Opening a closet door, walking inside, and pulling down an old folding ladder from the ceiling - Hannah Fenske, ’10, will never forget the first time she explored the theatre props closet at BCS. Her curiosity evolved into a high school passion project, developing her interest in prop work. At Bellevue Christian, Fenske learned that her unique gifts and faith in Christ could help her have a positive influence on others.
The Fenske family discovered BCS through a friend at church and soon enrolled their oldest daughter Rachel (married name Walker, ’07) at Three Points Elementary. At the age of four, Fenske vividly remembers her mother calling her into the kitchen to speak with the Three Points Principal, Mr. Bloomquist, on the phone. Her mom turned to her and said, “Mr. Bloomquist and I think you could start kindergarten a year early. What do you say?” At that moment, Fenske jumped into school and never looked back.
As a student at BCS, Fenske developed close relationships with many of her teachers. She learned valuable skills in English with Mr. Harper, BCS ’99, and Mr. Delamarter, BCS ’93, along with important lessons in Apologetics from Dr. Ribera. Fenske was involved in the Arts program throughout her BCS career, starting with choir and art classes at Three Points. At Clyde Hill, she took drama with Mr. Berg and Ms. Murphy. In choir with Mr. Ulrich, the Madrigal Feast was one of many memorable highlights of her BCS years.
Along with theatre and choir, Fenske took studio art and sculpture classes with Mrs. Grambush. When she was an upperclassman, Mrs. Grambush gave Fenske studio time to work on her own projects, creating anything that came to mind. Fenske remembers, “That was the first time I made art for my own purposes, rather than just for class or a project. I always enjoyed art, but I never thought it was something I could do professionally.”
Looking back, Fenske realizes how BCS teachers recognized her potential in all areas. She never felt deterred from exploring the Arts, even though she could go in many other directions. “There can be a mentality in the world that if you could go on and get some medical degree, why would you spend time in the arts? I never felt that pressure at BCS. I imagined that could happen, but I never felt dissuaded from my passions for music, art, and theatre.”
In theatre with Ms. Murphy, Fenske’s curiosity about the props closet led her there frequently, pulling pieces for shows throughout the years. At the time, the props closet and loft space needed deep cleaning and organization. One summer, Fenske and her classmate Katie Ross (’10) got Ms. Murphy’s permission to pull everything out into the MPR, donate old items, repaint the closet, and replace the light bulbs. Fenske and Ross even created guidelines for prop storage and hung them on the closet door. Through her passion project, she developed a special interest in making, managing, and organizing theatre props.
After graduating from BCS, Fenske went to Western Washington University, where she intended to study environmental science. In an elective class, Theatre 101, her professor expanded her knowledge of careers in the theatre industry. She knew about acting, directing, lighting, costumes, set design, and stage management, but prop artistry was new to her. After learning that prop artists are creative, resourceful, and enjoy going on treasure hunts, Fenske knew it was the perfect fit.
After applying and being accepted into the Studio Art and Theatre Arts bachelors programs at Western, Fenske attended the Southeastern Theatre Conference. Armed with a stack of resumes, Fenske talked to many theatre companies and landed her first internship with the Janiec Opera Company at Brevard Music Center. From that summer on, she traveled around the country designing and creating props for numerous theatres, gaining experience in the field.
One of Fenske’s most memorable experiences was working for Santa Fe Opera, where she returned for three consecutive summers. Her mentor, Randy Lutz, was an expert prop artisan, having worked at Santa Fe Opera for over 40 years. Fenske said, “As a college junior interviewing and knowing nothing, he looked at my pitiful portfolio and gave me encouragement. After a few years of applying, he actually took a chance and hired me directly as a staff member, not as an intern.”
Another memorable position was at the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, where she worked under Jim Guy. For the past 16 years, Guy has been the President of the Society of Properties Artisan Managers (SPAM), which is the national association for props artisans in the U.S.
In Milwaukee, Fenske was in love with her job, found a church, and was in a great relationship, yet something was missing. It was a tough call, but she decided to move back home to Washington. A year and a half after she returned, a position opened at the Seattle Opera. Fenske had been hoping to eventually apply for an Assistant Props position, but instead, it was the Props Master role that became available. At just 27, her impressive portfolio and experience with master prop artisans led her to be hired as Props Master for the Seattle Opera.
Today, Fenske manages a team of two assistant props artisans and all props for the Seattle Opera. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Opera has been producing exclusively digital content, changing the landscape for Fenske’s team. Recently, Fenske has been tasked with organizing the Opera’s props building, just like she did as a student at BCS. By creating a plan for functional use, easy access, and safe storage of props, Fenske is having a tangible impact in her sphere of influence.
Every day, Fenske brings a positive spirit and joy into her workplace. In an industry where camaraderie is often developed through complaints and negativity, she strives to have a positive influence on her coworkers and be open about her faith. “I am in a unique position, as a person of faith in the arts, because that just doesn’t happen very often. It’s about asking yourself, “What can I contribute to my workplace, in light of my faith? Why does God have me here?”
Learn more about Hannah Fenske: https://www.hannahfenske.com/