Mysteries of the Prop Room part 2, 1902

The following tour of a property room at the Metropolitan Theater in Saint Paul, MN, first appeared in The Saint Paul Globe in 1902. This is the second selection from that article, with the first appearing here.

“There are two more property rooms above this one. Perhaps you would like to see them,” he suggested hospitably.

The second property room was reached by means of a narrow and very straight-up-and-down ladder. If the first looked like an old curiosity shop, the second seemed, in the dim light that came from a solitary incandescent light, a veritable chamber of horrors. From a nail driven in one side of the wall there hung an iron cauldron that suggested the three weird sisters in “Macbeth.” A cotton velvet cloak with a big collar of stringy white fur took on, in that dull light, the shape of one of the witches herself. A skull and cross-bones grinned cheerfully from a niche above a black table. Several masques peered down from a shelf and a big collection of drinks, daggers and swords did not detract in the least from the high tragedy effect of this second property room.

“There is still another property room directly above this one.

“Perhaps,” suggested the Property Man, “you would like to see that also?”

The visitor surveyed the iron ladder that was even narrower and very much straighter-up-and-down than the one she had just mounted and shook her head.

“It’s just full of things like this,” he said. “Tables and chairs and battle axes and churns and band boxes and things!”

The visitor decided she had acquired the taste for property rooms and dropped in at the Grand.

Originally published in The Saint Paul Globe, February 23, 1902, page 22.

Mysteries of the Property Room, 1902

The following first appeared in The Saint Paul Globe in 1902. Pay particular attention at the end where he talks about the different “kinds” of props; they’re somewhat different from how we deal with props today:

Sweeney, the property man of the Metropolitan theater—”Old Props,” of course, he is called—entered his dusty little sanctum sanctorum the other afternoon and placed on a wobbly pine table a long, flabby article. The visitor poked it gingerly.

“It’s the seal that they use in ‘The Chaperone,’” explained the Property Man reassuringly. “And this,” he continued obligingly, “is the mummy. You remember the mummy?” The visitor nodded dubiously. This object that resembled nothing so much as a coffin covered tightly with a bit of Oriental cotton did not look a bit like the object she had viewed from the other side of the footlights during one of the performances of “The Chaperone.”

“Things generally do look different when you see them in here,” said the Property Man apologetically. And the visitor, as she surveyed the stuffy little room, agreed. For instance, it was disillusioning to find that the golden goblets from out of which she had seen the noble Romans drink in “Quo Vadis” were simply painted wooden cups. And there was the grandfather’s clock!

As a part of the furnishing of an old farm house kitchen this grandfather’s clock had seemed the very realest bit of realism. Its honest old face, shining in its humble surroundings, had always seemed to say, “Yes, it is all false, this stage atmosphere of paint and tinsel, but I, at least, am real.” As a matter of fact it is not a bit real. On the contrary, indeed! For a long box, properly cut and painted, with a painted dial at one end, is all that that deceitful clock is. The visitor turned from it in disgust.

“There are two kinds of ‘props,’” explained the Property Man, absentmindedly polishing one of the painted wooden goblets with a bit of cotton tapestry which hung from a nail. “There are personal ‘props’ and stage ‘props.’ Now, suppose a man plays the part of a waiter in a play. If he carries a towel over his arm, then it is a stage ‘prop.’ If he wears it tied around his waist, it is a personal ‘prop,’ and he himself looks after it. But we look after the stage ‘props.’ They are all placed here.”

“Here” was the stuffy little room which is just to the right of the big Metropolitan stage.

“Do you see that large trunk over there? It contains the mandolins used by the girls in the first act of the play. Each mandolin is numbered and each girl knows where to find her own instrument.”

Originally published in The Saint Paul Globe, February 23, 1902, pg 22.

Another Friday Links

You may have noticed a distinct lack of posts this week. Between tech, a minor flood at the theatre, and personal challenges, I did not have any time to write this week. But have no fear, the Internet is here, with stories about props of all shapes and sizes:

First off, the Chicago theatre community has an annual props, sets and costume give-away amongst all the professional theatre companies. The Sun-Times Media has a nice write-up, including video and photographs of some of the theatre’s storage spaces. It is also a great exploration on how local theatre communities share resources with each other.

Dave Lowe, the props master at Hallmark Channel’s “Home and Family”, makes custom trophies for the winner of a game segment on the show. When Florence Henderson guest-starred, he set out to create a replica of the cursed tiki from when the Brady Bunch went to Hawaii.

When Playmaker Rep’s production of Assassins needed a dead dog on stage, the costume crafts shop stepped in to make one. La Bricoleuse shows us how they did it.

Finally, Bob Knetzger fits a spray booth underneath his stairs for his home workshop. He has drawings and photos explaining how he built it.

The Week’s Links

I am currently in tech for Pump Boys and Dinettes at Triad Stage, opening next Friday. This means I’m really tired, but I can read lots of things on the Internet. Here are some articles I’ve come across recently:

First up is this interview and video with prop master Russell Bobbitt. He has, perhaps, one of the more enviable positions in the world of prop-making at the moment: providing the iconic weapons for the Marvel Universe, such as Captain America’s shield, Thor’s hammer and Iron Man’s arc reactor. The article doesn’t delve into much detail, but it is still a fun read.

In the New York Times is this fantastic profile on set designer Eugene Lee. You may not recognize Lee’s name (unless you attended USITT), but you probably recognize the set to Wicked, or to Saturday Night Live, which he has been designing since it began. His house is practically a props warehouse, filled to the brim with objects and collections he has acquired over the years, and this article has plenty of photographs showing it all off.

Here is a promising new blog with a fun name: Eat, Clay, Love. It only has a few posts so far from UK-based artist Shahriar, but I’ve already picked up some new techniques I want to try.

Finally, if you have been following Shawn Thorsson’s quest to build a life-size ED-209 from Robocop, part three of his series went up last week. He’s doing a lot of molding and casting of the parts for this installment, and explains how he does it.

Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies