First Prop Links of the Year

Master and Apprentice – If you haven’t seen this show yet, you are missing out. Every week, Marcus LaPorte and Adam Ellis build a replica prop from pop culture from scratch. Marcus is a production designer with 17 years experience and Adam is a novice cosplayer. The show is especially compelling because of their interaction as Marcus teaches Adam new skills and tools. It is also a very beautifully shot production.

You want a flamingo? No problem! A rare glimpse inside the RSC’s mind-boggling props HQ – Take a look into the props shop of one of the UK’s finest theaters. This article chats with Alan Fell and others involved in his department, and a multitude of photographs illustrate all the nooks and crannies of their stock.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s Set Designer Shares the Secrets to Creating That Magical World – Mid-century design will always have a special place in my heart, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is one of the latest period television shows to bring that era to life. Apartment Therapy talks with Bill Groom, the production design artist behind these sets.

Life in a British Art Department for Film and Television – Graphic designer Matthew Clark gives an interview about his career in a British Art Department. In his eight years, he has worked on productions such as Black Mirror, Doctor Who, Red Dwarf XII, and Loaded.

Video: Kabuki Drop with Solenoid

I am back with another companion video to my upcoming book, The Prop Effects Guidebook. The kabuki drop mechanism is simple (and the following video is short), but it can be helpful to actually see it in action.

Kabuki drop with solenoid

I will be releasing more of these companion videos as we draw closer to the book’s release. You can watch all of them on YouTube.

The Prop Effects Guidebook is available for pre-order now at most major retailers.

Video: Breakaway Glass with Isomalt

Now that the holidays have passed, I am back to posting companion videos for my upcoming book, The Prop Effects Guidebook. The latest is on how to make a breakaway glass using isomalt. Isomalt has a lot of advantages over cane sugar, and it is not much more expensive.

Most of the work in this video was done by my assistant at the time, Lisa Bledsoe. We needed a breakable whiskey glass for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, so she made a mold of a real glass and figured all of this stuff out.

I bought the isomalt from Make Your Own Molds, which also has some great tutorials to help you get started with making breakaway glass.

Breakaway Glass with Isomalt

I will be releasing more of these companion videos as we draw closer to the book’s release. You can watch all of them on YouTube.

The Prop Effects Guidebook is available for pre-order now at most major retailers.

Top Prop Stories of 2017

As 2017 draws to a close, let us take a look back at the top news stories that affected our industry.

Robby the Robot Is Now the Most Valuable Movie Prop Sold at Auction – The famous Forbidden Planet creation recently sold for $5,375,000.

Alley Theatre Suffers Damage From Hurricane Harvey – One of the United States’ largest regional theaters suffered a devastating blow as flood waters destroyed a major portion of their hand props. They were able to bounce back quickly and resume putting on shows, but this loss will surely be felt for years to come.

Fake cosplay guns, real security problems at Comic Cons – Though cosplay continues to gain in popularity, more and more fan conventions are limiting the use of realistic prop guns, or even banning prop weapons altogether. Expect this story to continue to unfold over the next few years.

20 Years of the 501st Legion: How the Star Wars Costuming Group Became a Force for Good – Speaking of cosplay, the world-famous group of Stormtrooper enthusiasts celebrated their twentieth anniversary this year.

San Diego Opera to Sell Studio to Help Stabilize Finances – The company announced its plan to sell off its scene shop as a way to balance their budget. They will continue to rent a portion of it to build sets, and they pulled this off without any layoffs, so it may end up being a positive thing.

Jay Duckworth at USITT 2017 – One of the keynotes at 2017’s USITT conference was a props person. Jay Duckworth, props director at The Public Theater, spoke about his career and the artist’s “bug out bag.”

Inside Syfy’s Cosplay Melee Workshop – The Syfy Channel introduced a new reality show this year called Cosplay Melee. Tested took us into their workshop to see what the contestants had to work with.

Off-Broadway Producers and United Scenic Artists Create First Ever Agreement for Off-Broadway Designers – In an historic move, designers on Off-Broadway productions will now be covered by the USA union. I do not know what this means for prop designers, who can be found all over Off-Broadway but are almost non-existent in venues already covered by USA.

The Prop Building Guidebook second edition – Finally, the second edition to my book was released this year. I like to think this is news-worthy. Be on the lookout for an all-new book from me, The Prop Effects Guidebook, which will be out in early 2018!

A Man of Letters, 1943

The following is an article about Joe Lynn, a twentieth-century American props master I have written about frequently on this blog. It comes from a 1943 issue of The New Yorker:

by Eugene Kinkead and Russell Maloney

A local stage property man named Joe Lynn is, we would guess, the most zealous prop man in the business. A prop man, you know, takes care of everything in a theatrical production that isn’t part of the set or a member of Actors’ Equity—dishes, weapons, rubies stolen from an idol’s eye, or whatever. The job also includes taking care of letters, if letters are called for in the script. In “The Eve of St. Mark” a letter figures prominently in Act I, Scene 3. As the scene opens, a girl is just finishing a letter to her sweetheart in the Army. She seals it and gives it to her father to mail. Well, Joe Lynn is the prop man for “The Eve of St. Mark.” Every day, and twice a day on matinée days, he has written a real letter for the use of Mary Rolfe, who plays the girl, and she has added a few words of her own before sealing it. There’s no need for any of this super-realism, you understand; a sheet of paper with a few random scribbles on it would be good enough to fool even the people in the front row.

The letters thus composed are kept stacked on a shelf backstage at the Cort—quite a pile of them now, the show having played over two hundred and fifty performances. Joe Lynn, a stocky fellow in his mid-forties, allowed us to skim through and transcribe a few selections, though it was plain that he thought our interest was misplaced. “I don’t go in much for this literary business,” he told us, busily stacking away a plateful of dummy hamburgers. “I just catch-as-catch-can with it. It never takes me more than three or four minutes.” Having read a few of the letters, we decided that Joe was being too modest. The letters, most of them on current events, were uniformly pithy, studded with cracks like this one, apropos the rumor that the Little Flower was going to join the Army: “Well, it happened. We now have a one-star general direct from City Hall. I’d like to see him in his uniform. I’ll bet he will look like a wet football standing on end.” One day last week the letter read, “Now they’ve knocked Rommel’s ears back. On our own shores Congress has been kicking around the Ruml Plan. I guess some of them figured any thing or name that sounded like Rommel was no good, and they wanted to share in the glory.”

On the twelfth of February there was a brief tribute to Lincoln, beginning, “One hundred and thirty-four years ago today Nancy Hanks lying on a rough-hewn bed with an old rough bearskin as a mattress gave birth to a baby boy who was later to become the Great Emancipator.” Other topics touched on in the letters are liquor rationing, the Supreme Court, Valentine’s Day, the old Tiller Girls, General MacArthur, and the Shubert brothers. Miss Rolfe’s additions to these notes, having been made onstage, are naturally somewhat perfunctory. Usually they have no relation to Joe’s topic of the day; for instance, her post-script to Joe’s letter on liquor rationing read, bleakly, “Well, here I go with another cold. Love, Janet.” All the letters begin with the salutation “Dear Quizz” in Joe’s handwriting and end “Love, Janet” in Miss Rolfe’s. Quizz and Janet are, of course, the play’s lovers.

Joe had a forthright answer when we asked him why he goes to all this extra trouble. “I got to do something to earn my money,” he said. He figures that since 1915, when he started his career as a prop man, he has had about a hundred shows, probably half of which involved letters; during the runs of these shows he wrote letters for every performance. He has apparently established a tradition for “The Eve of St. Mark.” The prop man for the road company was furnished with a batch of Joe’s letters to use as models and ordered to do likewise, willy-nilly. Understand the theatre any better now?

Kinkead, Eugene, and Russell Maloney. “Correspondence.” The New Yorker, 22 May 1943, p. 14.

Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies