In Jeff Streuwing’s laboratory, a duck mask hangs on the wall, bloody gloves lie on a table and shimmery peacock feathers waft next to the window.
For the past seven years Streuwing has been the volunteer prop master for Lumina Studio Theatre, a rigorous theater arts program for youth and adult actors in Silver Spring.
On June 16, at Lumina’s 15th anniversary gala, he was awarded the Jillian Raye Theater Magic award for his “extraordinary gift of labor and love” to create theatre magic. The award is named after Lumina founder, Jillian Raye, who died of breast cancer in 2008.
“Jeff has an uncanny ability with style and ingenuity to hunt down props that really work for the audience,” said Lumina Artistic and Executive Director David Minton.
Every year, Streuwing donates about $2,500 in props and materials to the theater, along with creating and shopping for the props to equip two casts of 40 to 50 people.
Lumina does mostly Shakespearean plays, but with different themes like steampunk, a style fascinated with gadgets and gears, or turn-of-the-century Russian.
Streuwing makes everything from glowing caveman clubs to horse carcasses out of everyday items such as wire, cloth and paper towel rolls.
“I live at Value Village,” he said. Streuwing also finds a lot of his materials on eBay.com or Amazon.com.
“He is so creative. I tend to throw things at him that are so bizarre,” Minton said. He recently had Streuwing make three decapitated heads for a play.
Streuwing’s first-ever challenge was a donkey mask for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
“I found this in my backyard,” Streuwing said pointing to chicken wire, “I rolled it up and I thought, ‘That kind of looks like a donkey head.’” With some sewing and glueing the wire was transformed.
His laboratory is filled with trinkets such as bells, pistols, swords, fake heads, roller skates and flashlights.
“Pretty much everything in here I’ve gathered. I just got bitten by the bug,” Streuwing said.
He first joined Lumina when his son, David, was in the program. His son started at age 11 and stopped at 15; David now is 19.
“I remember in his first play he was a little sailor. He only had about four or five lines. It was a very moving experience for him,” Streuwing said of David’s first play “Much Ado about Nothing” set on a Pacific island.
According to Minton, Streuwing is an excellent teacher to Lumina’s actors by showing them how the props work and collaborating with them to make sure a prop fits the character.
“He always takes a delight in seeing young performers grow up,” he said.
At a cocktail party for Lumina staff and parents Streuwing volunteered to become the prop master.
“I didn’t know anything about Lumina at the time,” he said. “Oh my God, it was overwhelming.”
Streuwing would sit with his son in his bedroom and go over the script to pick out props, some lists went more than three or four pages. He would then spend weekends making props.
On the weekdays, he spends time in another laboratory at the National Institutes of Health, where he has been a program director for 21 years in genetic research.
Streuwing previously did breast cancer research, but is now studying how genes express themselves in different tissues to understand how genes contribute to diseases.
But, what’s in his genes is prop making.
“[Streuwing] really wants the show to be as fine as it can be,” Minton said.
“It’s all about the kids and being part of the magic of a play,” Streuwing said.