2020 Grants for Early Career Prop Professionals

It’s grant time again! Announcing the annual prop grants honoring Edie Whitsett and Jen Trieloff! Times are very uncertain right now, but most of us will be back to work by the summer or fall. If you have a props apprenticeship or internship lined up, then you should definitely apply for these grants.

The Jen Trieloff and Edie Whitsett Grants are annual $1000 awards given to individuals wishing to further their career in theatrical properties. These grants are 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 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.

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 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 (a PDF with portfolio images or a link to a website).

Please submit application to: Jim Guy, SPAM President, at SPAMgrants@gmail.com.

All items must be received by May 15, 2020 and grants will be awarded June 15, 2020

For a full list of member theatres, please see our website at www.propmasters.org.

The Bradwell Family of Prop Masters

In a previous post, we learned that the first props master of the Metropolitan Opera was a man named A. J. Bradwell, and that he came from a family of props masters stretching back nearly two hundred years. Who were the Bradwells? I’ve been researching them for awhile and wanted to introduce you to the main ones I’ve found: four generations of props masters spanning a time from the 18th century all the way to the 20th century.

William Bradwell (?-1849)

William Bradwell was a theatrical decorator and machinist in London. He worked on many of the props, tricks, and effects at Covent Garden from 1806-1839. His work on the pantomimes were so well-known that his name was used to advertise shows as a sign of quality. He was once referred to as “the fairies’ couch maker.” He worked directly under such English stage greats as Dibdin the Younger, Macready, and E.L. Blanchard (in fact, Bradwell hired a young Blanchard as a props running crew at the beginning of his career).

He and his wife Elizabeth had a son named Edmund in 1799.

1834 Drury Lane Playbill
1834 Drury Lane Playbill

Edmund Bradwell (1799-1871)

Edmund was working at the Theatre Royal in Dublin until Robert Elliston took him back to London to build properties and machinery for the Surrey Theatre. He worked at a number of theaters, such as the Olympic, Lyceum, and Her Majesty’s Theatre, and quickly developed a reputation for innovative “transformations.”

Edmund and his wife Margaret had at least seven daughters, and two sons who continued in the business: Edmund William Bradwell, and Alfred John Bradwell.

1851 Playbill for Queen of the Frogs
1851 Playbill for Queen of the Frogs

Edmund William Bradwell (1828-1909)

Edmund William was born in Ireland immediately before his father returned to London. His work as a builder and decorator seems to have been more focused on the decoration of theatre interiors. A number of theatres that opened or were renovated around this time had some of the design and decoration executed by E. W. Bradwell.

EW and his wife Elizabeth had three daughters and one son. The son, William Edmund Valentine Bradwell, appears to have followed in the family business at least a bit.

1855 Playbill for Kean's Henry VIII
1855 Playbill for Kean’s Henry VIII

William Edmund Valentine Bradwell (1858-1938)

William was born on Valentine’s Day. His occupation was listed as both a builder’s artist and a decorative artist in surviving paperwork. I don’t know much more about him than that.

Alfred John Bradwell (1845-after 1891)

Alfred was Edmund’s son and Edmund William’s brother. His career began as an assistant to his father on a number of pantomimes throughout London, learning to accomplish all sorts of mechanical transformations and properties. He built his own reputation as a pantomime properties artisan at Drury Lane after his father died. He emigrated to the United States and became the first properties master at the Metropolitan Opera when it opened in 1883. He also trained Edward Siedle, a properties master who would go on to become technical director at the Met, transforming it into a technical powerhouse in the early twentieth century.

He and his wife Annie had a number of children, with their son Herbert Augustus Bradwell continuing the business. He had another son, Ernest Athol Bradwell, who appears to have worked as both an actor and a stage carpenter over the years.

1884 Ad for Metropolitan Opera
1884 Ad for Metropolitan Opera

Herbert Augustus Bradwell (1873-1911)

Herbert was born in London, but mostly grew up in New York City after his father joined the Met Opera. He became quite the well-known creator of electrical and mechanical effects on stage. In the early twentieth century, Coney Island was the home of massive live spectacles, such as volcanic eruptions and train crashes. Herbert was coproducer and an effects creator for one of the most successful ones known as “The Jonestown Flood,” in which an entire town was flooded during every performance. When this closed, he produced his own show in the same building known as “The Deluge,” a recreation of the Noah’s Ark story. It was wildly successful, and he transferred the show to London. It failed there, and a second attempt at a disaster spectacle in Brussels ended up burning to the ground. Now broke, he brought his family back to New York, and ended up starving himself to keep his family fed. This led to a mental breakdown that put him in the hospital, where his heart eventually gave out. He died at the young age of 44, completely destitute.

1906 Ad for The Deluge
1906 Ad for The Deluge

Mr. Bradwell, Prop Master of the Met

Last week we were looking at the very first dragon used at the Metropolitan Opera for Wagner’s Siegfried. It was taken care of by the property master there, known only as Bradwell. Who was Bradwell? I found another article from 1891 which gave a bit more information about this man:

“Then Mr. Hay, the executive lieutenant of Director Stanton, turns us over to Mr. Bradwell, the veteran property-master. Mr. Bradwell is from the Drury Lane Opera House, London, and his family have been identified with the property profession for nearly two hundred years. It is a very responsible post, for the whole ‘setting’ and ‘business’ of every performance depends upon the resources of the property department. The ‘properties’ of nearly half a hundred operas, stowed away in rooms, vaults, and racks all over the house, form a more bewildering chaos than the most disordered mind could conceive.”

The article also gives us some information about the Met at this time. This is before the opera moved to its current location in Lincoln Center. “At the right, or Thirty-ninth Street side, on the various floors, are the director’s office, the principal artists’ dressing-rooms, those of the male chorus, the offices of the various heads of departments, music library, property carpenter-shop, papier-maché-rooms, armor-rooms, etc. On the left, or Fortieth Street side, are the greenroom, the main scene-room, the property-master’s offices and store-rooms, dressing-rooms of the female chorus and ballet, and various work-rooms devoted to the manufacture of costumes and stage properties of every description, from a twenty-foot dragon, down to the flower which Marguerite pulls to pieces in the garden scene of ‘Faust.'”

The article also features a very well-done collage illustrating several backstage scenes:

Illustrations of the backstage of the Metropolitan Opera in 1891
Illustrations of the backstage of the Metropolitan Opera in 1891

Tyrrell, Henry. “Grand Opera at the Metropolitan.” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, 17 Jan. 1891, pp. 459–460. Google Books, books.google.com/books?id=f8IrAQAAMAAJ&newbks=1&newbks_redir=0&pg=PA459#v=onepage&q&f=false.

Getting Wagner’s Dragon Ready, 1887

(the following first appeared in an 1887 issue of the New York Tribune. The dragon in this article is the same as described in this article by Gustav Kobbé. I believe this dragon was built by a man named William De Verna, and that the property master in this article acts more like a house property position rather than the fabricator. I could be wrong, but what follows is still a great description of the dragon’s construction)

The Prodigious Monster Which Will Lash His Tail and Roar at Siegfried

The preparation of the beast which will take the part of the Dragon in “Siegfried” at the Metropolitan Opera House is an interesting study. Up among the flies Property-master Bradwell has the creature in charge and the evolution of the animal is exercising his best ingenuity. The Dragon in its early stage of development gives the unheroic idea of an immense battle. The body and tail are of steel wire wound in spiral shape and tapering off from a diameter of three feet at the shoulders to a minimum at the tip of the tail thirty feet away. Over this framework a covering of green silesia has been placed to afford a chance for fastening on the scales. These will be some 5,000 in number and are made of leather in strips five inches or so in length and about three inches in width. These overlap each other and are tinged with iridescent colors which will give the beast a glittering and imposing aspect when he is completed and in working order beneath the electric light.

The steel wires project about the shoulders and front part of the beast’s body, so that when covered with scales the dragon has the appearance of a horny monster. The head and feet are of papier mache. The head is some three feet in length and of about the same depth, with a lower jaw which is ominous in size. The feet are three-toed and cover a space two feet square. Yet head, feet and body are together so light that they will not weigh over fifty pounds all told. The feet are front feet, of course only two in number. The rear part of the body runs on two casters.

A man will work the monster from the inside, his head extending up into a huge hummock just behind the dragon’s head, his feet being encased in Wellington boots fitted into the feet of the animal. The manipulator will be enabled by a system of wires to turn the casters, swing them around and at the same time control the head movements and the lower jaw of his charge. Incandescent electric lights form the dragon’s eyes and the eyelids of these are also moved by the inhabitant within. Steampipes will be introduced at the tail of the dragon and at the proper moment steam will be forced out of his nostrils. When the steam and the eyelids and the jaw and the head are working at their liveliest, men in the flies, with wires attached to the dragon’s tail will make that part of the beast thresh the air in fury, while in the wings a mighty trumpet will sound forth the musical notes in which the Dragon will express musical sentiments appropriate to the occasion, at least until Siegfried shall put an end to the tumult. Mr. Bradwell is proud of his progeny and thinks his initial appearance will be a great success.

New-York tribune. [volume] (New York [N.Y.]), 23 Jan. 1887. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030214/1887-01-23/ed-1/seq-9/>

Midcentury Bar Cart

For Triad Stage’s production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf a few months ago, I needed to find a very specific bar cart. The scenic designer, Anya Klepikov, provided me with a research image of a stunning midcentury piece that was uncomfortably out of our price range. It had some challenging aspects to it, but I knew I could build it myself for a fraction of the cost.

Clamping the pieces
Clamping the pieces

I built the table out of a mix of oak boards and oak plywood. For the thicker pieces of oak, I laminated several pieces together.

Assembling the top
Assembling the top

In the research image, the table of the cart splits in the middle, and a black melamine leaf is added to make it longer. Ours didn’t need to do that, so I just built the top as a single piece. It was a single sheet of plywood covered in two thin pieces of nice plywood, with a piece of melamine in the middle. The edges were strips of hardwood to cover the plywood edges. I couldn’t find black melamine, so I used white that I spray painted black.

Attaching the lip
Attaching the lip

Each end had a curved breadboard with a raised lip. It took a bit of finessing to cut the end of the plywood and the breadboard so they fit together perfectly.

Attaching the lip
Attaching the lip

I cut and shaped the raised lip as a separate piece before attaching it. I routed all the edges, and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to fit the router on if the lip was attached. Once it was glued on, I did some hefty belt sanding on the end to smooth everything and make it appear to be one solid piece of wood.

Rounding the edge with a router
Rounding the edge with a router

I clamped a rail on the bottom so I could round over that edge as well, with the rounded edge fading out gradually.

Milling the joints
Milling the joints

Because the legs were both round and tapered, they needed a flat surface to attach the apron and shelf to. I built a jig for the router to mill a flat area perpendicular to the ground. The apron pieces could then be doweled securely to the legs.

Glue assembly
Glue assembly

Before gluing, I fit everything together dry to make sure my measurements were all correct. When you have round tapered legs, it is very easy to make a mistake between the length of the top apron pieces and the shelf apron pieces; everything needs to be exact to keep the whole piece square and sturdy. Once everything was fit properly, I disassembled it, added glue to all the joints, and clamped it all back together.

Preparing to stain
Preparing to stain

After one final sanding over the whole table, it was ready for staining. I used a tint from Minwax called “Gunstock.” I sealed it with a coat of amber shellac. When it dried, I rubbed it down with #000 steel wool, then added a second coat of amber shellac, which was also sanded with steel wool. The whole table was then wiped down with Pledge Furniture Polish. This not only removes the finest dust particles, but it imparts a thin layer of wax that helps give the surface a bit more shine.

With stain and shellac
With stain and shellac

The photo above shows off the sweet curves which the piece has.

Completed bar cart
Completed bar cart

When I shared images of the completed bar cart with Anya the designer, she realized she wanted brass leg caps added to the bottom. I wasn’t able to find an exact cap to fit the legs, so I coated them with a thin layer of epoxy and painted it with brass spray paint. It gave the same effect as brass caps, but with far less work.

Bar cart on stage
Bar cart on stage

The bar cart was the only piece of furniture on the whole stage, so the extra work to make it perfect was justified. It was a nice piece to build for my last show as the full-time props master at Triad Stage.

Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies