Props in the News Today

The Society of Properties Artisan Managers Offers Some Advice – Here are 32 pieces of advice from veteran prop masters to burgeoning prop artisans.

For a Hollywood propmaster, it’s the little things that make ‘Big Little Lies’ a success – Jane Gulick’s job is to make sure the Monterey area in Big Little Lies looks like the real town. She uses a ton of local products to help flesh out the world.

An American Theatre Wing Working in Theatre Video: Specialty Props – Mary Creede, Zoë Morsette, and John Jerard create some of the most unusual and iconic props on Broadway. Check out this video to see the shops where they are tasked with creating all the things that don’t currently exist.

Broadway Design On Display At McNay Museum – If you are in San Antonio, TX, before June 30th, check out this exhibition of theatrical and film designs. The show features models and renderings from some of the 20th and 21st centurys’ most prolific designers.

New Prop Links for the Summer

The Society of Properties Artisan Managers Offers Some Advice – Recently, S*P*A*M solicited advice from its members, which include hundreds of prop masters in most of the major US theaters. They narrowed the list down to 32 nuggets of advice for every new prop artisan.

Interview — DISCOVERY Prop Master Mario Moreira on the Red Angel Suit, Section 31 Phasers, and More – The newest iteration of Star Trek continues the tradition of having cool props. Take a peek into the workshop of Mario Moreira to see how all the custom sci-fi gadgets get made.

‘The Big Bang Theory’ Prop Master and Set Decorator Look Back on the Show’s 12 Seasons – Whether you enjoyed the show or not, a twelve-year run means lots of props and tons of detail in the set dressing. Find out about some of the behind-the-scenes secrets from prop master Scott London and set decorator Ann Shea.

How Gary Does the DicksTaylor Mac’s highly irreverent  Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus, now running on Broadway, needed dicks. A lot of them. The show features dozens of mannequins playing the part of dead Romans, and at various points, they come to life and dance with their members. Learn how specialty prop designer Craig Grigg brought them to life with animatronics.

Avengers: Endgame Film Décor – Check out these photos and descriptions of the miriad sets from this decade’s biggest film. Set Decorator Leslie Pope discusses what went into creating some of the major locations in this film, many of which had to match or reference previous locations in this sprawling 22 film franchise.

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

Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies