From Brownie cameras to vintage typewriters, it’s a veritable treasure trove of unique finds and period pieces at the Cleveland Prop Shop—a 1,200-square-foot warehouse space located near I-90 in Euclid. Local prop master Monica Plunkett opened the appointment-only shop last fall to accommodate the city’s theatre scene and what she calls a “growing film presence in Cleveland.”
To date, Plunkett has helped mastermind the props for films like In Search of Fellini, My Friend Dahmer, and Dog Eat Dog, as well as stage productions for Near West Theatre and the recently defunct Mamai Theatre Company. She took over the business last year from Heidi Boone, a Lakewood-based prop master who had moved down to Florida.
“I was working on some theatre productions at Near West when I was introduced to Heidi,” says Plunkett. “She’d collected props throughout her lifetime, and her shop was closed. It was sort of a slow acquisition over a period of a few years [before I opened Cleveland Prop Shop].”
Calling herself an “archaeologist of sorts," Plunkett prides herself on her ability to source whatever the script calls for—whether that’s a still-working ironing machine from 1917 or prison toothbrushes for a jail scene. And if she can’t find the perfect prop, she makes it. One of Plunkett’s proudest moments was creating a “muffin machine” for Near West’s production of Beauty and the Beast out of an old tea cart, and she also specializes in making intricate faux food replicas.
“I come from a maker family. My father owns a furniture business in Youngstown, so if I’m building something really big, I’ll use his space and tools,” says Plunkett. “It’s given us some great bonding time.”
Along with prop rentals, Plunkett also helps set the scene for special events around Cleveland. Last year, Plunkett executed a Victorian Garden motif for the annual Earth Day Coalition benefit—with all décor created from recycled or reclaimed objects. Plunkett has also worked with Mamai Theatre Company on its last two benefits, creating bespoke centerpieces that “incorporated some theatre geek items” (like playing cards for A Streetcar Named Desire).
Though Plunkett acknowledges she’s running a small operation for now, she’s eager to partner with other local businesses to build a strong network of referrals for productions that come into town. She's also building out the Cleveland Prop Shop website and continuing to acquire at least one new prop each week. Her ultimate goal is to be a one-stop shop for props in both film and theatre.
“The reason I think we need a prop shop in Cleveland is that [set decorators] don’t want to be running around to 60 different places—it just adds time and frustration,” says Plunkett.
For Plunkett, whose early background was in international education, “props are, in a way, an extension of my interest in culture. You’re sourcing things for a particular character in a particular time and place—whatever the story is, its context is [set in] a particular culture.”