Props in Brome’s Antipodes, 1638.

Richard Brome was an English playwright during the Caroline era, making him about a generation removed from Shakespeare. One of his plays, The Antipodes, first performed in 1638, features a sort of play-within-a-play that gives us a glimpse into a properties storeroom of the time. The character of Peregrine is fooled into believing he has traveled to the Antipodes, a mythical “anti-London” on the opposite side of the world. The inhabitants are simply theatrical actors, though, hired by a doctor in an attempt to treat Peregrine. Peregrine eventually finds his way “backstage” into the props storage area, known in this time as the “tiring house”, and begins destroying the props, believing they are real items in the Antipodes. Another character, Byplay, recounts this event. It gives us a glimpse into what manner of props and scenery may have been stored at an English theater during this time period:

Byplay: He has got into our tiring house amongst us,
And ta’en a strict survey of all our properties,
Our statues and our images of gods, our planets and our constellations,
Our giants, monsters, furies, beasts, and bugbears,
Our helmets, shields and vizors, hairs and beards,
Our pasteboard marchpanes and our wooden pies.

later…

When on the sudden, with thrice knightly force,
And thrice, thrice puissant arm he snatcheth down
The sword and shield that I played Bevis with,
Rusheth amongst the foresaid properties,
Kills monster after monster, takes the puppets
Prisoners, knocks down the Cyclops, tumbles all
Our jiggumbobs and trinkets to the wall.
Spying at last the crown and royal robes
I’th’ upper wardrobe, next to which by chance
The devil’s vizors hung and their flame-painted
Skin coats, those he removed with greater fury,
And (having cut the infernal ugly faces,
All into mammocks) with a reverend hand,
He takes the imperial diadem and crowns
Himself King of the Antipodes, and believes
He has justly gained the kingdom by his conquest.

The Antipodes by Richard Brome, Act 3 Scene 1. 1638. https://www.dhi.ac.uk/brome/viewTranscripts.jsp?play=AN&act=1&type=BOTH

Props Links for Friday

Just a reminder that you have until May 15th to apply for one of the $1000 grants being offered by S*P*A*M. If you have a props internship or apprenticeship either now or in the near future, you are eligible, and it is super easy to apply for!

Slammin’ Ham! – FFFriday Guest Post from Victoria Ross – For one of our shows at Triad, my apprentice cast and painted this very hefty ham out of silicone rubber. The final scene in Two Trains Running is punctuated by a character slamming the ham on the diner counter, and this ham made that slam very dramatic.

Someone Has To Clean Up After Broadway’s Creative Destruction – True West features the near-total destruction of everything on stage by the end of the performance, and the current Broadway production delivers that. Find out how the show’s prop team accomplished not only that, but the clean-up and reset before every show as well.

How Disney uses more than 7,000 props to make Galaxy’s Edge look and feel like a ‘Star Wars’ movie – The new Star Wars theme park requires a ton of very custom set dressing. Find out how Eric Baker and his team are salvaging airplane parts and other pieces of junk to build this “final frontier.”

Behind the Scenes at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Props Warehouse – Chris Young, the props director at STC, explains how they accomplished all the blood effects in their recent production of The Oresteia.

Diner Stools

Earlier this year, I was the props master on August Wilson’s Two Trains Running at Triad Stage. The set, designed by Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay, was a Pittsburgh diner in 1969. Among the various components were thirteen matching diner stools, the kind that spin and are bolted to the floor. It proved impossible to source that many stools within our budget, so I decided to build them.

I designed the main support in two parts: an inner post made of steel that would hold the seat and be bolted to the floor, and an outer post that would sleeve over and appear to be chrome. I welded the inner post out of box tube and quarter-inch plate. I added a small length of pipe to the top so the seat could spin freely.

Welding the structure
Welding the structure

I cut the outer posts out of PVC pipe and wrapped them with silver Mylar.

Wrapping chrome onto PVC
Wrapping chrome onto PVC

The flange at the base was a plastic bowl I found. I drilled a hole through it and wrapped it in Mylar as well. The bowl and PVC both slipped right over the steel posts, and I cut some wood spacers to hold them in place.

Installing the poles
Installing the poles

I built the seat in two parts which could be screwed together after upholstering it. The top part had a block underneath that slipped onto the pipe base and allowed it to spin freely. The side part masked this block and provided a place to attach the vinyl fabric to.

Once upholstered, the seat could slip right onto the steel post. The underside of the seat had a piece of UHMW that the steel rested on, so it could spin with as little friction as possible.

Seat prior to fabric
Seat prior to fabric

A good portion of the upholstery was accomplished by Keri Dumka, one of my artisans on the show. My apprentice, Victoria Ross, also did some upholstery and aging on these stools.

Here is one of the stools; twelve to go!

Single stool
Single stool

Though it was very time-consuming constructing all thirteen of these stools from scratch, the end result was pretty stunning. It looked like we plucked a diner straight from the Hill District and plopped it down in the middle of our theater.

Stools around the bar
Stools around the bar

2019 Grants for Early Career Prop Professionals

The Society of Properties Artisan Managers (S*P*A*M) is now accepting applications for its grants to help support early career props professionals. The deadline for each is May 15, 2019.

Edie Whitsett Grant

The Edie Whitsett Grant is an annual award given to an individual wishing to further their career in theatrical properties. This grant is to assist with expenses related to completing an internship, such as  transportation, housing, or other necessities.

Edie Whitsett was the longtime property shop manager and a frequent designer at Seattle Children’s Theatre. She also created sets for Village Theatre, Seattle Opera, ACT Theatre, Pacific Northwest Ballet and other arts entities. Whitsett’s honors included an Artist Trust fellowship, a commission for an art installation at the Seattle Public Library’s central branch and two Seattle Times Footlight Awards.

To honor Edie’s commitment to children’s theatre, this goal of this grant is to award it to someone who is interested in working with children’s theater, but it is not limited to only that.

This grant is overseen and awarded by the Society of Properties Artisan Managers and is for $1000 towards internship expenses. Individuals wishing to apply for should submit the following:

  • Cover Letter including details on your internship (where and when), any additional compensation that might be receiving during that time and an estimate of anticipated expenses.
  • Resume
  • Digital portfolio of recent properties work

Please submit application to: Jim Guy, SPAM President at jguy@milwaukeerep.com. All items must be received by May 15, 2019 and grants will be awarded June 15, 2019. For a full list of member theatres with internships, please see our website at www.propmasters.org.

Jen Trieloff Grant

The Jen Trieloff Grant is an annual award given to an individual wishing to further their career in theatrical properties. This grant is to assist with expenses related to completing an internship, such as transportation, housing, or other necessities.

Jen Trieloff was Properties Director for American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wisconsin and Forward Theatre in Madison, Wisconsin and has served as Prop Master and Prop Designer for Madison Rep and Madison Opera and Ballet among others.  He was an accomplished craftsman and scene designer whose work was seen on stages inside and outside of Wisconsin.

This grant is overseen and awarded by the Society of Properties Artisan Managers and is for $1000 towards internship expenses. Individuals wishing to apply for should submit the following:

  • Cover Letter including details on your internship (where and when), any additional compensation that might be receiving during that time and an estimate of anticipated expenses.
  • Resume
  • Digital portfolio of recent properties work

Please submit application to: Jim Guy, SPAM President at jguy@milwaukeerep.com. All items must be received by May 15, 2019 and grants will be awarded June 15, 2019. For a full list of member theatres with internships, please see our website at www.propmasters.org.

Top Prop Stories of 2018

With 2018 coming to an end and 2019 starting up, it’s a good time to look at the past year and see the biggest news in the world of props.

Reflections on the First USITT Props Lab – The prop department has long found itself lumped in with the Scenic Design Commission at USITT, which often gives us no representation at the conference. However, this past year saw the introduction of the first Props Lab, which gave us continuous demonstrations and hands-on workshops right on the Stage Expo floor for three straight days. I have also heard rumors that Props might attempt to become its own commission at some point in the future.

‘Props’ go to Wheaton: Exhibitions celebrate stage, movie, TV artistry that usually goes unnoticed – Elizabeth Keithline curated an amazing art exhibit this year that pulled together props from the worlds of film, television, opera, and live theater, and displayed them in a way that highlighted their own artistic merit. The show included work from Ross MacDonald (National Treasure, The Hateful Eight), Annie Atkins (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Carl Sprague (Isle of DogsLa La Land), Buist Bickley (Spongebob: The Musical), Randy Lutz (The Santa Fe Opera), Jay Duckworth (The Public Theater), and me (this blog).

Hong Kong Court Convicts Props Master for Possession of Fake Cash – In a strange turn of events, a props master in Hong Kong was convicted for the possession of fake cash while on the set of a film. This conviction threw the local film industry into a state of shock. Luckily for the props master, the conviction was overturned a few months later.  The appeal was won on a technicality, though, so props masters in Hong Kong continue to wonder how they can use fake money in films without falling on the wrong side of the law.

The First Annual Maker Faire Prop Contest – As the world of hobby prop making continues to explode, the original Maker Faire in the Bay Area held their first ever Prop Contest, with winners announced during the 2018 Faire.

The Prop Effects Guidebook – My second book was released this past year, covering all the different kinds of effects we use in props: lighting, pneumatics, blood, breakaways, sound, and much more.

Silk Flowers and Papier Mache Hearts – This year also saw the launch of an all-new podcast by Ashley Flowers and me. It may be the only podcast dedicated solely to props in the performing arts. We have already had a great array of guest stars, and have covered some wonderful topics, and are looking forward to having even more guest stars in the coming year.

Inside the one-ton, history-making King Kong Broadway musical – If I had to pick one prop from the past year that deserved a spot in this year-end wrap-up, it would definitely have to be the King Kong puppet from the new Broadway musical. Though the reviews on the musical itself have been mixed, everyone agrees that the one-ton semi-animatronic puppet is a work of staggering genius.

In Memoriam: John C. Taccone, IATSE Stagehand – The props world lost one of its long-time members this year. John Taccone was on the props crew at the New Amsterdam Theatre for over twenty years.

That’s the end of my list of the most important stories in props for 2018. What are yours?

Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies