we have them, on future productions, they could all be soft, there’s no reason for them to be hard.
ASHLEY: Yeah, totally. And did you have to do anything to them, like sand them down or was it… good?
BUIST: I had the guy do all the work cause I… they were printed like a puzzle piece, so there’s a center hole through all the elements, so it’s like a bun, tomato, onion, cheese, and they all puzzled into each other, and there’s a valve that goes in the center that’s glued, a wooden dowel. So it’s like… a jenga. [ASHLEY: Okay, that’s pretty cool.] Yeah.
ERIC: Cool. And I think I…
BUIST: I was really proud of my jellyfish that are in Spongebob. I feel like everyone should have watched the video that was on the Today Show with the jellyfish. We did so many different kinds of jellyfish. The jellyfish in Chicago were super lame. They were mine, I can say that. I have all these videos on my phone still of, like, what we thought, maybe this is what jellyfish are. I had like — I put a bunch of headlamps lights on the stalk of umbrellas and shined them inside, wanting to make them glow. But you see every side of a jellyfish, umbrella, so– there will always be a shadow. I’m figuring out what tentacles are, what’s the material that they’re made out of, and we tried so many things that are nothing like what are on stage right now. What we have on stage right now looks awesome. [laughs]
ASHLEY: And how was that built, that’s on stage now? What materials…
BUIST: They’re um– I knew that we needed to make them look like they were glowing. I knew that they were electrified. They needed to close for storage to get off stage, so they can’t stay open. They needed to look like they were– they need to be pink, they look like they are glowing. So I did a super [laughs] super hot pink vinyl, like, for making harajuku raincoats or something. [ASHLEY: So it wasn’t translucent?] They’re… Um, what’s the word, they’re iridescent. [ASHLEY: Oh, okay.]… So we took a huge umbrella frame, we made a pattern out of the fabric that it comes with, [ASHLEY: So they were large.] They’re six feet in diameter, we have a couple sizes, six feets and four feets. Big jellys. And then the tentacles are made of the same, iridescent… fluorescent, they’re not iridescent, they’re fluorescent pink — the bodies are fluorescent pink and then they have spots that are iridescent vinyl. For like fashion fabrics. And then the tentacles are made of ping pong balls, playpen balls, and the vinyl. And by way that it’s patterned and cut, it… I’m probably the most proud of those jellyfish. And making — they take a lot of maintenance, just by what they are, for what they are, we made them as strong as can be.
ASHLEY: That’s awesome.
BUIST: Can you tell I feel passionate about jellyfish? [ASHLEY: [laughs] Not at all.].
ERIC: I remember reading about that show and how Nickelodeon didn’t want to just do like a carbon copy of the cartoon show, you know, like the theme park version. They really wanted to kind of explore…
BUIST: I’m so proud of Spongebob, [ERIC: Yeah.] it’s like, I wish people would go and see it. [ASHLEY: I’ve heard it’s good.] It’s great. It’s like, people like — It’s like you have to apologize for it. You’re like, I heard it’s good, like, it sounds like such a bad idea, and there’s every way to do it wrong. And when I was working on it before it opened, everyone was like, ‘Oh, sorry.’ I said I was working on the Spongebob musical, and they’re like, ‘You’ll have work after that.’ [ASHLEY: Oh my gosh, that’s so rude, too.] But I am so proud of the show, it is a visual feast. It is really cool and edgy and weird and psychedelic, and trashy in the best way. It’s really hard to make things that last and can go eight shows a week and still looks like a bunch of solo cups. Like it looks like a bunch of trash that’s coming out of the seams, it’s like the aesthetic, some of our… clumpings of coral that are around the proscenium are meant to look like these rager party decorations that are literally solo cups that have been zip tied together and then spray painted bright pink color. But you know what’s hard? Fire-retarding solo cups. And so I found a camping company that makes them out of stainless steel, and so we have stainless steel solo cups that we painted, and they’re all zip tied together. I mean, it looks like just a bunch of plastic solo cups, but they weigh a lot [laughs]. [ASHLEY: I was about to ask.] And they’re– they will not catch on fire.
ASHLEY: [laughs] Nope! So, when you’re building props, what kind of materials do you enjoy working with? What are your favorites, and why?
BUIST: Mmm, I love glossy wood tone, I love GWT. It’s such a broad question.
ASHLEY: I mean, do you enjoy soft goods, doing upholstery…?
BUIST: I’m like, I’m good with fabric stuff. I’m good at — I’ve some great upholsterers, I really like upholstery jobs and draperies. Carpets and rugs, I have a lot of great vendors. I enjoy figuring out what those things are. I love- I really enjoy aging fabrics. I like belt sanding really expensive things, make them look old, and over spraying them with bleach and pearl grey Rit dye. I really like 3D printing stuff, that’s something I’ve been doing a lot more of. It makes a lot of things easier. You get to know how to utilize it correctly. I really like printing on powdered nylon instead of plastic, it feels like a gesso canvas, and you can take watercolor paint and it looks, like, totally not like something that’s 3D printed.
ERIC: What’s your least favorite material? [BUIST: MDF.] What have you tried that you just hate and will never go back to?
BUIST: MDF things that fall apart. Some things need to be MDF, but sheet casters I have no time for, and your casters that you have on show pieces– I always spend the money to have the same casters on the rehearsal pieces. If you’re trying to like cut money for things, you should always have things be as much to the same weight and the same movement as what the show things are going to be.
ASHLEY: Cause I think the actors get so attached to the weight, the size, and then you give them something new in tech, and it’s like suddenly they can’t act.
BUIST: And you should always give them something that’s worse first.
ASHLEY: Yeah, then they don’t get attached to that piece.
BUIST: Always make it better and not– make the next one lighter and not heavier. Um… you just asked me something. I feel really strongly about packing tape. You said things that I don’t use. Whenever people order tape, this is so specific, whenever people order, like, a bunch of tape for loadouts and things, it’s always like the cheapy Uline economy tape, I don’t have time for it. It rips on the thing, I just need it to come out and go– it’s like, whenever I make a list of what my loadout supplies is, [deliberately] Scotch brand packing tape. [ASHLEY & ERIC: [laugh]] I don’t have time for it. I don’t have time for, like, finding the edge of the tape in like, the cheapy stuff. Very specific about that.
ERIC: Harbor Freight packing tape is even worse than the Uline.
BUIST: Oh, who has the time. [ASHLEY: [laughs]]. I try to stay away from nylon and polypropylene rugs. They’re really hard to fireproof. If you can get 100% wool of anything, that’s better.
ASHLEY: What is your favorite product to use to flameproof rugs?
BUIST: I get– for the most part, they’re flameproof rugs, so I just use — if anything’s 100% wool then it’s flameproof. Turning Star New Jersey does all of my flameproofing. Sometimes if I just have little things like, I know people who have cert’s to do it. But I also keep the Rosebrand branded fireproofing liquids around when I need to do things myself. There’s a company out in California. California does fireproofing better than any other place, because they have higher — their standards are harder than any other place. [to himself] What’s that stuff I love? There’s intumescent paint that’s clear that’s one coat, so if you have something that will not take, it’s like a clear — it feels like, clear Jaxsan almost, and it’s a fireproofing agent. You do it for fake food or things that are really hard to fireproof. [ASHLEY: Oh wow. What was it called?] It would not take on the solo cups or the flip flops.
ASHLEY: What was that called again?
BUIST: That’s a great question. [ERIC & ASHLEY: [laugh]] [ASHLEY: We can Google it guys, we’ll let you know.] Sorry. It’s really expensive.
ASHLEY: Oh, I bet it is. I bet it is.
BUIST: There’s a two-process that’s clear, and a one-process that’s a little foggy. But intumescent paint I use a lot for things that are hard to fireproof. It coats it, and fireproofing instead of soaking it, there’s a lot of things that won’t absorb.
ASHLEY: Yeah, that’s true. So I’m curious and want to talk about what you need from a set designer, and what you need from stage managers that you commonly don’t get, somewhat frustrates, and you just need that information.
BUIST: I’m lucky to work with a lot of the same set designers that I’m used to working with, and a lot of the — I haven’t worked with a new stage manager in a while. There are not that many people who do this. There are about 50 people who do all the Broadway shows. [ASHLEY: Yeah, it’s very small.] And it’s really hard, it’s a very specific set of skills, and there are not that many people who do it. I like to get an updated prop list from stage managers before every day off, so like once a week I can kind of have my master list and see what, where my holes are.
ERIC: Now, are you doing your own prop list when you get a script? Are you getting it from the stage manager just to see what they think they’re using?
BUIST: Um, I usually — on Broadway, it’s usually, we have meetings with– I have meetings with the set designer before the stage manager’s even hired, so I kind of know what’s happening a little bit more than they do when we start. They– stage managers always make their own list from the, from what’s just in the script, which may or may not be the real thing, and then just kind of update to what’s actually happening. I love a really great stage manager. I really don’t like a not good stage manager. [laughs]
ASHLEY: In your mind, what makes a good stage manager and what makes a bad stage manager?
BUIST: Some — when stage managers — there’s so much communication that they are the middle of, making calendars and making sure different departments are aware of what’s happening in rehearsal, and they have so many unique responsibilities that are not the props, so I’m sure they’ve got a lot to do. Sometimes I feel like stage managers, some stage managers, start problems that don’t actually exist. And we have enough problems that do exist, so fake problems don’t matter. Most stage managers on Broadway are really good. If they weren’t really good, then they wouldn’t be on Broadway. I think that’s kind of more from my earlier days when I was in regional and Off-Broadway stuff. Sometimes certain — this is not just the stage managers, but of anyone– when like, starting drama about issues that don’t exist, that like, there’s so much drama literally on stage, we have so many problems and variables that we have to be figuring out, just, we should just – everyone should be trying to make it as easy as possible. [ASHLEY: Totally.] Did that answer your question?
ASHLEY: Yes it did. Now you mention you did a lot of Off-Broadway shows, obviously before you did Broadway shows. What other things did you do that led you to where you are now?
BUIST: Oh, gosh. I think that I have a good sense of, like, who the smartest people in the room are. And I thought, I want to hang out with these people. And, you know, the people who make the most sense and who are saying smart things Off-Broadway are the people who are going to do it on Broadway. To work on Broadway, you need to have worked a lot in New York City specifically. Doing props regionally or tours, there’s a very specific set of skills for moving things around in New York of how, getting things to a Broadway theater, transportation, freight elevators, parade schedules, like really specific to New York City things. Like, I would say if people want to do props in New York City then you have to do props in New York City. Like, you need to, it’s a very specific set of skills. So I would say — I started off doing props in Connecticut at the Westport Playhouse, and a lot of, I use– I feel like I learned so much about doing shows in New York because we rehearsed in New York a lot of shows. And, like, I was in a box truck on the FDR getting tickets for having a commercial vehicle on a… [ASHLEY: [laughs]] You know what I mean? [ASHLEY: Been there!] I’ve done, like, doing that and getting into weird vertical places and like freight elevator times, tipping freight elevators, that kind of like minutiae of required things of moving around New York City, um, really useful.
ASHLEY: Now, what kind of rehearsal spaces are your favorite? What do you need?
BUIST: I like a nice freight elevator. I like a wide loading dock. I’ve rehearsed at sound studios that can take a full Mack truck and it has a real loading dock. I’ve rehearsed at small dance studios that have no freight elevator at all. A lot of Broadway shows rehearse at New 42, Gibney Dance Studios, Ballet Hispanico, I’m rehearsing a show in St. Paul’s Church… so much space there. [ASHLEY: Really?!] But… entrances, how big you can build rehearsal scenery, the size of the door widths, when you can be in the building, a lot of places say you have to leave by 7 o’clock, some places don’t care at all. If you can use a saw in the building, a lot of places don’t want you to do that, but some are totally fine with it. If they let you fire retard things in the building or not, cause it’s so hard if you’re using real furniture in rehearsal, and I always try to use as much real furniture as possible, like you have to have it upholstered, have it painted, or whatever you’re doing to it, and bring it in, have people get used to the stuff, and then once you’re used to it, it’s really hard to take it out unless you have an exact double of it, which you should try to do, and then if it can be treated at the end of the rehearsal, it can be dry the next day, and that’s a lot easier than having to take it out of the building, blahblahblah.
ASHLEY: That’s interesting. I didn’t know that furniture needed to be flame proofed [BUIST: Yep.] cause the actors are so involved and touching it. [BUIST: All upholstery and drapery.] Oh, wow. That’s interesting. [BUIST: True story]. Awesome.
BUIST: Everything is not as obnoxious as people think it is. I think maybe 20 years ago, the things that — I mean, some of it is, like if you’re trying to treat, like, some saran wrap, but what they put on it is real nasty. [email notification dings] But I mean, for fabrics, it’s generally pretty easy. Did you get an email?
ASHLEY: I did get an email.
ERIC: Yeah, I think what’s surprising, especially in a lot of the smaller theaters, is they don’t do a lot of flameproofing, or they don’t think they have to.
BUIST: Um, I– we have walkthroughs for all Broadway shows. There’s a date when the fire department shows up, and it’s always like, a scary dumdoom day [ASHLEY: Oh, yeah] and you have to have all of your swatches and the products that were used, and on a huge musical, I mean, it could be a binder that’s like six inches tall of all the things, and a recommendation for people wanting to do this — I keep a binder of all of the fabrics that are in the show from the beginning, even things that might have been cut, just so we can always have, you always are looking for a piece of this thing, so if you need to get more of it, you have it, if you lost your swatch, you can cut it off. That’s what costume people do all the time, is they just like, a big ring of what’s in the show. That’s what we should always do.
ASHLEY: Yeah. It’s so terrifying when the fire marshall comes by.
BUIST: If you’re really like, you need stay organized about it, and just have everything — you should go a little bit further than what you think you should, and then, you’ll get a different fire marshall a different days or a different person that’ll come in… safety’s important, do it to the best of your ability. You should be fine. Unless people are totally irrational.
ASHLEY: I think we have time for one more question. So, can you tell us about your favorite Broadway show that you’ve done, why, and why did it make it special?
BUIST: I’ve already talked about a few shows already, so that’s kind of boring. I really loved Other Desert Cities. I thought that the play itself was so good. The cast was so good. And I thought that it was, like, almost a perfect production.
ASHLEY: And that was with Judith Light and Stockard Channing?
BUIST: Judith Light and Stockard Channing, oh my gosh… who did it Off-Broadway… someone else… There was a few cast changes, but everyone came back eventually for the Broadway run. It was just everything worked. The set, the costume, the lights, the script, the director, everything. It just felt like one person had painted this picture. It was perfect. I was really proud of Hughie with Forest Whitaker that ran for about five seconds and no one saw. Hughie is such a small play, and it takes place in this hotel lobby, and there are very few things in it. But I think — I would not change anything that was on there. I will always say, oh this could be better… we ran out of money, we ran out of time… I couldn’t get it together… But there’s so few things in that show, that I felt everything was done, I wouldn’t change a thing about it. That’s very great when that gets to happen. And then I’m super proud of Spongebob. It’s a crazy world, it’s like an important story, there was ever reason to do that show wrong and stupid, and… it’s still stupid in the best way. The way that Spongebob is just stupid. And the visual world for that, I’m not sure I’ll ever have a show that’s as exciting as that.
ERIC: Yeah, it looked like a lot of fun. It almost seems like how Lion King transcended it’s material and became, you know, it’s own thing.
BUIST: And I think it deserves so much more respect than it gets. It got these like, amazing reviews, and like the audience, we’re still cultivating an audience, but we got nominated for twelve Tony’s, we got stellar reviews from the New York Times for the Spongebob musical. Like, we’re doing something right, folks. Like, check it out.
ERIC: Yeah. But there’s still articles that are kind of like, putting it down, you know, well it’s branded, it’s Spongebob, don’t pay any attention…
BUIST: I read the article and I felt like it was an attack on me [All: laugh] because it was like, Frozen is stupid, Spongebob is stupid, Harry Potter is stupid. [ASHLEY: It was personal, I pulled them up. [laughs]]. It was personal. It’s like, guys, this is … Spongebob makes sense for adults to go see, for the elderly to go see, there’s something for everybody, but like if that was your first show, then you would think that theater could be a lot of really cool things. You know? I think it’d be a really exciting first show for any kid.
ASHLEY: That’s awesome. Well, thank you so much… [BUIST: They’re not making me say that. That is how I feel.] Well, thank you so much for coming and talking with us. [BUIST: Thanks for having me!]
ERIC: Yeah, this has been really great.
ASHLEY: Yeah, it’s been a lot of fun.
BUIST: I think you need a good edit.
ASHLEY: So, listen again next week and every Tuesday. Check out our website silkflowersandpapiermachehearts.com. We have a twitter account @silkmache, and if you have any questions, any ideas, any topics you want us to cover, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
ERIC: And subscribe to us on Itunes and Googleplay.
ASHLEY: I’m your host today – Ashley Flowers.
ERIC: And Eric Hart, and until next time.
ASHLEY: Until next time, and thank you again, Buist. It’s been fun.
Transcription by Victoria Ross.