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As the World Turned: Soap Opera Prop Shop Opens in Amenia

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Gilded tin candle sconces, $35 - $75

For seventeen years, Dennis Donegan shopped on behalf of the glamorous residents of Oakdale, Illinois, a cadre of fictional characters whose shenanigans have been enthralling daytime t.v. audiences for the 54 years As the World Turns has been on CBS.  On September 17, that World stops in its axis, after the last episode airs, victim, as are all daytime soaps, of cable t.v.‘s myriad options and viewers’ changing tastes. 

When the cancellation of the show was announced early last winter, Donegan and others in the cast and crew were given the opportunity to buy the props that for decades had been persuading viewers that Tom and Margo, the Snyders, Lucinda, and assorted friends, enemies and neighbors were enviably rich and stylish.

Now Donegan and his wife Martha have opened a shop, Donegan’s Done Ag’ins in Amenia, where they are selling the props from As the World Turns.  “In the early years, they bought lots of antiques, good lamps, a practice I was able to continue to a degree, so at the final prop sale, I acquired plenty of quality stuff,” says Dennis.  “But as the audience shrank, so did our budgets. Still, we had to keep up appearances.  So I got good at spotting inexpensive items that, with a little work maybe, could pass for expensive.” 

Dennis Donegan’s eye is so good and his choices have been so unfailingly persuasive that he has been nominated eleven times and won five Daytime Emmy Awards for Set Decoration.  Though the taste level at his store is consistently high, all levels of quality are represented in the merchandise.  The Donegans make no attempt to palm off cheap reproductions and Pier 1 imports as the real thing.  In fact, they delight in playing a version of “Where’s Waldo?” with visitors.  “See if you can pick out the item that came from Home Depot,”  Martha, a graphic designer who worked in fashion in New York, challenges a visitor. This reporter, ostensibly someone with a measure of expertise in these matters, was genuinely stymied.  Even after Martha revealed the identity of the item, it was still impossible, even upon close inspection, to accept its humble origin.

Before joining the show, Dennis Donegan, who has a degree in interior design from LSU, studied decorative painting at the fabled Isabel O’Neil Studio in Manhattan, then taught there for many years.  While there, he began freelancing for As The World Turns, filling in for one of the set decorator’s occasionally, and eventually they offered him a job.  His training in trompe l’oeil is why it’s impossible to spot the Home Depot item; as needed, Donegan messes around with the pieces he buys until they look suitably aged and of high quality.  This is a practice he intends to continue at the shop, where the back room will serve as his atelier. 

Rural Intelligence Style Presently, the front of the shop is charmingly crammed to the rafters with a mere fraction of the props Donegan acquired at the sale.  His stash will roll out in waves, as the stock from the previous wave gets snapped up, which it is bound to do quickly, as the prices on all the items are beyond fair.  Meanwhile, Donegan will continue to shop for his store as he has for the past seventeen years with those stylish residents of Oakdale, Illinois and CBS’s tight budget in mind.  He claims that it disciplines his choices to buy for “real” people and “real” rooms. Even though, of course, everybody (sort of) understands that they were just actors mouthing lines and meeting marks on a sound stage.  “A set might play for many years, then get scrapped,” says Donegan. “Later we’d reuse the props somewhere else, but, inevitably, some viewer would write in to ask, ‘Why is Tom and Margo’s quilt in one of the Snyder’s guests rooms?’ ”

Donegan’s Done Ag’ins
3324 Route 343
Amenia, NY
Thursday - Saturday & Monday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Or by appointment

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Posted by Marilyn Bethany on 09/01/10 at 09:31 PM • Permalink