All posts by Eric Hart

Hand Props, 1871

The following is taken from an article which first appeared in The Daily Evening Telegraph in 1871:

We have left ourselves little room to speak of the “hand props.” They are literally almost infinite. Whatever is used in life is needed to show the “very body of the age” upon the mimic scene. The depository of these cheap wonders is always on the prompt side, and as near the first entrance as possible. It is called the property-room, and while in it the subject of our sketch owes no allegiance, or at least pays none, to the stage manager himself. There are other rooms for the storage of larger articles, and such things as are not continually in demand.

Unless the Property Man is a person of great method, the “props” are apt to become scattered all over the theatre. There are such numbers of them, and almost every fresh piece so adds to the numbers, that unless they are ruthlessly weeded out at short intervals, they fill every available corner of stage room. Some property men are like certain housekeepers—they hate to destroy anything, thinking that some time it may turn to be of use. In that case the man keeps on filling up the place until he can’t find anything or can’t turn around. He then leaves in disgust, and another official coming in has a grand house-cleaning.

As regards “hand props” our man has a nightly list of articles, on what scene they are to be used, and by whom. The call-boy furnishes these articles to the proper parties, and collects them afterwards and returns them to the property-room. The rule is that calls shall be made in the green-room, and that the boy shall hand the “props” required to the individual at the time of calling him. In fact, however, the actor prefers to personally look up his props, so as to have a little more margin of time than the call would give him. But green-room matters, although important, scarcely belong to the subject under consideration.

Originally published in The Daily Evening Telegraph, Philadelphia, May 12, 1871, pg 5.

Super Fun Link Time

Creative England interviews props master Michael Betts. He worked on a number of television and film projects over in the UK, most notably the entire run of A Touch of Frost, which aired for nearly twenty years. He talks about his career and gives advice to young props people starting out. For those of us in the US, their studio system seems vastly different from what we are used to, and the comparison is quite fascinating.

“Super-Fan Builds” follows prop maker Tim Baker as he leads a team of builders who constructs one-of-a-kind items for the homes of superfans. His latest is a doghouse modeled after the house from Up, complete with floating balloons.

For a bit of fun, see how well you do in this quiz to match the sofa to the sitcom. It is interesting to see set photos of well-known sitcoms sans actors, so you can really focus on the design and selection of all the props and set dressing.

Finally, we have two stories on houses lost in time and preserved until the present. The first is this great series of photographs on the “Cloud House”, a Welsh farmhouse which has been abandoned for years and contains trinkets and artifacts from decades past. The second is this 1950s kitchen which has been pristinely preserved all these years without any updates or modifications.

Friday Rehearsal Notes

Vulture visits the set-building factory for Saturday Night Live. Check out some great photographs and insights into how Eugene Lee and his team of designers create sets from scratch in only a day or two.

Tested visits the Jim Henson Creature Shop and gives us this great sixteen minute video. What I love about the Creature Shop (other than how awesome their puppets are) is how Jim Henson started out with simple hand puppets in the mid-50s, and today the company is on the leading-edge of animatronic creature design.

Rania Peet has some great projects over on her Instructables page, where she shows off the work she does as a Halloween haunt builder. I particularly like this chasing marquee “Freak Show” sign and these giant mushrooms.

If you love getting obsessive over the details on your paper props, check out the Passport Stamps and Visas group on Flickr. It’s chock full of interior pages of passports from around the world, as well as a few exterior covers as well.

Nothing a Property Man Can Not Make, 1871

The following is taken from an article which first appeared in The Daily Evening Telegraph in 1871:

Bona-fide stage furniture is easily distinguished from the kind that people use in real life. In its ornamentation it is especially rich and rare. The idea in manufacturing this species of goods is to avoid a conflict with any given age or time, and in this it is successful, for it is unlike anything that is or ever has been. Wonder has often been expressed concerning the makers of this furniture. It is the joint handiwork of the Property Man and the stage carpenter; and when it is remembered that oftener than not these worthies know as much about cabinet-making as they do about the economy of the steam engine, the wonder really should be that the furniture is as good as it is. But there is this peculiarity about a Property Man, that there is nothing he can not make—after some fashion. In the Adrienne case above mentioned the man had not time, or he would have manufactured a set of “Louis Quatorze” furniture calculated to make that monarch turn in his grave. There would have been plenty of paint and Dutch metal upon it, and a great many people would have thought it a great deal finer than the real thing.

It is hard to say what class of work gives the Property Man the most trouble. When a burlesque or show piece is produced there is a quantity of special preparation to be made, which at first sight would be the most troublesome of his labors. Take such a piece as the Naaid Queen. All the masks, the marine productions of every sort, are furnished by the Property Man. Of course they have to be made, for no shop in Christendom deals in such wares. Such things are often quite elegant in design, and show the Property Man to be something of an artist, just as he is at other times carpenter, machinist, and chemist. To no man can the legend, “Jack of all trades, and master of none,” be applied with as much propriety as to him.

Originally published in The Daily Evening Telegraph, Philadelphia, May 12, 1871, pg 5.