By Dedra Cordle
While growing up on a farm in rural Kentucky, Berkley Biggs would always dream about the popular toys he could not have.
A tight family budget kept him away from all of the best ones, yet he was determined they would find a way into his hands.
“We didn’t have a lot of money, so one day I just started making them for myself,” said the Galloway resident.
Using spent farming equipment, discarded boxes and just about anything else he could think of, he went about crafting replica toys to enjoy, and ultimately destroy.
“I was fascinated by movie destruction scenes so I would build these grand sets and then destroy them for the special effects,” he said laughing.
The loss of the toys never bothered him much, he explained, because he knew he could always make new ones with unused and unwanted items laying around the land.
His burgeoning skill at crafting led him to Morehead State University to study art, and then onto a college in Guadalajara, Mexico to further his passion. Upon coming home from the Vietnam War where he served as a platoon leader in the Army, he decided he wanted to try to dedicate the rest of his life to the arts.
“I’ve always needed to be doing something creative,” he said.
So, he did as most aspiring artists do and packed up to go to California.
While there, Biggs took odd jobs around the Bay Area before moving to Los Angeles in the late 1970s. After opening and closing a stained glass business, he took co-ownership of a disco where his skills for the unconventional arts truly flourished.
“We would have these theme nights,” he said, “and you had to go all out and crazy for them.”
As a businessman and a spend-thrift, he knew paying a lot of money on the ever-changing themes would be a bad idea and a complete waste of resources, so he went around town searching the streets for discarded items.
Most people, he said, did not believe something beautiful or durable could be made out of old goods, especially his much-loved cardboard. He said he looked forward to proving them wrong.
For many years, Biggs impressed his patrons, clients and some movie stars with life-like, and some nearly life-size, replicas he created out of recycled materials. He said seeing the look of their faces always brought a smile to his.
Wanting to be closer to his family, Biggs left California in the 1990s and settled in Columbus. While here, he stepped away from the art scene for a stretch.
“Much of the creative field is networking,” he explained. “And at that time, I just didn’t have it in me.
“I was in my early 50s and I thought I just could not get into the scene again. I would have had I been younger, but at that point I was such a homebody and I had no desire to get out there and do that all over again.”
Still, his position at retail stores afforded him the opportunity to create art through store displays, but he once again entered the art scene while traveling past the Little Theatre Off Broadway in Grove City.
Biggs said he had been intrigued by the theatre since laying eyes on it in 2010. Then one day, he decided to stop inside and see if they needed any volunteers to help out with their productions.
After seeing the pieces he created, as well as the low cost materials he used to create said pieces, the theatre welcomed him into their little family.
For seven years, Biggs has been the theatre’s prop master where he creates pieces that are often a focal point of the show. For instance, once had to build a larger-than-life-size bird cage and stand for a show where a bird was a witness to a murder; he also had to build an eight-foot tall rabbit that could be quickly deconstructed; and he also had to build a working guillotine for “The Scarlet Pimpernel.”
The guillotine, said Biggs, was one of the most challenging pieces he has had to create and admitted that it almost got the best of him.
“That was not a fun thing to work on,” he said, laughing.
But however much Biggs doubted his skills during that time, Lisa Napier-Garcia, the theatre’s occasional director and frequent actor, said they had all the confidence in the world that he would be successful in his endeavors.
“His pieces come alive and they do help make the set that much better.”
Oftentimes, she said, props and the set design are overshadowed by the acting on stage, but those two pieces also play a vital role for the audience and the cast.
“Props are critical to telling the story,” she said. “They tell you where they are in a time period and they set the mood for a scene.”
She said getting ready to put on a production is a stressful time, but she never worries too much about whether the props and set designs will be ready and fully functioning in time for the curtains to rise.
“They do amazing work,” she said.
Currently, Biggs is waiting for word on whether his idea to use painted gummy words in lieu of sardines will be a go for the upcoming production of “Noises Off” and is preparing to get his blades sharpened for “Sweeney Todd” later this fall.
But whatever piece he has to do, Biggs said he is ready to undertake the task with confidence in himself and confidence in the unconventional materials.
“I do love a good piece of sturdy cardboard,” he said.