One of the things I like about Raleigh Little Theatre is that it has some history. Since the theatre has been in operation for 67 years, it has accumulated a lot of stuff over the years. You can see this if you walk through the theatre’s prop rooms — there are shelves and stacks of items like dishes, typewriters, brooms, luggage, and so forth, much of it recognizably from other time periods. For example, A Streetcar Named Desire is set in 1947, and our recent production of that play required props that were consistent with that date, including a tabletop radio and a telephone. The props department had no problem coming up with those.
But the larger items, especially furniture, have to be stored offsite because there just isn’t room at the theater for them. So RLT leases a warehouse a few blocks away, which is full of items like the beds, icebox, kitchen table, and sink used in Streetcar. Or at least it used to be. Sometime last week, thieves broke into the warehouse and robbed it, stealing dozens of antique and one-of-a-kind furniture pieces. They even got the king’s throne from Cinderella, which opens in less than three weeks.
This is the sort of news item that I wouldn’t have even noticed six months ago, but now it strikes pretty close to home. This theft directly affects a play I’m in, and I know all of the people being quoted in the news coverage of the crime. (Which is considerable, by the way; several Raleigh TV stations covered the story on their broadcasts last night.) In fact, I’ve actually been to the RLT warehouse. During the strike for Once Upon a Mattress, I helped the theater’s technical director move some furniture and set pieces (stuff that could be reused in other shows) to storage. So I had the opportunity to walk around inside the warehouse and see the items stored there. It was amazing. And now much of it is gone.
Marie and the kids have never been to the warehouse, but they felt the same sense of personal connection to this event. The TV news reports showed photographs of the stolen items, and when this table appeared on screen, we all recognized it. It’s Stella Kowalski’s dressing table from the RLT production of Streetcar. Ruth was a member of the props crew for that show, and it was her job to place a breakaway bottle on that table so that at the proper time, Blanche could break it and threaten Stanley with the jagged remnant. The robbers have that table now.
RLT’s property is insured, so this robbery probably won’t have a lasting financial effect on the theater. But those unique and one-of-a-kind items are going to be tough to replace. We’ll have to find another throne for Cinderella‘s king, but the play will open on schedule. (I know the king personally; we both sing baritone.)
It goes without saying that the people who did this are despicable scum. RLT is a nonprofit community theater that depends on local government grants and donations for its survival. It has a paid staff of only about a dozen, so everyone else who works on its productions is a volunteer. As our scenic designer was quoted as saying, the thieves were robbing the poor.
I still hold out hope that the stolen items can be recovered. They’re all unique and recognizable pieces, and RLT has excellent records of everything that was taken, including photographs. The thieves will have a hard time disposing of the items locally, and that many large pieces will be difficult to transport out of the area. It would be nice to see RLT get its property back and the thieves put behind bars. But whether that happens or not, the show will go on.
UPDATE: SAS Institute is donating its stockpile of set pieces and furniture (left over from the making of two computer games) to RLT. The collection is valued at about $50,000, or about three and a half times the value of the stolen items. Hooray for SAS!

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