Special Saturday Prop Links

Happy Saturday, everyone. Unforeseen emergencies kept me from posting this yesterday, but have no fear, your props reading list is here:

If you somehow missed this article, Maria Bustillos had a great piece in Bloomberg Business called “How High Def is Changing Your Brain – and Driving the Prop Master Crazy.” It delves into how the increased resolution and clarity of film makes amazing props look like cheap plastic knock-offs. It has a fair bit of prop-making history in it, and some wonderful anecdotes as well (the bit about attaching the leaves from small carrots onto the bodies of larger carrots for a perfect carrot was something every prop master could recognize).

Rosco Spectrum has more on the 160 candlestick holders which Jay Duckworth constructed for Hamilton (now on Broadway!). Using his drill press as a lathe, and some FoamCoat, he made short work of this project. Jay, you know you have an actual lathe in your shop, right?

User Ratchet built a Recharger Rifle from Fallout: New Vegas and posted pictures over at the Replica Prop Forum. The process photos do a wonderful job showing how a few simple materials layered up on top of each other can quickly become a complex and interesting prop. The fantastic paint job helps a lot as well.

Finally, I saw this Giant PVC Centipede over at Instructables. It’s the stuff of nightmares, but it’s also interesting some basic hardware store supplies can transform into a fully articulated monstrosity.

US Presidents and the Theatre

President Obama and his daughters attended the July 18, 2015, performance of Hamilton on Broadway. His wife, Michelle, had seen it off-Broadway at the Public Theatre. Former president Bill Clinton and his wife, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, also caught an off-Broadway performance of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s celebrated show about the Founding Fathers. Miranda first performed songs from the show way back in 2009 to Obama, and he sat next to the President during last week’s performance at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.

Many of my friends worked on the show (Jay Duckworth even has an article on how the props shop made 160 turned candlesticks). It made me wonder about the theatre habits of other Presidents. Turns out, the American Presidency has long had a rich involvement with the theatre. Thanks to the book American Presidents Attend the Theatre by Thomas Bogar and a few hours of Googling, I’ve dug up a few interesting stories. Continue reading US Presidents and the Theatre

Props o’ the Mornin’ to Ya

The costume department at UNC Chapel Hill is building replica costumes from sci-fi films for the Museum of Science Fiction. Check out this short video of their envious task as faculty, staff and students reconstruct a flight attendant uniform from 2001, including 3D-printing a Pan-Am badge.

If you have not yet “liked” the Society of Properties Artisan Managers page on Facebook, now’s a good time. They’ve been featuring photos and descriptions of the prop shops from theatres across the US. It’s great to see the differences and similarities of how we all set up our spaces to do our jobs.

Blaine Gibson, a sculptor of figures at Disney Parks, passed away recently. Gibson was responsible for many of the Parks’ iconic figures, such as the pirates from Pirates of the Caribbean, the ghosts of the Haunted Mansion, and those children from It’s a Small World.

Finally, this is from nearly a month ago, but Volpin Props has the beginning of a great step-by-step write-up for a Garuda’s Spine bow from Final FantasyThis massive weapon has tons of detail, and it is great to see all the photos of it coming together.

Burning the Props, 1939

The following comes from a 1939 issue of The New Yorker. I don’t know if traveling plays still need to be destroyed after the show closes, but I do know you still see a lot of scenery and props end up in the trash at the end of a run.

Flashing Finish

by John McNulty, Eugene Kinkead, and Russell Maloney

It was all rather sad about “The Flashing Stream,” the play written by Charles Morgan, the London critic, which flopped here after being such a success in London. The cast went away in a huff, one of them declaring that presenting the play over here was like putting vintage claret before whiskey drinkers. We poured ourself a stiff slug of redeye at ten last Monday morning and went around to the Biltmore Theatre to watch a curious rite connected with the demise of an English play. When a British production is brought over here, God forbid, the scenery and props are admitted duty-free only on the understanding that at the conclusion of the run they must be either shipped out of the country or destroyed. Nine times out of ten the management elects to destroy them.

When we arrived at the Biltmore we found a jolly crew of vultures from the Williams Transfer Corporation on the stage of the Biltmore, dismantling the single set, an ancient fortress. They were under the supervision of Frank Williams, a partner in the company, a gray-haired veteran of the scenery-transport business. He told us that the general practice had been to chop up the scenery and props right onstage, but that in this instance the customs men had ordered a burning. This, he told us, would necessitate a trip up to the Colgate dumps, near the Bronx River. When they got their trucks loaded, a customs official appeared, checked the inventory, down to the last vase of artificial flowers, and assigned a guard who was with him to make the trip to the dump and see it all burned. We followed the trucks in a taxicab, brooding on the impermanence of everything.

The dump is a large, bare expanse with a pit that smolders eternally, yawning for English drama. The truckmen, half a dozen of them, made a pile of the scenery. “We’ll need gasoline,” somebody said. “This is all fireproofed.” One of the truckmen winked. “The hell we will,” he said, touching a match to the pile. It went up in flames at once. The truckmen, like destructive brownies, skipped about the flames and yelled. “Gone with the wind!” cried one, throwing into the flames a billboard picture of Margaret Rawlings, the star. Another man disemboweled a sofa and set fire to the insides. Then they all began hurling small objects into the flames—cushions, glassware, vases, occasional chairs, all the paraphernalia of English acting. Our last sight of the holocaust, as we drove off in our cab, was a man who, under the approving gaze of the customs guard, was prancing about with an armful of artificial tiger lilies, pitching them one by one into the flames.

Original appearance: McNulty, John, Eugene Kinkead, and Russell Maloney. “Flashing Finish.” New Yorker 29 Apr. 1939: 18-19. Print.

Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies