Category Archives: News

Props in the news

Voting Begins!

Hi, everybody. I start my summer job at the Santa Fe Opera today; I was traveling and settling in this weekend, so I did not have much time to write.

But I did want to take this chance to remind you to enter the Prop Building Guidebook contest. You still have until April 30th to enter. But more importantly, today is the day you can start voting on entries. You get one vote per day. You can vote on your own entry every day until the contest ends, or you can vote on a different entry every day.

Either way, the entry with the most votes when the contest closes will win their own prize of $100 worth of Focal Press books.

So vote early, and vote often!

The Prop Building Guidebook contest

Chairs as far as the eye can see.

USITT 2013 Wrap-Up

This past week was the 53rd USITT conference in Milwaukee. This year’s conference featured a lot of things for props people. I couldn’t get to them all, but I saw a lot of them. I took notes which I may go through later, but since I’m writing this on the flight home (and have to work first thing in the morning), I’ll just give the highlights.

First off, there was the Expo floor, filled with companies, organizations and universities peddling their wares. Wonderflex World had plenty of samples of their products, including a sneak peek of a new product coming out soon that is pretty exciting.

Smooth-On had their usual cool booth with all the rubber monsters and foam cinder blocks you can make with their products. There’s a possibility I may start getting samples of their new products to test out for this blog. That would be neat.

StageBitz had demos of their props management and inventory software. I first tested them out about two years ago, and it’s almost completely different now (in a good way). You can do a 3-week free trial of their software from their website, which is really the only way to start discovering how easy and seamless this can make propping a show, from letting the designer share images and research with you, to letting you send the designer pictures of items in your stock, to keeping up with changes in rehearsal, creating to-do lists to send to your artisans and shoppers, maintaining a budget, to finally adding all the props to your stock when the show closes.

RC4 Wireless Dimming had tiny wireless dimmers. It sounds simple, but it’s amazing how these little devices act so seamlessly to let you control any sort of battery-powered light or motor from your theatre’s lighting console. I also attended a session called “Wireless Light and Motion for Propmasters”, where a couple theatres were showing off various ways they used the RC4 units.

One of the last sessions of the conference was on sustainability in design and production led by Donyale Werle. It included the exciting unveiling of the College Green Captain Toolkit, based off of the already-successful program which every Broadway show participates in (I’ll post a link when it appears, or you can contact the Broadway Green Alliance for more information). Jacob Coakley from Stage Directions Magazine live-blogged much of the session.

An earlier session on “Reimagining Theatre with Green Ideals” also featured information about sustainability and the Broadway Green Alliance. Once again, Jacob Coakley live-blogged the whole discussion.

“Grave Matters” was a session with a lot of good tips and tricks for making gore and corpses. One of the speakers, Gary Benson, has his presentation online , including step-by-step photographs of how he made some skulls.

“You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out” was a bit disappointing since 3 of the 4 presenters could not be there. However, you can check out the handouts on firearm safety that they had. You will also find a link for a survey they are running to discover how various theatres deal with guns on stage (and off). I’m not sure how long that link will last, so you should download those files rather than bookmarking them.

I got to check out the Young Designer’s Forum, which had some great work. I was also able to meet two of my future coworkers this summer at the Santa Fe Opera.

The Milwaukee Rep props shop hosted a SPAM get-together at their space, though it was nice to see plenty of non-SPAM props masters and prop makers there as well. I wrote about their shop for Stage Directions this month, but to actually see their work space and storage facilities in person was a great treat.

Chairs as far as the eye can see.
Chairs as far as the eye can see.

Oh yeah, I also sold out of my book by the end of my signing. The response has been overwhelming so far. I am ecstatic that so many people are excited about this book, and I can’t wait to hear back from those of you who use it or teach from it.

Did I forget anything about the conference? Was there something I missed? Let me know in the comments what you saw at USITT that excited you.

USITT 2013

By the time you read this, I should be in Milwaukee for the 53rd annual conference of the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT). This is the largest US conference dedicated solely to design, production and technology in theatre and other live entertainment. If you follow me on Twitter, I’ll be twitting about events during the conference. I thought I’d take a moment to share some events and sessions that may be of interest to props people who will be there.

First up, as if I haven’t written about it enough already, is my book signing. Stage Directions Magazine is hosting the signing on Friday, March 22nd, at 12:30 pm, at Booth 100, located in the far corner of the exhibition (to the left of the entrance, on the side of the hall with Cover the Walls).

In the same vein, be sure to check out the book signing for The Properties Director’s Handbook by Sandra Strawn. It will be held at the USITT Booth/Market Place on Friday, at 4:30 pm. The book is a great complement to my own; Sandy was also the technical editor on my book.

The Society of Properties Artisan Managers (S*P*A*M) has a booth at the Expo; I will be behind the counter on Saturday morning from 9:30-11am. Come check it out at table 670, in front of the USITT Booth & Marketplace, and right across from IATSE Local One’s booth.

If you go to the New Product Showcase (often called “Swag and Brag”, held Thursday night from 7-9pm), keep your eyes and ears open for Stagebitz. They will be giving away copies of my book, as well as copies of The Properties Directors Handbook. Check out their booth as well, #1260 in the far corner diagonally opposite from Stage Directions’.

A few panels devoted to props have caught my eye this year:

  • On Wednesday morning at 8am (yikes!) is “3D printing for the Stage”. One of the presenters, Owen Collins, was featured in my own article on 3D printing, “Printing a Set“.
  • Wednesday at 1pm is a session on stage firearm safety called “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out!” Despite the accidents that have happened in the past, I still hear horror stories of dangerous practices with firearms on stage, so this should be a very useful session for any prop master dealing with weapons.
  • At 6pm on Wednesday is “Wireless Light and Motion for Props Masters”. The presenters include the guys at RC4 Wireless, who make small wireless dimmers and radio control devices intended for theatre.
  • Thursday morning at 9:30am is “Reimagining Theatre with Green Ideals”. While it’s not specifically geared toward props, it does involve set design and production, so props people may get something out of it.
  • On Friday at 2:30pm is perhaps one of the most promising sessions on props: “Grave Matters.” With discussions about stage gore, severed limbs and dead bodies, it should be a bloody good time. With my former instructor Tom Fiocchi as one of the presenters, it should be fairly high-energy as well.
  • Saturday has another 8am session (bleh) called “Preparing Props People”. While it is focused on what educators should be teaching future props masters, students and early career props people may find it useful to see if their own education is complete enough.
  • At 2pm on Saturday, Donyale Werle will be discussing the art of green scenery. Donyale won the Tony last year for Peter and the Starcatcher, as well as a Lucille Lortel Award for the off-Broadway production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (which I was assistant props master on). Her talks on using recycled materials for sets and props are always enlightening.
Book display at SETC

Prop Building Contest

I just got back from this year’s SETC Conference in Louisville, KY. Focal Press had a nice display for The Prop Building Guidebook: For Theatre, Film, and TV, which will (hopefully) become available at some point today. As you can see from the photograph below, there is another exciting announcement:

Book display at SETC
Book display at SETC

That’s right, a contest! You can send in a photo or video of  a prop you make and win a pretty cool collection of prizes, including my book, some more Focal Press books, and some prop-making supplies and materials. The contest page has more details on the prizes and how to enter; there are separate categories for students and professionals, as well as a category for group entries, since we often build props in collaboration with others. The contest runs until April 30th, so you have some time to prepare your entry, but don’t wait too long!

In other news, I will be at USITT (March 20-23 in Milwaukee, WI). Stage Directions magazine is hosting a book signing at their booth (#100) on Friday, March 22nd, at 12:30 pm. You will be able to purchase the book there if you do not already have one. You can also check out the latest issue of Stage Directions magazine, which has an article on the Milwaukee Rep props shop by yours truly. A press release about the signing will be going out later today, but I thought I would let everyone know now, since schedules at USITT tend to fill up fast.


This site is four years old

While my new book is one of the most exciting things on the horizon, let’s not forget that this blog continues to deliver lots of fun and free writing about props, and it will do so long after the book comes out. This blog turned four years old last week, and I almost forgot about it! I thought it would be fun to recap what has appeared here, just like I did after the first year, the second year, and the third year. It now contains 585 published posts, with a total of 266,384 words; that’s one and a half times as many in my book!

I’ve written a few little “featurettes” in the past year. I try to discover who the first prop maker was. I show off some photographs of prop artifacts held at the Victoria and Albert Museum. I take a look at prop expenses from 1716. I had a multi-part series of how they built Fafner the dragon at every production of The Ring Cycle which the Metropolitan Opera has done since it was founded (part onepart two, and part three). I explored who invented the jig saw, and looked at whether it should be called a saber saw or a jig saw. I did a story called To Broadway and Back, and looked at where to find summer jobs. I also did a few safety-oriented posts: Weapon Safety is nothing new, and The Nose Knows Not.

I have toured some places and wrote about some events. These include Wesley Cannon’s awesome film prop collection, a visit to Roy Underhill’s Woodwright’s School, a visit and lesson at Dick Snow’s blacksmithing shop, the Burlington (North Carolina) Mini Maker Faire, a tour of the Costume Armour facilities in New York, and the NYC Annual Props Summit.

I added some more of my own illustrations, including formal dinner settings, and “Better Proud than Shy“. I have begun shooting a lot more video in the past year, such as adding a flange to PVC pipevacuum forming for zero dollars, an exploding cuckoo clocksculpting in oil claymaking a plaster mold, and sculpting and carving foam.

Of course, I posted pictures and explanations of various props I have built: Furniture for Henry IV and V at Playmakers Rep, a crepe cart at the Santa Fe Opera, a six-foot tall microscope, a dead deer at Shakespeare in the Park, King Roger’s throne at the Santa Fe Opera, twelve candlestick phones for Elon University, a player piano for Elon, various props for Crazy for You at Elon, Milky the Cow, Puppets for Into the Woods, some box elder boxes, and a CNC cast iron bench.

This year, I’ve also published some cool things submitted by other people. First up is Specter Studios building a foam axe prop, followed by the condensed history of their company. Next up is Costume Armour making a disappearing turkey. I also posted the video of Jay Duckworth’s KCACTF keynote speech on being a props master.

Regular readers know I like to dig out old historical writings about props. This year, these included the following: Actors in IATSE (1898)Backstage Views (1900)What Becomes of Stage Scenery (1903), A multi-part reprint of an article on prop maker E.L. Morse (1904): part 1part 2part 3part 4part 5part 6, and part 7The Covetous Property Man (1904)A Factory for Making Plays (1909)Good Furniture and Moving Pictures (1915)How David Belasco shops for props (1919)William Bradley, Property Man (1927)Why Film Prop Men Often Die in Their Youth (1938).

There were also some great illustrations I’ve reprinted here: daggers and poniards of the Christian Middle Ages, an illustration detailing the construction of a table, cooking pots history, 1642-1969, chair back styles, and construction and upholstery of chairs.

Finally, I reviewed Costumes and Chemistry by Silvia Moss. Though not a review, I also did a brief interview with Sandra Strawn about her recently published book, The Properties Director’s Handbook.

So there you have Year Four in a nutshell. I post lots of other links and videos in addition to what I’ve written here. If you don’t want to miss any future posts, you can subscribe to my blog with your favorite blog reader, or sign up to get all articles through email. For even extra prop goodness, you can follow me on Twitter as well.