"My big mission is to spread the word about props," says self-dubbed "proptologist" Jay Duckworth. "If you're a great prop-master, no one should be able to see what you've done. So no one realizes. And I want people to know."
This guy does it all. He was/is the props master for Hamilton, has worked on amazing shows like Fun Home, and done a ton of TV. He's also in residence as props master at New York's Public Theatre. "For Mother of the Maid," now on stage at the Public, "I had to teach Glenn Close how to knit," he says.
Duckworth will be at the Museum of the American Revolution from 3-8 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 23, to talk about challenges he and his team faced in creating props for Hamilton. He'll also give demonstrations. It's part of their "History After Hours: Tricked Out" Halloween season series.
If you go, ask Jay to tell the story about "Burn." In that song, Eliza Hamilton, hurt by her husband's affair, sets fire to their letters. "The problem was how to have a real fire without burning the stage down," Duckworth says. "We researched all these different weights and textures of paper — and the actual kinds of paper they would have used at that time. I needed paper that would burn up in two minutes and nine seconds, the length of the song." An ingenious coal scuttle with a false front was involved.
He speaks about "doubling up on the desks," designing two-desks-in-one that function as first Hamilton's desk and then Washington's. When you go to see Hamilton in Philly when it comes to the Forrest Theater in August 2019, keep an eye out for a certain pile of bricks. "We wanted bricks scattered around the set to make it look like a city under construction, a new nation," he says, "and I brought in this pile of bricks, but we hadn't done anything with them yet. But designer David Korins said to keep them just like that, a pile of bricks. It was an honest-to-God genius idea. And now every production of Hamilton has a foam cast of exactly that pile of bricks, on that exact place on stage."
Asked what he's most proud of, he starts to choke up. "I'm proud that Hamilton gave a voice to, and opened theater to, a whole new generation. It's exciting to see kids now excited about theater, see people of color seeing themselves on stage. I've worked with Sondheim, I've worked with Arthur Laurents, I've worked with Terrence McNally, and the day we first workshopped Hamilton, I was crying my eyes out. I said: 'I've never been in a room where I knew we were changing history.' "
Duckworth is heading to the museum ahead of their new exhibit, Hamilton Was Here: Rising Up in Revolutionary Philadelphia, which runs from October 27, 2018 — March 17.