Spotlight on Scenery Bags

After interviewing so many talented stage performers, Broadway Wiz is shining a spotlight on creators and innovators. They may not have their name in a playbill, but all of these people have found ways to share their love for Broadway through their artistry.

This week we are featuring Jennifer Kahn, creator of Scenery Bags. Scenery Bags make bags out of retired theatre backdrops and use a percentage of the proceeds to take kids to see theatre through TDF.

Where did the idea for Scenery Bags come from and how did you get the business started?
The idea came while my friend and I were on vacation in Maine. There was a shop that sold retired sales made into bags. I loved it! I remember sitting with my friend at lunch that day and saying, “where’s our idea like that!” and it was there that Scenery Bags was born. That night I called a friend of mine who rents sets, and asked him if he had any that were unusable and he said yes, and when I got home I went and picked up 600 pounds of drops! Those drops sat in a storage unit for the next 2 years while I did Spring Awakening and continued to Stage Manage and try to find a manufacturer. Fast forward – I finally found a manufacturer, had a baby, and had to stop stage managing for a little bit, so I finally had the time to make this dream into a reality! And I am forever grateful for how incredibly supportive the theatre community has been on this crazy journey.

What is the process like to obtain the backdrops you use for your bags?
As a stage manager for the past 20 years I started with who I knew. I called every Production Manager I’d ever worked with and asked for their trash..and they said yes! Now I spend most of my time working with General Managers to obtain drops when shows close, and we are very lucky that as our company grows and people hear about us, they email me! I get emails and messages all the time from theaters that are clearing out their warehouse, or closing a show and want to send us what they’d be throwing out.

Do you have a favorite Scenery Bag?
That’s so hard. They are all like my little children. I have a special attachment to Desert Song and The Wizard of Oz because they were the first two drops we ever cut. (I also Stage Managed a production of Oz that used the National Tour set.) Out of the new ones, I can’t even begin to choose. I love them all so much!

It’s amazing that you donate a portion of your proceeds to TDF programs that enable kids of all ages to have access to theater. Where did your love of theater come from, and why did you choose to support this cause?
My Mother. She raised my sister and I on old movie musicals. It’s all we ever watched. My first school girl crush was on Gene Kelly, and my sister and I started a Doris Day fan club…we were the only members. I was then a dancer and after seeing a community theatre production of Crazy for You I was hooked forever on live theatre.

I’ve always had a heart for accessibility for theatre. It has played an invaluable role in my life and I can’t imagine a world where I was never introduced to it. But it is so foreign to so many people. I believe theatre has the power to heal, and everyone should at least be introduced to it. It may not be for everyone, but for those who find it and love it, it might be everything. And I also truly believe that the kids we are sponsoring now, will grow up to be great performers, writers, directors one day. They have stories the world needs to hear, and now maybe they will find the medium to tell them in.

I chose the cause before I found TDF. I knew I wanted to start Scenery and I wanted to help kids go see theatre. So I went to google to find a non-profit that did just that. I got very lucky with TDF. They do exactly what I wanted to do, and so much more! I could not have dreamt up a better non-profit partner.

First Broadway show you ever saw?
Ragtime with the original cast. It was pure magic.

Favorite Broadway set?
I could no sooner choose a favorite star in the heavens!

What advice would you give those in the theatre community who may want to start their own Broadway themed business?
Do it! It will be the best, scariest, hardest, easiest thing you ever do. Find a supportive group of people to encourage you and keep you on task. Don’t tell everyone your idea, just the people you trust to come along side you and cheer you on to the finish line. You don’t have to be “qualified” to run a business. You just need to care enough to figure it out…and find professionals to help you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and guidance. And always believe in yourself and your ideas!

Are there any other Broadway props that you would like to upcycle?
ALL OF THEM! If I could. I would. It breaks my heart to see any piece of Broadway History get thrown away. I would save them all and just make it my life’s mission to turn them into something else usable.

What has been the most rewarding part of your business so far?
Oh so many things. Meeting even more amazing members of the Broadway, Broadway Maker, and Fan community. Getting emails from people about how they have a bag from the last show they saw with their Mother, or the show where they met their husband, or their Broadway debut. (They always make me cry.) Getting to see shows with TDF and see the students we are sponsoring see their first Broadway show! Knowing we have saved so much beautiful art from a landfill. And knowing that our manufacturers have hired 3 new full time sewers just for Scenery Bags. The ripple effect has been the greatest joy to watch. It’s pretty incredible.

Do you have plans to expand Scenery Bags, or any new projects on the horizon?
Well, we are starting to branch out into some new bag designs. Which has been really fun to work on. I have LOTS of plans, and ideas. I just need to make them all happen!

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