Following the Props

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Many drum corps, winter ensembles, and marching bands spend thousands of dollars on props and costumes that will only be used one season. What happens to those items afterward? Find out the best ways to reuse, recycle, or sell your used equipment.

Jeff Hurr’s yard is filled with field props. In all he has props for about a dozen drum corps and marching bands. A tractor-trailer rumbles onto his property, and for the next four hours, Hurr and the driver meticulously load the props onto the trailer, labeling each set as they go. It will take about four days for all the props to arrive at their destinations.

Hurr supplies many of America’s most successful drum corps and marching bands with their field props. Carolina Crown’s stagecoach, Santa Clara Vanguard’s tree, and the Bluecoats’ vinyl ramps were all designed and built by Hurr. His props are “over the top,” he says, and engineered in a way that allows group members to interact with them.

In addition to being life-sized and durable, Hurr’s props are also pricey. Most groups spend $5,000 to $7,000 for a new set of his props, and some have spent as much as $15,000.

But not all groups have deep pockets. Some can’t afford a new set of Hurr’s props. Many, however, can afford a used set.

Hurr often works as an intermediary between corps and marching bands that want to buy, sell, and rent his used props. The groups that are selling the props can recoup a significant percentage of their costs, and the groups that are purchasing or renting them get a substantial discount. “Some [groups] will ask for under 20 percent of what they paid for them, which I think is extremely fair,” Hurr says. “And some will ask as much as 70 or 75 percent of the initial cost. In general, I think they resell for close to 50 percent, which I think is a real value for some of these props.”

To help bands buy and sell his used props, all Hurr has to do is locate the last owner. Considering how well-traveled Hurr’s props are, this is no easy task.

Eight Marching Bands and a Wedding

In 2012 Hurr built geodesic domes for Carmel (Indiana) High School for its show, “What a Tangled Web We Weave.” That year Carmel won Bands of America Grand Nationals. Carmel then sold the domes to Newtown High School in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, for its 2014 field show called “Arachne.” From there Hurr’s domes made their way across the country, used by Grants Pass (Oregon) High School in 2015. “I reached out to them and found that they still own them, and they are available,” Hurr says.

Another set of Hurr’s props had a similar fate. In 2010 he built modern gothic windows for the West Johnston High School Marching Band in Benson, North Carolina. In 2011 Cary (North Carolina) High School purchased some of the windows and used them in its varsity winter guard show. Two other windows were sold to a family that used them as a backdrop for a wedding. “A couple of the windows were still at West Johnston, and six were traded to Smithfield-Selma High School in Smithfield, North Carolina, for other props,” Hurr says.

Ultimately Hurr gathered all 12 windows and worked as an intermediary to sell them to James F. Byrnes High School in Duncan, South Carolina. The band converted them to stained glass windows and used them in 2015. The windows were then sold back to Cary High School, where they were reverted back to their original state and featured in its 2016 field show. “I learned that they are now being sold to Rome (Georgia) High School for its field show in 2017,” Hurr says.

Hurr prefers to construct his props out of metal because it’s lighter and more durable than wood. The durability of Hurr’s props allows bands to sell and trade them year after year.

Devolution and Evolution

Bob Edwards, who’s been building props for the Fort Mill (South Carolina) High School Marching Band for the past 30 years, prefers to work with wood, giving him the flexibility to repurpose the band’s props from year to year. “Anything made out of wood, you can tear apart and reuse,” says Edwards, who received Bands of America’s 2016 Patrick John Hughes Parent/Booster Award last November. “We reuse all the fasteners and any pieces of wood for other things. We hang on to pieces as long as we have storage space for them.”

In 2009 the Fort Mill Band performed a show called “Beyond the Great Wall,” winning a state championship that year. During the performance the field was dotted with 10-foot-tall Chinese columns. Each was adorned with a decorative top. Edwards constructed the columns from cardboard cylinders that were 18 inches in diameter. The cylinders’ original purpose was to pour concrete for buildings and bridges. The base of each column was a wooden box with caster wheels for easy transport.

Two years later Edwards transformed those wooden bases with the caster wheels from Chinese columns to spiral columns for a show called “Vertigo.” During the show’s finale students spun the bases creating a spiral effect. Two years hence he created a forest with those cardboard cylinders for the band’s “Firefly” show. “We built larger carts and had different diameter trees on each cart, so the 18-inch tubes were repurposed,” Edwards says. “We added PVC fittings and made branches utilizing fichus branches you’d buy at a craft shop and bonded those to PVC tubes that protruded from the sides.”

For Sale

Like field props, uniforms and guard costumes take a chunk out of a group’s budget. To defray the cost of purchasing new attire, some corps and marching bands sell their used outfits.

Selling used equipment is not lucrative, but most drum corps are happy to break even or recoup a percentage of their initial cost. “Our philosophy is that we like to help other groups, and we like to keep newer and better stuff in the hands of our kids whenever we have the opportunity to do so,” says Bob Jacobs, executive director and CEO of Jersey Surf Drum and Bugle Corps.

David Glasgow, executive director of the Bluecoats Drum and Bugle Corps, sells the corps equipment privately through its website. “We’ve been pretty much able to sell everything we’ve ever used up to this point,” he says. “We make a little bit of money, but not much. Really it’s to make sure that there is an opportunity for other people to use them rather than [the uniforms and costumes] sitting in a closet collecting dust.”

Currently for sale are the ramps from its 2016 show, “Down Side Up.” “It usually takes about a year,” Glasgow says. “It’s easier to sell them in the spring when bands begin to look ahead to their fall season.”

America’s drum corps have such high visibility that it’s not uncommon for corps directors to get inquiries from high school band directors and color guard designers about purchasing their flags, props, and costumes long before the season ends. “They’re so smart and so observant that when we come out in late June and early July, we’re already getting phone calls,” Jacobs says. “There’s a show we did in 2012 where we used giant butterfly wings. Not only did we sell those butterfly wings, but we’ve since helped produce multiple sets of them for groups who wanted that exact same flag.”

The two keys to selling equipment are having a social media presence and appointing a designated person to handle sales. “Shipping and getting them where they need to go isn’t easy, but it’s worth it,” Glasgow says. “To be able to buy and sell allows you to do some creative things knowing you’re going to get some money out at the other end.”

On Consignment

For directors who would rather not be burdened with selling their equipment privately, there’s Guardcloset.com, an online consignment shop. Guardcloset.com grew out of one high school’s need to purge equipment and uniforms from its band rooms. Brian Prato was teaching at Carlisle (Pennsylvania) High School when he noticed the school’s band rooms were piled high with color guard costumes and props. When work crews removed asbestos in the rooms during two consecutive summer breaks, Prato had to empty the rooms of all costumes and equipment. This was no easy task since Carlisle was marching 40 to 50 kids in the color guard, Prato says.

He was convinced he would have to trash the equipment. Then he had his eureka moment: Why not sell the equipment and the uniforms on consignment? He researched consignment shops, secured a 3,000-square-foot warehouse, and started Guardcloset.com in the year 2000.

Twenty-five years ago it was not uncommon for band moms to sew guard costumes, keeping band expenses down. Sewing, however, has become a lost art, Prato says. The armies of band moms who would hunch over sewing machines with their bobbins blazing to knock out a few dozen guard costumes and flags to match are disappearing. Today many bands purchase their guard costumes from dealers. Depending on the intricacy of the design and the materials required, costumes can cost as much as $175 per member.

With the disappearance of the sewing band mom and the cost of guard costumes, Guardcloset.com is helping marching bands buy and sell “gently worn” guard costumes. Some consignors who sell their used equipment on Prato’s site apply their profit to their purchase of different equipment that they buy through Prato.

Donations to Those in Need

If reusing or selling equipment are not appealing options, then corps and bands can always make donations.

In 2011 an EF-5 tornado ripped through Phil Campbell, Alabama, killing 27 people and damaging buildings in and around the center of town. One of those buildings was the high school. The band room was reduced to a pile of rubble with two lonely, mangled timpani cowering in the corner.

When Jacobs heard about the disaster, he reached out to Bobby Patrick, the school’s band director back then. “We donated a whole set of color guard costumes to them, just so they would have good uniforms to wear,” Jacobs says.

Like Jacobs, Glasgow has donated uniforms as well. Through Stanbury Uniforms, the Bluecoats organization has provided uniforms to the marching band in Brookfield, Missouri, where Stanbury is located.

It’s often been said that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. In the drum corps and marching band world, this axiom is truer than ever.

Marching bands seeking used uniforms, costumes, and props need to look no further than other groups to find what they desire. “Never hesitate to go to drum corps and ask them [if their equipment is for sale] because chances are you’re going to pay less for a product that is in really great shape,” Glasgow says.

Featured photo courtesy of Josh Herbert.
Photo of domes courtesy of PianodavePhoto.
Photo of Chinese columns courtesy of Josh Herbert.

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