UNI theatre professor turns plenitude into props

Self-described "collector of all things weird," theatre professor Mark Parrott has turned his odd collection into a money-saving trash-reducing hobby for the University of Northern Iowa's theatre department.


UNI's production of "Urinetown" used cardboard tubes from 

manufacturing plant in Marshalltown.


Old cardboard tubes, foam poster board, rolls of fabric and even some never-used pesticide tanks have been intercepted by Parrott and used in theatre productions for the last 10 years. Parrott has used contacts with local businesses along with the Iowa Waste Exchange to take production by-products from businesses and reuse them.

It takes more work and creativity to make scenery with recycled items, but in the end Parrott says it's all worth it. In the theatre department's production of "Urinetown," cardboard tubes from a manufacturing plant in Marshalltown were used as pipes. Originally the tubes were just going to be thrown away, but when Parrott heard about them he knew right away they could be used for something. After getting the design plans for the play, it took Parrott four hours to figure out how to use the tubes. The same type of tubes would have cost between $1,500 and $2,000 to buy directly, that's nearly 13 times the amount it cost Parrott to rent a truck and pick them up himself.

Almost anything can be recycled and used as a prop. Parrott's office is filled with foam gears, parts of mannequins and boxes of recycled things just waiting to be used. The only time Parrott ever turns something down is when he runs out of space. Even if the UNI theatre department can't use all of it, Parrott will take the items and donate them to local high school theatre departments or Goodwill.

"For me, I have always disliked the idea that as a theatre industry that wants to change the world by sending a message, we are not putting the message into action. We are not using our resources wisely," Parrott said. "It (theatre) is fun, but there is usually a message being sent. Look at the things we can change. We should take the opportunity to use our ability and our voice to help contribute to a better ecology. We can change the environment and the way we think about doing plays without waste."

If you have unused furniture or know of a company that has unused by-products, or for more information, please visit www.uni.edu/theatre or contact Mark Parrott at mark.parrott@uni.edu.

"I'm a grain of sand in what I do," said Parrott. "I need to find more people who will do this."