More Shakespearean Actors and Their Props

Last week, we looked at some images of actors in costume for their roles in various Shakespeare plays. The images come from a 1900 book called the Shakespeare Rare Print Collection, edited by Seymour Eaton. These images help give a sense of what kinds of props they may have used at the time. This week, I have some more of these images. Continue reading More Shakespearean Actors and Their Props

First Prop Links of December

Get Up Close With the Props of Dear Evan Hansen – Take a look backstage at the hit Broadway show to see how the props are stored. This series of photos is a great look at all the minute detail that goes into preparing seemingly ordinary props. Even the most mundane details have some story behind it, or some kind of trick rigged into it to make the show run smoothly and consistently.

Woman’s Day Magazine’s Star Wars Playset Designs (1978, 1980) – In two separate issues in 1978 and 1980, Woman’s Day Magazine published plans and instructions to construct Star Wars playsets for the popular action figures. These plans had you build them fully from scratch, using sheets of plywood, plastic, laminates, and other raw materials. This article includes links to the original plans as well, so grab them while you can!

The Secret Tools Magicians Use to Fool You – In another photo series, Louis De Belle has photographed devices used by magicians for his upcoming book, and shares a few of them with us here. He doesn’t actually give away how any of the tricks work, but it is a fun exercise to guess what each magical prop accomplishes.

National Theatre explores “exquisite miniature world” of stage set models – The National Theatre in London has an exhibition of some of the set design models for shows that have been produced there since the 1970s. The exhibition runs until March 2019, and was curated by Eleanor Margolies, author of Props (Readings in Theatre Practice).

Shakespearean Actors and Their Props

One of my many interests is how the props used in Shakespeare’s plays have evolved over time. One way to discover what props may have possibly appeared on stage is by looking at drawings and photographs of famous Shakespearean actors posing as their characters.

The following images come from a 1900 book called the Shakespeare Rare Print Collection, edited by Seymour Eaton. Most of these actors are from the 18th and 19th century. I cannot tell whether they are posing with actual props from their performances, or if they grabbed real items just to pose for these pictures, but at least it is a starting point. Continue reading Shakespearean Actors and Their Props

No Retractable Blades

What is a retractable knife? We have all seen them at novelty shops or with Halloween costumes. When you push the blade against a surface, it slides up into the handle. When you pull it back, a spring inside forces the blade back out of the handle. With enough speed, it appears that the knife blade is plunging into your body as someone stabs you.

The illusion they create gives many a director the idea to use them onstage in a fight scene. However, they are completely unsafe. Most larger theaters already ban them outright, but many smaller and temporary performing spaces are unaware of how these seemingly innocuous toys become deadly during a stage fight.

If the blade were to press ever so slightly against the opening in the handle, it will bind with enough pressure that the blade will not retract. When that happens, your actor is suddenly plunging a real knife into another actor with enough force to puncture their skin and even their organs. Even the knives with plastic blades will cause fatal damage.

This is an inevitable part of their design; you cannot fabricate a retractable dagger that does not bind, nor can you adapt an existing knife to avoid this problem.

In 1990 at Pentameters Theatre in Hampstead, UK, Dr. Annabel Joyce used a plastic retractable knife while playing Lady Macduff. It failed to retract and she had to go to the hospital. She fortunately recovered.

In 1998, a production of I Pagliacci in Milwaukee saw David Rendall accidentally stab Kimm Julian with a knife that failed to retract. This happened during a day of rehearsal where they had already practiced the scene a dozen times, and were actually running the fight in slow motion with the fight director. Kimm did not realize he had been stabbed at first, but collapsed three or four minutes later. He was rushed to the hospital for immediate surgery and eventually recovered, though he had to be replaced for the remainder of the show’s run.

Also in 1998, Michael McElhatton was stabbed with a retractable during a performance. Before his famed role in Game of Thrones, he was performing in Twenty Grand at the Peacock Theatre in Dublin. His character was tied to a chair and stabbed multiple times by two other actors. He wore a padded vest for protection, and the whole scene was carefully choreographed by a fight director. The show ends with his death, and the actors untied him for curtain call. When he came off, he told one of the actors, “Ow, you really punched me with that last one.” He went on stage for a second bow, then returned to the wing to tell the stage manager, “I think he winded me. I don’t feel well.” He ran out for a third curtain call, then collapsed when he returned to the wings. The blade had jammed and missed the padding, plunging into his chest and missing his heart by an inch.

These are just some of the stories that have made it into the news. Countless other injuries are swept under the rug. You can see why most theaters ban retractable knives. Rick from “Weapons of Choice” even states that insurance carriers will not cover injury claims for a show in which a retractable is used. Even if the injury has nothing to do with the knife, the knife’s mere presence is proof of an unsafe work environment. He recommends destroying any retractable knife, plastic or metal, that you find in your stock.

The University of Michigan recently banned the use of them in performances after their local OSHA representative researched their inherent danger. They also consulted with Monona Rossol, the President of Arts, Crafts, & Theater Safety, Inc., who agreed that retractable blades should be banned at schools of all levels. Perhaps the only type that could conceivably be safe is one with a flexible blade, like rubber, so when the mechanism fails, the blade can bend rather than plunge directly into your lung.

So ban and destroy your retractable knives.

Prop Links of November

The Master of Paper Props – Great Big Story visits Ross MacDonald’s shop to see how he makes paper props for movies and television shows. This video delves into his process and into the power of paper props in general. If you haven’t seen Ross’ work before, this blog has covered him many times over the past nine years.

Want my job? with Khadija Raza, set and costume designer – Khadija talks with Voice about her job as a theatre designer in anticipation of TheatreCraft, the UK’s largest theatrical careers event for 16-30 year-olds.

Shrinking the world: why we can’t resist model villages – Simon Garfield ponders why we are drawn to miniature urban landscapes and why model builders feel compelled to create them. Along the way, he treats us to many photographs of some of the world’s finest examples of miniatures and model towns.

Original Big Bird, Caroll Spinney, Leaves ‘Sesame Street’ After Nearly 50 Years – In case you missed the news a few weeks ago, Caroll Spinney is retiring from Sesame Street after its 50th Anniversary special. Spinney has played both Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch since the show’s inception, making him one of the last original cast members to leave the show. The New York Times has this fantastic retrospective of his career.

Mortal Artists – The Craftsmen | Episode 3 – The upcoming Mortal Engines film features massive mobile cities that prowl a post-apocalyptic landscape. This video looks at all the prop builders who constructed the imaginative weapons and devices that make up this world.

Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies