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Shenanigans in Poughkeepsie, 1871

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

The Property Man is one of the first grand essentials of the theatre. The success of every piece, no matter how slight, depends in a great measure on him. Everything on the stage, except the scenery, are properties. The word is oftenest applied to small articles used by the performers, but these are a part only of the great mass of such material. Furniture of every sort are properties. These large pieces are termed “stage props” in opposition to “hand props.” The best “stage props”—parlor sets, etc.—are sometimes very handsome and are used very carefully. In modern society pieces it is quite the custom now to hire furniture of a dealer for the run of the piece. Property men in the country (as theatrical stands outside of the larger towns are termed) are often sorely perplexed in this respect. They have in such cases nearly always to hire, and it often happens that furniture men are a narrow-minded set of heathens, for whom the drama has no æsthetic attractions whatever. The strangest things have been done under these circumstances. The curtain must go up—so much is sure; and that great results can be accomplished under the stress of a “must” more important affairs than things theatrical have proved.

We heard of a sharp fellow once who, being with a travelling company, struck a town whose shopkeepers were all of the very strictest sort. He had to have a sofa and some other furniture for a piece to be played, and he could neither hire, borrow, buy, nor steal it. They would rather chop it up, the owners said, than have it go inside of a theatre. Our man, not discouraged however, set his wits to work. He got another person to purchase the required goods, and to have them sent with the bill to a hotel, where they should be paid for on delivery. The car driver was in the trick, and the furniture was swiftly driven to the theatre. It was only required in the first piece, and by 9 o’clock it was back in the owner’s store (not a whit worse than an hour and a half before, except that a few profane stage-players had touched it), with the message that it did not exactly suit the intended purchaser. This clever trick was played in Poughkeepsie, and the daring wretch who devised it yet lives to boast of his exploit.

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

What Prop Masters are Thankful For

It is Thanksgiving tomorrow for those of us in the US. It is a time to reflect on the things we are thankful for, and I thought I would make a list of ten things that prop masters are thankful for (plus one bonus thing). What would you add to the list?

  • A props list that fits on one page.
  • Being able to return an item with an open package.
  • Finding the perfect prop on eBay… and it has a “Buy it Now” option.
  • Interns who understand the difference between craft and fabric scissors.
  • When the designer says “I have the perfect one at home, I’ll just bring it in.”
  • A publicity photographer who actually includes some of the props in the photos.
  • Finding out the Meet and Greet for the next show has real food provided rather than just light snacks.
  • When the designer chooses the fabric to reupholster the couch and it’s the cheapest option you presented.
  • A cast with no food allergies.
  • When that challenging prop you don’t even want to think about gets cut before you even thought about it.

And of course, the thing we can all be thankful for this holiday season:

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


Memorial Day Links

Happy Memorial Day, everybody. Just a short list of links today.

This Ode to a Props Master, by Marissa Bidella, is quite fun.

Magazines from the Future shows off some of the covers of magazines which appeared in the background of the film Blade Runner.

Propnomicon has attempted a gaff of a Mongolian Death Worm using only the traditional materials that the original gaffs were made of: paper, flour, cotton fiber and glue. A “gaff” is a fake “speciman” of an imaginary creature used by carnivals to get people to visit their sideshows. PT Barnum made some of the most famous gaffs, such as the Feejee Mermaid.

Leaving Arizona

I am flying out of Arizona today after a fun and learning adventure at this year’s S*P*A*M conference. I have a lot of notes to go through and photographs to share from this years conference of propmasters, but I have to get to my computer first. Until then, enjoy this piece from PBS NewsHour on the Maker Movement. It’s an hour-long video exploring the DIY and maker movement, including things like Maker Faires and training in public schools.