Props for the Weekend

Center Theatre Group highlights their prop master, Andrew Thiels, in one of their latest blog posts. He talks about his favorite props from his 14-year career and what his job entails.

Shreveport has their very own movie prop maker with Jim Hayes, owner of LA House of Props. He has built props for films such as True BloodAustin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged MeArmageddon, and so many more. It’s worth fighting the popup ads to view the massive photo gallery of his work.

With the Harry Potter movies turning 15 this year, the Evening Standard sits down with the films’ prop maker, Pierre Bohanna. He talks about how the designs of all the fictional objects evolved from the pages of the book to the screen.

Finally, Bloomberg News takes us on a video tour of Creature Technology, the Australian animatronic company building life-size moving dinosaurs for live performance. There’s nothing really to say here, except “can I get a job there?” and “can you move your shop to Burlington, North Carolina?”.

The Stage Hands’ Story, 1903

The following comes from the May 3, 1903 issue of The St. Paul Globe:

When the curtain drops at the close of every act of a drama or opera it is the signal for the players to rush for their dressing rooms, some of the men in the audience to troop up the aisles in search of—a change of air, and the women to chat and—possibly to note what the other women are wearing.

But there is another class of individuals for whom the falling of the curtain means business, and the liveliest kind of business at that. They are the “stage hands.”

As the curtain strikes the floor a stentorian voice cries:

“Strike!”

“Strike!” echoes another equally robust voice, and instantly there is a commotion on that stage that would bewilder a bystander, if he were permitted there at such a time—which he is not.

The first voice is that of the stage manager of the company playing at the theater. The second is that of the stage carpenter attached to the house. The commotion is the scurrying about of the stage hands, the property men and the electricians whose duty it is to clear the stage with the greatest possible celerity of all scenery, furniture and lighting paraphernalia that encumbers it. For perhaps the first act presented a street in a large city or the parlor of a rich man’s mansion, and the second is to picture a country lane or the wretched hovel of the poor but virtuous. Hence this bustle.

James Robertson
James Robertson

Continue reading The Stage Hands’ Story, 1903

The Most August Links in Props

The store bought items used as sci-fi movie props – In theatre, even the lowest-budget show will demand actual antiques and designer furniture. In film, apparently, you can just talk into a lady’s razor and call it a communicator.

Carpenter makes on-stage magic for actors, and cross stitches horror scenes – Mike Gerlach, props carpenter for Syracuse Stage, talks about the various things he’s had to build over the years.

“It’s a tool to tell the story…” Bernadine Cockey: Props Master! – The Idaho Shakespeare Festival props master discusses her job and shows off photographs of some of her work.

Stranger Things Product Placement: The Definitive Guide – The Dieline looks at all the vintage packaging found in this amazing show, both real and imaginary. As a bonus, many of the boxes and labels are flattened out, so you can print your own!

Finally, it must have been artisan week on the internet. We have a bunch of articles dealing with other theatre craftspeople outside of props. You can Meet the People Behind the Santa Fe Opera’s Amazing Hats, discover Broadway’s Dirty Secret: How an Artisan Turns Costumes From Riches to Rags, and learn The Many Secrets and Sequins of William Ivey Long, Broadway’s Costume King.

Prop Shop Confidential

More Stranger Things! More Stranger Things! People are in love with the show and want to know more about the props. This week, we have two podcasts that talk with props master Lynda Reiss. First is a short 7:40 interview on CBC Radio. Second is an hour-long episode of Pop Culture Confidential with both Reiss and Shannon Purser, the actress who plays Barb.

Dorothy Thicket has put together this great reference chart for armor materials. It’s handy for all sorts of props, comparing the properties of materials like acrylic, EVA foam, Worbla, and more.

Eugene Lee recently received his 12th Emmy Nomination for Saturday Night Live, which he has been designing sets for since the first episode back in 1975. Crain’s talks with him about his career in TV and on stage.

Variety has a special feature on “Artisans So White”; while a lot of attention is paid to the diversity of directors, actors, and writers on films, the below-the-line craftspeople and technicians remain overwhelmingly white and male. Though this article deals with film, the same trends can be found in theatre. They even include a quote from Clint Ramos, a costume/set designer familiar to many in the theatrical world. It’s a thorny issue to deal with, and part of the problem is that so much hiring at companies is done informally, with jobs going to friends and acquaintances of people already working there.

Practical Lighting: Props or Electrics?

I started a survey a few weeks back to gather some information for my upcoming book, The Prop Effects Guidebook. While most of the answers were only relevant to me, I thought I would share the results of one of the questions.

Responses to survey
Responses to survey

Ninety-eight people answered the above question, which is a good chunk of props people. I also had a short text box so people can clarify their answers, and that received forty-eight responses.

A number of respondents stipulated that while they will often mount fixtures on the set, such as sconces, any hanging fixtures will be handed over to the rigger or carpenter.

A small few stated they were responsible for the whole practical; everything from choosing the decorative fixture to getting a bulb in and wiring the thing. Basically, when they hand it off to the electrics department, it just needs to be plugged in. On the other hand, at least a dozen people stated they were responsible solely for sourcing or building the fixture itself; adding a bulb and wiring it is all done by electrics, while mounting or hanging are the purview of scenery.

For another small percentage, this was the typical practice at their theatre, but the props department was ready to help out with the wiring of practicals if the electrics department got swamped.

For the prop departments responsible for bulbs, most people clarified that they based their bulb choice off what the lighting designer wanted or what the electrics department suggested. Others elucidated that they were responsible for bulbs which were a visible element, such as period incandescents.

A similar response happened with plugs; if the lamp has an Edison plug which was a visible part of the world, it is more likely to be props’ responsibility. If the fixture had a cord that ran offstage, the stage pin connector is probably put on by Electrics.

This survey was a fascinating glimpse into how various other theatres work. Even something as simple as sticking a lamp on a table can be handled in a variety of ways. One respondent works at a theatre that does not even have an electrics department! If I were to take a guess, I would bet that many theatres operate the way they do based on the traditions of who has worked there in the past. If the props department never had anyone able to wire a lamp, then over time, the electrics department would just take that job over.

That being said, being able to make a lighting fixture function is a skill which new props people should be learning. If you end up working at a theatre where the electricians do all that, great, but you may end up at a job where it is your responsibility.

Also, in my own opinion, you can find so many interesting and fun things in the world of lighting today, from EL wire to LED tape and more. Many electricians live in the world of Source 4s and giant PAR lamps, and may not be aware of all the cheap, tiny lighting stuff that exists outside of the theatrical world. A props person can bring that knowledge to the table and help open up more possibilities to the production.

Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies