If you’re a Shakespeare buff or just interested in theatrical history, you may be aware that archaeologists from the Museum of London Archaeology are currently excavating the Curtain Theatre. The Curtain is one of the earlier theatres used by Shakespeare, and its well-preserved remains are filling in a lot of gaps about our knowledge of Elizabethan theatre. It has already yielded some surprises: the stage is rectangular, not circular as previously supposed. And last week, you probably saw the news articles exclaiming that props from the original Romeo and Juliet were unearthed. Is this true? Or rather, how likely is this?
Bill Doran shows us how to mold and cast tiny parts, which often have their own set of challenges distinct from molding larger pieces. One word: bubbles.
Modern-Day Gepettos Keep Marionette Making Alive – Make Magazine introduces us to Mirek Trejtnar, a puppet-maker who not only carefully researches traditional methods of building marionettes, but shares his techniques on his blog.
Most explosive squibs used on film sets contain lead, which spreads lead all over the film crew. A new report highlights the potential dangers and asks if your film crew is being poisoned. It came to no surprise to me that Monona Rossol was behind this report; she often appears to be solely responsible for pointing out the toxic dangers hidden in the entertainment industry. Many of us have learned safer practices either from one of her classes or from her essential book, The Health and Safety Guide for Film, TV, and Theater.
Propnomicon points out that the New York Public Library has a great collection on old apartment buildings. They have detailed floor plans from the early Twentieth Century, as well as common plumbing and bathroom fixtures. It’s great research for any play from this time period.
The following is the second part of an article which appeared in an 1884 issue of the Bismarck Weekly Tribune. The first part was posted last week:
“Writing letters is another important duty of the property man. The letters which people read on the stage are all written for them by him. Actors do not commit them to memory, but simply read them when they are handed to them upon the stage. In the multiplicity of his cares the property man sometimes forgets to write one of these letters, and when the actor to whom it is handed opens it he finds only a blank sheet of paper. His wits must serve him then, and if he knows the general purport of the letter he can improvise it. If not he can only affect to read and exclaim when he has finished: ”Tis well.’
Swearing at Property Men.
“More fault is found with the property man than with all the other attaches of the stage put together. A property man is expected to know how to make anything and everything. If there is a crown and scepter required, if a golden goblet is needed, or if there is a demand for a handsome drawing-room mantel, the property man must make them all, and no one outside of the profession can have any idea of the skill with which a first-rate property man can make a most deceptive imitation of almost anything. Turkeys and chickens, either with their feathers on or dressed and roasted for the table; fish and vegetables of all kinds, pies and cakes—all are within the resources of his art, as indeed it would be hard to name anything that is not.
Several days before the production of a new play there is given to the property man a complete list of all the properties required therein, and it is his duty to see that they are all ready in their proper places at the proper time. Many of these things, of course, he already has in his extensive collection in the property-room. Others he will borrow, if he can, from other theatres or from stores which deal in the articles required. China and glassware, furniture, fancy riding whips, paintings and bric-a-brac are always borrowed from stores, the dealers being glad to loan them for the sake of obtaining free admission to the theatre and of having their name on the house programme.”
“The Property Man”, The Bismarck Weekly Tribune, Oct 31, 1884, pg 2. Reprinted from The Philadelphia Times.
Chuck Fox, the props master at the Arena Stage in DC, is retiring, and the Washington Post has a great look back on his career. He started as a props carpenter at the Arena back in 1980. Kids, that was before props masters had Amazon and eBay. It was before you could do research on Google. Heck, it was before you could keep your props list saved on your computer and print out a copy every you updated it.
Genevieve Bee has this massive blog post documenting her construction of a life-size troll figure out of foam. Over 150 photos and a video detail her process from scale model to finished piece. She uses flat foam patterning, fabric manipulation, sculpting, plaster molding, latex casting, and a plethora of other techniques to bring this to life. And it’s her first time doing a project of this scale; she points out all the things she learned along the way.
Bill Doran brings us this introduction to 3D modeling for prop and costume making. Doran got his start as a 3D modeler, and he shows us some of the more accessible programs out there. 3D modeling is great for making 3D printed parts, but it can also be used to visualize a project and create blueprints for more traditional fabrication projects.
Myles McNutt hates when television characters carry around empty coffee cups. I mean, he really hates it. He has put together a video showing some of the more egregious examples of empty coffee cup usage, and has even created an award for the best (or worst?) empty cup acting on screen. Despite being a props person, I have actually never noticed this when watching TV.
The following appeared in an 1884 issue of the Bismarck Weekly Tribune:
One of the Most Important Individuals About a Theatre
“One of the most useful and important functionaries about a theatre is the property man,” said one who has grown gray in the business the other day. “By the property man is meant the person whose duty it is to furnish the properties for all the plays produced, and to see that they are placed conveniently at hand to be ready when wanted. Properties are everything used in a play except the scenery. The carpets, furniture and curtains, guns and pistols, pocket-books, money, candles, matches, cigars, pianos, pictures, food and drink, letters, musical instruments—all these and countless other things come under the head of properties.
“Every theatre has what is called a property-room where these things are kept. It has very much the appearance of a pawn-broker’s shop, except that nothing is wrapped up and there is no counter. Come in here and see for yourself,” he continued, as he led the way into a dingy room at the back of the stage, where there was a most heterogeneous collection of such articles as he had named.
“Few people have any idea of the care and responsibility of a property man. He has more on his mind than anybody else about a theatre. There are 150 different things, large and small, that he must remember, and woe betide him if he forgets any one of them or fails to have it in its proper place at the right time. People who visit the theatre have no idea how dependent they are on the property man for their pleasure, for if he forgets anything or does not have everything just as it should be it will give rise to a contretemps, which will retard the action of the scene and mar its whole effect.
A Choice of Pistols
“For example; It is part of his duty to attend to all the fire-arms used on the stage. In the most critical part of the play the leading man is to rescue the leading lady from the tolls of the villain by killing him with a pistol shot. The property man selects the best pistol in his collection, cleans and loads it carefully, fires it off in the property-room to make sure that it won’t miss fire, loads it again, and in a perfectly comfortable frame of mind gives it to the leading man as he goes on for his great scene. The critical moment arrives. The leading man cries out in his most terrible voice: ‘Die villain!’ and pulls the trigger, but the pistol doesn’t go off, so the villain must either fall and die without having been shot, or else he must live on, succeed in abducting the beautiful maiden and thus ruin the play.
I am sorry to say that property men, being somewhat given to profanity, divide their firearms into three classes—the sure, the very sure, and the d****d sure. The first are given to the most unimportant of the supers, the second are given to those of somewhat greater importance, while only the last are ever given to the people who play important parts and whose guns must go off in order to carry out the plot of the play.
“The Property Man”, The Bismarck Weekly Tribune, Oct 31, 1884, pg 2. Reprinted from The Philadelphia Times,