Behind the Scenes, 1890

The following comes from an 1890 news article in the San Francisco Morning Call:

Behind the Scenes

The property-room is a theatrical sepulcher. Buried in dust and stage debris are mementos of histrionic grandeur. A warrior’s helmet is crowded by a three-legged stool; the figure of a proud god, whose presence shed luster on the perspective of a “bleached alley,” is degraded by the oppression of a big old candlestick that hangs across his breast; the soft-toned mandolin, (the fellow in the orchestra was making the music) whose notes as they wafted into life under the gentle touch of the fair player, wooed back her recreant lover, hangs on a wall, a veritable “fake.”

It never had any strings, nor had its companion, the crazy-looking violin. With dented sides and lonesome looks vessels of golden hue are piled in one corner beside a lot of rag carpet.

Here is a stack of muskets not one which was fired in a century, if appearances go for anything. There is an ink-well that never was blackened by writing-fluid, and a pen used to sign death-warrants and marriage-certificates that had its point blunted in inditing signatures that never showed on paper.

There are huge letters and pretentiously sealed packages with never a line in them.

All about, in shabby disillusion, is seen the mechanical mimicry of the objects in real life.

The propertyman is an artist in his way and in these days of stage realism as essential to the success of a play as the author himself. Gone are the times when a table and a few chairs were all he had to “set” in a scene. This age demands that he be a skilled mechanic, able to manipulate the stage substitute for wood and minerals, papier mache, so that his talent will produce anything from a strawberry to an armored knight or the skull used in the grave-digger’s scene in “Hamlet.”

As a result his worth to the stage has been elevated, and his salary climbs up into high-priced figures.

Originally published in The Morning Call, San Francisco, December 25, 1890, pg 19.

Links for the Weekend

How do you cut open a deer carcass and pull out a bleeding heart every night on stage? Wall Street Journal has a short but interesting article on how Eric Stewart, the head of props  for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, does just that. Remember to keep your fake hearts wrapped in wax paper in between performances.

I used to watch the show Haven, but was unaware it was still running. But “Revisiting Haven” has a new interview with props master Jason Shurko up. If you can get the plug-in to work, it’s a fascinating look at what it takes to get all the weird and wonderful props featured on the show.

Gizmodo has a great article and video taking us inside the fiery workshop of a 21st century swordmaker. He’s not making stage combat weapons, but it is still really cool seeing an intricate weapon take shape from just a few lumps of nondescript steel.

Tested takes their video camera into the jAdis prop rental shop. This Santa Monica business specializes in weird science and medical props and forgotten technology. If you’re making a movie that needs a Hemodimagnometer, this is where you go. Be sure to check out their website as well for some great pictures and more news stories about their history.

Famed monster maker Rick Baker is putting his stuff for auction later in May. Check out the catalog at Prop Store’s website for the full range of all the items they have. You may not be interested in buying and collecting these items, but these auction catalogs always have great photographs and descriptions of the items, which serve almost like a history of how props and animatronics were constructed. This one has molds, mechanisms, masks and more from shows like An American Werewolf in LondonMichael Jackson’s ThrillerHarry and the Hendersons, and Gremlins 2.

Deadlines Extended for Grants in Theatrical Properties

The deadlines for the Jen Trieloff Grant and the Edie Whitsett Grant for theatrical properties have been extended to May 25, 2015. The Society of Properties Artisan Managers is offering these grants for the first time this year to individuals wanting financial assistance with transportation, housing or other necessities during an internship in theatrical properties. Read on for more details about each grant.

Society of Properties Artisan Managers

The Jen Trieloff Grant for Theatrical Properties

The Jen Trieloff Grant is an annual award given to an individual wishing to further their career in theatrical properties. This grant is intended to assist with transportation, housing, or necessities while completing an internship in the field of properties.

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.

The Jen Trieloff Grant is overseen and awarded by the The Society of Properties Artisan Managers. Individuals who have accepted an internship and who wish to apply for the Jen Trieloff Grant should submit the following:

  • Cover Letter including:
    • Details on the Internship; when and where.
    • Any additional compensation you might be receiving during that time.
    • An estimate of anticipated expenses.
  • Resume
  • Digital portfolio of recent properties work

Please submit items to: Jim Guy, SPAM President at jguy@milwaukeerep.com

All items must be received by May 25, 2015Scholarship will be awarded June 15, 2015.

The Edie Whitsett Grant for Theatrical Properties

The Edie Whitsett Grant is an annual award given to an individual wishing to further their career in theatrical properties, especially but not limited to theatrical props in children’s theater. This grant is intended to assist with transportation, housing, or necessities while completing an internship in the field of properties.

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.

The Edie Whitsett Grant is overseen and awarded by the The Society of Properties Artisan Managers. Individuals wishing to apply for the Edie Whitsett Grant should submit the following:

  • Cover Letter including:
    • Details on the Internship; when and where.
    • Any additional compensation you might be receiving during that time.
    • An estimate of anticipated expenses.
  • Resume
  • Digital portfolio of recent properties work

Please submit items to: Jim Guy, SPAM President at jguy@milwaukeerep.com.

All items must be received by May 25, 2015Scholarship will be awarded June 15, 2015.

Prop-pourri

I was a big fan of He-Man growing up, so I really enjoyed seeing this Instructable on making a He-Man Power Sword. Blast Replicas uses an interesting technique of creating a “skeleton” with thin plastic guides, and then adding body filler between the guides to fashion all the curved and beveled faces. The paint treatment on the final piece is also pretty sweet.

Millennium FX created a giant polar bear operated by two puppeteers as part of a PR stunt for Fortitude on Sky Atlantic. Be sure to check out the video which has some “making of” footage that’s sure to be helpful to anyone who needs to build an articulated animal form.

Tested visits Monsterpalooza 2015, a convention for creature makers, practical effects shops, and special effects makeup. I’m amazed at all the high quality work being done out there in the world.

For those of you building things out of craft foam, WM Armory has compiled his ten best tutorials on crafting foam. I’ve linked to some of these individually before, but here they are together in case you’ve missed some.

Finally, here’s a beautiful video showing a couch being made. It’s a real couch, not a prop couch, so they have some pretty sophisticated machines for some of their processes (they roll their own springs!), but it is still very satisfying to watch the final piece grow out of a pile of raw materials.

Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies