Category Archives: Education

Historical and scholarly views of props

New Grants for Props Interns

The Society of Properties Artisan Managers is pleased to announce two new grants: the Jen Trieloff Grant for theatrical properties and the Edie Whitsett Grant for theatrical properties.

The Jen Trieloff Grant for Theatrical Properties

The Jen Trieloff Grant is an annual award given to an individual wishing to further their career in theatrical properties. This grant is intended to assist with transportation, housing, or necessities while completing an internship in the field of properties.

Jen Trieloff was Properties Director for American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wisconsin and Forward Theatre in Madison, Wisconsin and has served as Prop Master and Prop Designer for Madison Rep and Madison Opera and Ballet among others. He was an accomplished craftsman and scene designer whose work was seen on stages inside and outside of Wisconsin.

The Jen Trieloff Grant is overseen and awarded by the The Society of Properties Artisan Managers. Individuals who have accepted an internship and who wish to apply for the Jen Trieloff Grant should submit the following:

  • Cover Letter including:
    • Details on the Internship; when and where.
    • Any additional compensation you might be receiving during that time.
    • An estimate of anticipated expenses.
  • Resume
  • Digital portfolio of recent properties work

Please submit items to: Jim Guy, SPAM President at jguy@milwaukeerep.com

All items must be received by April 15, 2015. Scholarship will be awarded May 1, 2015.

The Edie Whitsett Grant for Theatrical Properties

The Edie Whitsett Grant is an annual award given to an individual wishing to further their career in theatrical properties, especially but not limited to theatrical props in children’s theater. This grant is intended to assist with transportation, housing, or necessities while completing an internship in the field of properties.

Edie Whitsett was the longtime property shop manager and a frequent designer at Seattle Children’s Theatre. She also created sets for Village Theatre, Seattle Opera, ACT Theatre, Pacific Northwest Ballet and other arts entities. Whitsett’s honors included an Artist Trust fellowship, a commission for an art installation at the Seattle Public Library’s central branch and two Seattle Times Footlight Awards.

The Edie Whitsett Grant is overseen and awarded by the The Society of Properties Artisan Managers. Individuals wishing to apply for the Edie Whitsett Grant should submit the following:

  • Cover Letter including:
    • Details on the Internship; when and where.
    • Any additional compensation you might be receiving during that time.
    • An estimate of anticipated expenses.
  • Resume
  • Digital portfolio of recent properties work

Please submit items to: Jim Guy, SPAM President at jguy@milwaukeerep.com.

All items must be received by April 15, 2015. Scholarship will be awarded May 1, 2015.

1903 Lectures on the Property Man’s Job

I recently came upon the 1903-1904 academic catalog for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. At that time, it was a two-year program for young men aged sixteen to seventeen. The school still exists, granting two-year associates degrees to aspiring actors.

All students at the time were given introductory lectures in the various technical departments on stage. The lecture on props has a bullet-point list of all the topic covered, which I have reprinted below. It is fascinating to see the list of what a props person was responsible for and what skills they were required to have from over 110 years ago, and compare it to today.

The lectures were given by a Mr. Wilfred Buckland, with assistance by Mr. Edgar J. M. Hart (no relation) and Miss Louise Musson. The topics of the lectures are as follows:

The Property Man’s Work in Preparing a Production:

  • The property plot
  • cabinet work
  • paper work
  • upholstery, furniture, bric-à-brac, carpets, rugs, hangings
  • stage props
  • side props
  • hand props
  • written letters
  • inserts in newspapers

The Property Man’s Work at Performance:

  • Helpers and clearers
  • system
  • the property room
  • laying the floor cloth
  • setting the stage
  • marking
  • dressing a scene
  • hanging curtains
  • hanging side props
  • effects
  • apparatuses
  • flash pans
  • rain box
  • thunder box
  • thunder crash
  • glass crash
  • carriage roll
  • knocks
  • snow box
  • salt
  • fuller’s earth
  • blowers
  • leaves, stumps, and grass mats
  • animals
  • the rosin box
  • eatables

Striking Properties:

  • Clearing
  • handling furniture
  • care of props

You can read the whole 1903 Annual Catalog of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts here.

 

 

What is a Props Coordinator?

You sometimes find the title “props coordinator” listed in the back of a Playbill. Sometimes it might be “production props coordinator” or “props supervisor”. You know what a props master is; why is this other term sometimes used instead?

In every Broadway house (and many of the larger union houses across the country), you have a “house props” position. This is a union job in charge of the preset of all the props, running the show, and clearing at the end of the night. Basically, any time a prop needs to be touched or moved outside of the performance, it must be done by the house props or a member of his crew.

This position is distinct from the production props master, who acquires all the props during preproduction through opening. On smaller shows or transfers, a production props person may not be needed, either because the props arrive complete as a “package”, or because the particular house props person is a props master in his own right. But most shows go through their own period of rehearsals, and so a production props master is needed.

Some union props people have both jobs. They work as a production props master on one show during the day, then run a show as the house props at a different theater at night. This is true in other departments as well; many of the union shops around New York City are open from 7am to 3pm to allow workers time to run shows at night.

The production props master position does not need to be union. Many rehearsal spaces around New York City are not union spaces, and the production props master or her assistants can carry the props around, make modifications or repairs, or otherwise work in the space.

However, once the props arrive at the theater space, they can only be handled by the union. This means that a non-union props master can literally carry the props to the front door, then drop them and wait for a member of the house props crew to come and carry it to the stage. Once inside, they can ask the crew to repair or modify props, but cannot physically touch anything themselves. This can lead to potential frustrations, but many non-union props masters have found ways to make this work.

When it comes time to print the Playbill, the union only allows its own members to use the title “props master” or “production props master”. So for shows with a non-union props master, the term “props coordinator” (or one of its variations) is used instead.

Skills to Pay the Bills

If there is a specific type of prop you want to build, or a specific style or medium you want to work in, find the companies that specialize in that. Fill your portfolio with that kind of work. If you want to build sci-fi weapons for instance, but all your previous work is in constructing furniture, employers won’t necessarily make the leap that your furniture construction skills will translate into sci-fi weapon-making. Even if you have to build your own props on your own time, do it.

This is also true for skills you lack; a lot of theatres with a one-person prop shop are looking for well-rounded prop makers, which includes being able to upholster. I never learned how to upholster, so I started practicing it every chance I could get, and taking on any little upholstery project I could.

Once you are out of school, no one will be around to guide you with what you need to learn next, so you should always be experimenting with new skills, new materials and new techniques.

Actors in IATSE?

Happy Labor Day, everyone! For those who work in the theatre, happy Monday. In honor of the holiday, I have a news article below of interest to the history of theatrical unions. IATSE, the union of backstage employees, was founded in 1893 as the National Association of Theatrical Stage Employes [sic]. Actors were not represented until 1913, when Actors’ Equity was founded. However, there was a time when the possibility was considered to allow actors and actresses into IATSE. The article below is from the Kansas City Journal and appeared in 1898. Enjoy!

Union Heroines Next

A Plan Under Way to Unionize the Men and Women of the Stage.

George Carman and Charles Balling have been selected as the Kansas City delegates to attend the national convention of the Theatrical Alliance of Stage Employes, which will be held in Omaha next week. The most important matter to come before the convention is the question of admitting actors to membership. For some time the actors have been anxious to have a well organized union and representatives of the stage will attend the convention to present their suit.

The National Alliance of Stage Employes is a strong organization and extends all over the country. Were actors to be admitted it would make a vast difference to the traveling managers. The players would belong to a union which would be protected by the Stage Employes and could dictate terms in a great many things in which the manager is now absolute. The admission of the player would unionize all of the people working behind the footlights of a theater, as scenic artists and electricians are members of the Stage Employes’ union. 1

Notes:

  1. Kansas City Journal, 15 July 1898, pg 10. Accessed from http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86063615/1898-07-15/ed-1/seq-10/, 3 September 2012.