Greatest Prop Links of the Day

The 100 Greatest Props in Movie History, and the Stories Behind Them – Thrillist has put together a list of the hundred greatest movie props ever, at least from American films. What sets this list off from others is they contacted prop masters and other people who worked on the films, so you get one hundred stories about great props and where they came from.

20 Years of the 501st Legion: How The Star Wars Costuming Group Became a Force For Good – The 501st is a worldwide group of amateur cosplayers who dress up in screen-accurate Stormtrooper costumes. For their twentieth anniversary, SyFy tells the story of how they got started and what they’ve grown into.

Best Theatre Cities in the U.S. – If you are wondering where to move to find those sweet, sweet jobs in theater, Paste Magazine has compiled a list of nine cities (outside of New York) with a thriving theater scene. I’ve lived and worked in two of these. Do you agree with the list?

Crafting Adventure Time’s Enchiridion as an Ode to Medieval Book Making – Make Magazine points us to this fantastical book created from scratch by Elder Props. It’s got sculpting, it’s got casting, it’s got distressing, it’s got everything!

Review: Props, by Eleanor Margolies

Books that deal with the philosophical aspect of props are few and far between. Certainly you can find a few scholarly articles here and there; Theatre Symposium devoted an issue of their journal to props back in 2009 (I presented a paper at that conference). But the last book of this nature would probably be Andrew Sofer’s The Stage Life of Props.

This lack of scholarly interest should come as no surprise. Universities rarely devote time to props as it is, and when they do, it is purely for practical reasons. The study of technical theatre from a historical perspective is growing in popularity, but that remains mostly devoted to scenery, lighting, and perhaps some costuming here and there. So when a book like Props (Readings in Theatre Practice), by Eleanor Margolies, comes along, I take notice.

Margolies begins the book with some usual thoughts about props; how they become text in a performance, the differences between a prop and a regular object, and how audiences perceive the life of a prop.

However, she also delves into the practical side of props, which highlights the importance of studying both. One cannot talk about how props are used in performances without discussing how they get there. It is the limitations of objects, both found and constructed specifically for the theater, that determines how and when they get used. She devotes some time to specific theater troupes and performances which are dependent on props to create a visual world. She also digs back into historical uses of props in various forms of traditional theater. The process by which props and physical materials can be introduced into rehearsals and modified during the process affects what an audience ultimately witnesses.

You will not find a recipe for papier-mache in this book; it is not a handbook for people who need to construct props. However, you will learn about the history of papier-mache and how it influenced the construction of props historically; currently, it is associated with the cheap nature of amateur theater, and has become a cultural metaphor for fakery and imitation. Other practical topics covered include breakaways, consumables, and fake blood.

Margolies’ Props provides a context for further study and discussion about props. You do not need to already be familiar with Veltruský’s work on affordances to be able to follow this book. For me, at least, it left me filled with so many more questions I wanted to explore and areas I wished to research; it was like opening up a dam of ideas that spilled out of my mind. Hopefully, it will provide a renewed interest in the study of props beyond that of its practitioners.

Props by Eleanor Margolies
Props by Eleanor Margolies

Easy Prop Links

The Artist Behind Some of the World’s Most Famous Images Isn’t A Photographer, It’s Top Backdrop Painter Sarah Oliphant – I never realized that the backgrounds of photographs on the covers of magazines are actually painted backdrops. I especially did not know that most of them are painted by the same people. Sarah Oliphant and her studio create the custom drops you see on magazine covers such as Vogue, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, and GQ.

Prop Emergency & A Drag Queen To The Rescue – Jay Duckworth recalls the time his drag queen brother had the perfect solution to a prop problem he had. Meanwhile, I built all the furniture for that show.

Easy Casting of Small Model Parts and Miniatures with Blue Stuff – Make Magazine shows off a product called “Blue Stuff” which is used to make molds for small parts. It becomes soft in hot water and is reusable. It seems to be fairly similar to “Friendly Plastic” over here, but definitely worth testing out.

Majoras’ Mask – Accurate Replica – User Hydromatic93 brings us this Instructable on constructing a mask from the Legend of Zelda video game series. The process starts with a clay sculpt which is molded in silicone and then cast in a two-part resin.

Charles Dickens in the Theatre, 1904

The following comes from the Foreword to a book on amateur theatricals published in 1904:

Amongst the many extraordinary amateurs who have from time to time appeared prominently before the public, the most remarkable was Charles Dickens—remarkable because he was not only a great novelist, but because he had the true dramatic instinct in a wonderful degree, and this, combined with most unfailing energy and enthusiasm in the work, made him the wonder and admiration of all with whom he came in contact. All who ever saw Dickens act have declared that in gaining a great novelist the world lost a most accomplished actor.

He joined a dramatic club when he was serving his time in a lawyer’s office, and it is said that recognising his natural aptitude for the stage, he made up his mind to adopt it as a profession. He was untiring in his efforts, and constantly practising everything that might conduce to his advancement, even such things as walking in and out, and sitting down in a chair. Thus he studied four, five, and six hours a day, shut up in his own room, or walking about the fields.

To all would-be stage managers he is a shining example, for it was in this capacity that his talents for organisation and management were conspicuous. He writes of an early amateur performance which he arranged and conducted. “I had regular plots of the scenery made out and lists of the properties wanted, nailing them up by the prompter’s chair. Every letter there was to be delivered was written, every piece of money that had to be given provided; I prompted myself when I was not on, and when I was I made the appointed prompter my deputy.”

Amateur performances had always a wonderful fascination for him, and the record of many of the brilliant performances in which he took part will be found in Forster’s “Life of Dickens,” together with the casts of many of the plays he produced, and which contain the names of many notable men and women who have left more solid reputations behind them in other walks of life.

Charles Dickens Playbill
Charles Dickens Playbill

Neil, C. Lang. Amateur Theatricals: A Practical Guide. London: C. Arthur Pearson, 1904. Google Books. 30 Nov. 2007. Web. 5 Aug. 2009. <https://books.google.com/books?id=lB5IAAAAIAAJ>.

Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies