When you see When I Come to Die, you will notice that letters feature prominently in the plot. Damon, the protagonist, keeps the letters that he has written to his family (and which have been returned unread) in 6 shoeboxes under his bed, and periodically reads them aloud to himself, because it makes him feel like he is talking to somebody. They are, as he calls them, his 'contact'. They are, to the audience, a way to see a side of Damon that he rarely shows. They are, to the stage management and prop team, a complex system of different elements.
So how exactly do the letters work?
I went to the source, Assistant Stage Manager Jenny Kennedy, part of a team (with Emily Glinick, our Stage Manager) that is so insanely on top of it that if I asked them to run the show while filing your taxes and cooking a gourmet meal at the same time, they wouldn't break a sweat. (Plus, you would have a delicious meal and a tax refund after the curtain call). Here's what she revealed:
"There are 5 copies of each letter in each box - 25 total. We also have additional letters in case they get mussed through use. They're usually reusable, unless Chris plunks his head down on his pillow when the Mama letter is underneath. Each day I go through the boxes and pull out the opened letters and put the letter into a new, sealed envelope. Each different letter has its own envelope coding, simply sharpied lines on the top/corner of the envelope so Chris can see it easily.
When the order of the letters changed, we didn't change the code for each person (which is 1, 2 and 3 lines, originally read in that order). Chris just had to remember what number order to read them in, or read the name on the outside of the envelope.
When rewrites were happening, yes, we had to reprint letters with each new rewrite. To print the letters on lined paper, Marina Guzman (Props Coordinator) used Photoshop to properly space the text so it would be legible & actually look like someone wrote on the paper (printing out of Word would, regardless of type size & spacing adjustments, run over the lines and look obviously computer printed in addition to be hard to read). They are all printed using a handwriting font that Marina found online.
When little changes were made (adding a PS, changing the header to 'Dear Father Adrian Crouse'), I wrote the changes in until we could print a whole new set. (The Randall set still has a handwritten PS, as printing a whole new set includes printing 25 additional envelopes, and Chris was fine with my scrawl on the prop.)
In addition to the coding, all of the envelopes are addressed to the proper people, have Damon's return address at the prison, are stamped (though not postmarked - I wish!), and have a return-to-sender red finger stamp on them. A number of the un-coded letters in the boxes are opened to reflect Damon's frustration with his letters being touched, and the fact that he's been reading them for a while now."
Anika Chapin is the Assistant Director for WHEN I COME TO DIE, and the author of bloggledygook.wordpress.com.