Justin Rozinski
As a freshman, Justin Rozinski built this duck cove. The current junior design and technology major from LaPorte, Indiana, created it as his final project for stagecraft class. Photos by Don Rogers

Rubber ducky, you’re the one — that Ball State’s theater denizens hunted for months.

There was great rejoicing when the 100th duck, the last of a hidden flock, dove into a ducky hutch’s remaining open cubbyhole and … put all the ducks in a row (well, 10 rows).

“This is the start of the world fixing itself,” freshman Caitlin Davey, of Columbus, Indiana, replied to a Facebook post about the discovery, which brought some comfort amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The theater education major was in high school when the ducks went into hiding, proving the strength of theater’s great oral tradition of storytelling.

Caitlin later explained that on the first day of stagecraft class, students learn of the duck tale and that one’s still missing. When the last one was located, “it became a big deal for a lot of us. I think we’re all hoping it’ll be the first of many things to start going right again.”

What’s been going on?

Well, during winter break two years back, then-junior and accomplished carpenter Ethan Dashnaw was leaving Ball State to pursue his woodworking passion, while newly minted grad and pal, Sarah Jean Ludlow, ’17, was looking for work. The two hoped to leave a mark in the Department of Theatre and Dance, so he expanded on the idea of a friend who hid 20 rubber ducks around her boss’s house.

“I wanted to have a bit of fun and let other people still in the school have a bit of fun and have something to think about and quest for,” said Ethan, who has a cabinetry job in Indianapolis.

Sarah Jean, who works at a health center in Lafayette, Indiana, added: “It preys on the fact there are so many places to hide things in theaters. So big and fun to explore.”

They started with a catalog’s party pack of ducks. “We called dibs on different ones to hide,” she said, from a multicolored raft of cowboys, royalty, vampires and many others.

The co-conspirators spent about seven hours in the theater areas, hanging out, sometimes literally. They used their enjoyment of climbing, and ladders, to secretly sow a paddling of the ductile swimmers in the scene shop plus University Theatre and the basement props area.

The adventure added to a departmental good luck tradition of hiding a rubber duck with a Santa hat in every mainstage set, explained Connor Blackwood, the Lafayette, Indiana, design and technology senior who announced the triumphant find on Facebook.

“We came in the next morning and saw Santa Duck taped to one of the current set’s walls with a giant painted note that said, ‘Help! 100 of my friends have been duckynapped. I need your help to find them.’” The quest began.

‘We got hooked’

Alan Perez
Alan Perez made the highly sought-after find: the 100th, and last, duck to be revealed. He teaches stagecraft and is the department’s tech director.

“Everyone searched for the ducks,” department tech director Alan Perez said of students, staff and some faculty. “We found at least five to 10 ducks in the first 10 minutes. Got us hooked. We found at least 85 ducks within the first 72 hours.”

The pace slowed, but the rescued eventually numbered 99. A quartet had watched over the scene shop, one from each corner near the ceiling, about 30 feet up. In other spots, a duck popped up:

  • Peeking through a very small opening in the ceiling of the theater’s sound and lighting booth.
  • Resting on a small, safe ledge inside the table saw’s side compartment; Perez bumped into it during maintenance.
  • Catching its breath while squeezed inside a pipe (batten) about 50 feet above the stage. Battens are part of a system used to hoist (fly) curtains, lights and scenery down to the right spot on or above the stage and back up.
  • Surfing on a board while buried in a bucket of sand.

Then nothing. For months. Perez offered extra credit to the student who solved the mystery. As time dragged on, he began to suspect Ethan of a prank: tucking away only 99. Sarah Jean confirmed the possible canard, saying that while Ethan planned that, she insisted on 100.

Perez actually found the final one while fishing around in the back of a rarely used scene shop drawer. “It took me a little while to comprehend.”

Then he shouted: “‘John! I found it! I found the last duck!’” to John Sadler, the department’s shop and props supervisor. “He lost it. The students there lost it.”

Ducks on a shelf
Among the ducks are bookworms and Uncle Sams, plus critters ranging from bald eagles to bears, giraffes to owls. A wire keeps all from escaping.

Bringing ducks, and people, together

Perez quickly texted folks with the news, with each word its own message.

I
Just
Found
The
Last
Duck

Ethan said he couldn’t stop laughing, as he’d been surprised the retrievals became such a thing. “It got a lot of people talking, even after they graduated. And a lot of people who replied to Connor’s post, I never even knew.

“If anybody’s going to take a lesson, in addition to you should do this at your own colleges, there are so many ways to leave your mark on a place: doing good work, making great connections with people. But something that’s memorable and brings people who don’t know each other together, that’s really good.”

Connor relayed Ethan’s response to a text about No. 100 waddling home, with human help. “Even though the search is over, I hope it will forever remind you all of the time we all had together and to have fun, even if you have to make it for yourself.”