Getting to Know JOHN SLAUSON - Dallas Theater Center
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Getting to Know JOHN SLAUSON

Give us the basics: What does the Head of Props do?

I make sure that the scenic designer’s vision of the props for a show is realized. In short what objects an actor is holding or sitting on, or what the curtains over a window on a set look like are all part of the set design. It is my responsibility to work with my crew to create, shop, or rent all of the props, to fit that vision.

What is your favorite part of the job?

Making things no one has ever made before. Often in new works a playwright will include something that is a complete fabrication, or a set designer will include something that is completely out of their imagination,  being on the team that gets to make that thing for the first time is always the best part of my job.

How did you get into working with props?

I started very young, in high school, working as a production assistant at a small professional  theatre. The Prop Master quit and left in the middle of the night. I was quickly deputised as the new prop person, and did the rest of that season. I ended up going to school for Lighting Design, and when I graduated I took some advice and picked props as my career path over what I studied in school.

What interesting ways have you come up with to “recycle” props into other shows and purposes? 

I have done seasons where the same sofa has been in three different productions reupholstered between each show. I am not sure it is interesting, but with faux painting and new fabric I could probably put the same chair in every show for a season and never have a single audience member notice. 


What is your favorite Dallas Theater Center production and why?

I picked 2 in a recent video, but I will limit my answer to one here. 

FLY. FLY is one of the best things I have ever worked on. It was beautiful, well written, and perfectly conceived. I can look at almost any show I have ever done and point out some small detail I did not care for. With FLY I can’t. I could have happily watched every performance.


Isabela Moner and Marcy Harriell, photo by Karen Almond.

You’ve been with us for 10 years! That’s wonderful! Do you have any memories you’d like to share?

Many. I will limit it to one. Working on Les Misérables. I opened up my email one morning and read an email that related that there was a high school student in Alaska that had written a lovely letter (not an email) about how much she wished she could see our show. A little later in the day I got another email telling me that with the help of a board member we were bringing her and her mom to see the show. 

Many people reading this will have heard that story before. I want to tell you my feelings about that story. I read the email and closed my office door and cried tears of joy. I was a theater kid many years ago and thinking about what that would have meant to me in my tiny home town, for a theater to recognize me in that way, was the proudest I have ever been to work any place I have worked in my 30-year career. 

Is there a project you’d like to work on?

Yes, many, but they don’t exist yet. I am a huge Blues fan, and I would love to work on a musical based on the life of Blind Willie McTell. 

Aside from props, what is your favorite thing about theater (acting, directing, lighting, etc)?

I think I legally have to say lighting, since that is what I studied in school. The real answer is words. A beautifully written song lyric or an amazing turn of phrase in a play. Words are why we all come to shows.


What is your favorite thing to do while sheltering in place?

I play in two D&D games a week. I played when I was 14 and was reintroduced to it three years ago. For those of you unfamiliar with Dungeons and Dragons, it is a role playing game. It is a collective storytelling game that relies heavily on improvisation. 


Have you discovered a new hobby, TV show, book, movie, or other entertainment while spending this extra time at home?

Ok I will take these one at a time: Hobby (as I said my main hobby is playing D&D) I have done a lot of photo editing for work over the years, but as I was trying to learn new skills during covid, I found that I was really enjoying doing photo manipulation as a hobby. TV show Gavin and Stacey Book: How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi Movie: The Old Guard (A Charlize Theron movie on Netflix that is the best action movie I have watched in a long time.) Other: YouTube conspiracy theory debunking videos (These are videos like: scientists watching and responding to Flat Earther videos.)

If you could be a superhero, who would you be and why?

This is tough. You are asking a nerd to pick a favorite superhero. I am not going to.  I could pick any number for any number of reasons. I could tell you I want to be Superman or Batman, both true, but instead let’s be more esoteric. I am going to pick one that would be very practical: Cypher. Cypher was a member of the New Mutants. He was hated by most fans when he was in comics. People thought he was boring. I love Cypher. He had the ability to speak/read all languages. That included anything that can be considered a language like body language or computer code. The practicality of this is amazing. Also as I said earlier words are some of my favorite things.

Do you have any advice for people who don’t want to go onstage, but would like to be involved in the theater?

Do it. Once we are able to go outside again, go work at your local community theater. If you are in school, do your school play. There should be no closed doors in the theater, If it looks interesting, do it.


Is there anything we haven’t asked you about that you like to talk about?

I have been a member of the Dallas Theater Center’s EDI committee for the last year and a half. For those that don’t know, EDI stands for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. We on the committee and many in the theater at large are working to make Dallas Theater Center a better place to work, and a theater that is more representative of our community. It is slow, hard work, and sometimes overwhelming, but it is also the thing I will take with me when I eventually leave Dallas Theater Center . More than any show, more than anything that has to do with Props, the need to make Theaer, the art form I love better and more inclusive for everyone.