Category Archives: News

Props in the news

Props: In Memoriam, 2014

We lost a lot of good people in the props world this past year. Here, in chronological order, are the props people who have completed their final note:

Though she passed at the end of 2013, news of Anne Sidaris-Reeves’ death did not break until last January. She worked in the props department on films such as The Goonies, Edward Scissorhands and Father of the Bride, and was one of the first women to be admitted into IATSE.

Joe Longo passed last January. He was the props master on Star Trek II and III, as well as The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.  He even had his own trading card in a 1993 set of Star Trek: TNG cards.

In a very tragic accident, Seamus O’Bryan was killed by a hit-and-run driver who remains unidentified. Only 32, he was the prop master at the Old Globe in San Diego, and had just left work and picked up a friend on his motorcycle when they were struck.

While not strictly a props person, H.R. Giger’s passing was felt by many people in the field. His work designing and building the creatures and sets in Alien paved the way for what sci-fi horror would look like for the next three decades.

In July, Kenneth Schwartz, the prop master at Loyola Marymount University, passed on.

Madison, WI, felt a loss when Jen Trieloff passed on. He was properties director at the American Player Theatre, but worked on shows throughout the city. At just 43 years old, this fellow SPAM member’s death came way too soon.

Finally, it’s important to remember the death of Sarah Jones. She was a camera assistant who died while working on the set of a film, and the lack of safety protocols could have easily affected a props person. The ensuing Slates for Sarah campaign has been raising awareness for the importance of safety in our industry.

So be safe in the upcoming year. If there is anyone you think I have missed who should be here, let me know.

The Prop Building Guidebook

Happy Book-iversary

Can you believe my book has been out for a year now? The Prop Building Guidebook: for Theatre, Film and TV was published last February with some heavy anticipation, and it has only gotten more popular since. I have two book-related items I’d like to share.

First up, if you are attending USITT in Fort Worth this year, check out my book signing on Thursday, March 27 at 4:30pm at the USITT Booth on the Stage Expo floor. That’s during “Stage Expo only” hours, so you won’t be missing anything else. You can bring your own book or buy it there; last year, we sold out in two days, but this year, there should be plenty to go around.

Second, I want to hear from you! The response to the book has been overwhelming. The past year has seen reviews in Make Magazine, Theatre Design & Technology, Lighting & Sound America and Choice, as well as reviews online from Geek Insider, StageBitz and Debbies Book (check them all out at my reviews page). You may have seen my book at the various KCACTF conferences, World Stage Design in Wales or the North Carolina Maker Faire.

But while you can read the reviews and see my book, I don’t get to see your reaction to it. I’d like to know more about how my book is being used and where. Are you a teacher or student using it in class? Do you work in a shop and have it near by? Or does it live on your workbench? What’s your favorite part? What’s your least favorite part? Is there anything you were hoping to see in my book that it didn’t have?

Go ahead, shoot an email to I don’t mind getting emails from people I’ve never met. I try to answer all of them, even if it takes awhile. If you like, you can even send a photo of where my book has ended up (and post it to the book’s Facebook page if you want).

The Prop Building Guidebook
The Prop Building Guidebook
Burlington Mini Maker Faire: Coming Soon

Getting Ready for the 2013 Burlington Mini Maker Faire

This upcoming Saturday, I will be exhibiting at the Burlington Mini Maker Faire here in Burlington, NC. If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know I attended last year’s Burlington Mini Maker Faire, as well as the New York World Maker Faire in 2011 and 2010. This will be my first time exhibiting, though.

My table will feature my book, some props I’ve built, a demonstration or two, and possibly an interactive display where you can build your own prop. The Faire itself will have some other prop-related goings-on: members of the 105th Stormtrooper Squad will be walking around in costume and Stephen Chapman will be displaying some of his steampunk props. Outside of props, the Faire will have musical Tesla coils, custom-made guitars, wood-turning, retro computing, robots, electric cars, blacksmithing, 3D printing and much more. You can get more of a sneak peek in this Make Magazine post about the Alamance Makers Guild display at Maker Faire, NC. The Alamance Makers Guild is hosting the Burlington Faire, and this display showcased some of the same makers who will be exhibiting in Burlington.

So if you’re in the area this Saturday, August 17th, come on down to the Holly Hill Mall in Burlington between 10am and 6pm. If you’ve never been to a Maker Faire, they are a lot of fun for props people. Even if you do not live in North Carolina, you may be able to find an upcoming Maker Faire in your neck of the woods.

Burlington Mini Maker Faire: Coming Soon
Burlington Mini Maker Faire: Coming Soon

Details: Burlington Mini Maker Faire, August 17th, 2013, 10am-6pm at the Holly Hill Mall and Business Center, Burlington, NC.

The Tonys and Theatre Technicians

Last night was the 67th annual Tony Awards. I tweeted this, and it seems to have struck a chord in many people:

I actually enjoy watching the Tonys. I wrote this not out of bitterness, just as an annual reminder that the technicians, crew and artisans of theatre make a lot of the “magic” happen. We already receive little recognition in the playbills; to be ignored by this and most other major theatrical award ceremonies is a huge oversight.

I sometimes think this helps lead to an atmosphere where directors and producers think magic just “happens” and that theatre tech can accomplish anything. They think it’s perfectly reasonable to request a new prop on Saturday night and have it by Sunday morning. Or to give a paint note before dinner break and have it be done and dry by the time they are back on stage. Or my favorite, that any item imaginable can be found in the “prop room” that you have hidden away.

Of course, many of the recipients of Tony Awards take the time to thank the crew and technicians, knowing that their hard work helped contribute to the success of the production. Some even take the time to thank individuals. Last night, Andrea Martin thanked the rigger for Pippin in her Tony acceptance speech. In 2011, Sutton Foster broke into tears while thanking her dresser. That’s not bad when you consider they only have 75 seconds to thank everyone in their life.

The Tonys used to honor technicians and craftspeople. The Tony Award for Best Stage Technician began in 1948 at the second Tony Awards ceremony, and ended in 1963, being received by 14 individuals. Joe Lynn won in 1949, making him the only props person to win a Tony. Peter Feller won the the Tony Award for Best Stage Technician for Call Me Madam. In 1984, he won a Special Tony Award in recognition of his “theater stagecraft and magic” for over 40 years.

Other stage technicians have also been recognized through special Tony Awards. Some include P.A. MacDonald (set construction) in 1947, Edward Kook (lighting) in 1952, Thomas H. Fitzgerald (lighting) in 1976, and Walter F. Diehl (president of IATSE) in 1979.

The Tony Honors for Excellence in Theatre have also been used to recognize technicians. IATSE won the award in 1993. In 2003, it was given to wig and hair stylist Paul Huntley. In 2007, wardrobe supervisor Alyce Gilbert and CEO of Hudson Scenic Studios Neil Mazzella both won. Last night, one was awarded to Peter Lawrence, the Production Stage Manager on Annie, and over 20 previous Broadway productions.

Winners of the Prop Building Guidebook Contest Announced

It is the day you’ve all been waiting for. After two months, the winners of the Prop Building Guidebook Contest have been announced! Head on over to the official announcement page to see them. If you just want a list of the winners, here they are:

Professional Category: 1929 Bicycle – Stop Motion Animation, by Michael Jones.

Student Category: Flintlock Pistol, by Magnus Yule.

Group Category: 19th Century Barbershop Chair for Sweeney Todd, by Rachel Peterson Schmerge and Michael Jones.

Popular Vote: Chainsaw Hand, by Haley Borodine.

This contest had 81 entries from a wide spectrum of prop makers, and it was a challenge coming up with the winners. My criteria for judging was creativity, quality, and presentation. While many of the entries were very strong in one or two of these categories, the winners were equally strong in all three.

I want to thank everyone who entered. It was amazing to see how many prop makers are out there and all the crazy things you’ve built. I also wanted to thank all of you who voted; there were over 900 votes cast to decide which prop was your favorite.

Of course, thanks to Focal Press for creating and running the contest. Thanks to the companies who provided prizes as well: Rosco, Wonderflex World, Design Master, and Beacon Adhesives.

And who knows, maybe I’ll have another contest next year. What do you think?