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.

The Art of Papier Mache, 1899

Originally appeared in an 1899 issue of New York Times:

“Yes,” said the little man up town who makes theatrical “Props” and incidentally any number of “props” for other things, “there is nothing like papier maché. It is being used more and more all the time now and there are more and more things for which it can be used. It is the strongest material known for its weight. You see, for anything to use in the theatre you have to have something that is strong and that will stand traveling and being thrown around, and if it is big—columns in the scenery, for instance—it must not only be strong but light, so that it can be moved easily. It must be light anyway. Imagine a band of Amazons traveling around the country with suits of metal armor, or wearing it, either, for that matter. The Amazons would strike, the railroad companies would strike, and the theatrical company would go out of business. There is nothing you can’t make of papier maché, from an elephant to a vase. The greatest trouble is to get the models. Sometimes you send out and get small ones of plaster or marble, and at other times you will have to work from sketches and photographs and use your own ingenuity, working on a geometrical scale for enlargement. Continue reading The Art of Papier Mache, 1899

2019 SPAM Grant Winners

The Society of Properties Artisan Managers is proud to announce the winners of their fifth annual Jen Trieloff and Edie Whitsett Internship Grants. Congratulations to Emily Davis and Kenly Cox. These grants are awarded to individuals wanting financial assistance with transportation, housing or other necessities during an internship in theatrical properties. You can find out more about these grants and other resources at the S*P*A*M website. You can also “like” their Facebook page to stay up to date with news and announcements.

2019 Jen Trieloff Grant recipient: Emily Davis

Emily Davis
Emily Davis

Emily Davis graduated from Florida State University in May of 2019 with her BA degree in Theatre. Her time spent volunteering in the scenic and props shops were the most formative of her time at FSU and inspired her to pursue a career path in Props. She is currently working as a Properties Artisan Apprentice at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, PA. Emily is incredibly honored to be chosen to receive this grant and would like to thank the S*P*A*M community for this wonderful opportunity.

You can see examples of Emily’s work at: www.emcdavis.com or @em.c.davis on Instagram.

2019 Edie Whitsett Grant recipient: Kenly Cox

Kenly Cox
Kenly Cox

Kenly Cox is a 2019 graduate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, obtaining her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Studio Art, specializing in metal and ceramic sculpture. Shegraduated with a minor in Drama Arts in Theatrical Production, discovering her passion for Stage Properties as a work study student at PlayMakers Repertory Company at UNC. There she gained valuable skills and everlasting friendships. Kenly discovered that her talents as a fine artist could be applied to the theatrical world and serve as a plausible career path. She is now working for the summer as a Stage Properties Apprentice at Wolf Trap Opera in Vienna, Virginia, expanding her knowledge and skills as a Prop Artisan. After her work is done with Wolf Trap, Kenly will be returning to PlayMakers Repertory Company as a part time Properties Artisan for the 2019-2020 season.

You can see Kenly’s work on her website: https://kenlymcox.wixsite.com/kenlycoxart/theatre

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.

Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies