In fields such as graphic design, design briefs are used to define the scope of the project. A design brief is a collection of information defining the intended results of a project, as opposed to the aesthetics.
A good prop master or artisan has internalized the process of creating a design brief. The most important consideration in determining the construction of a prop is figuring out what the prop needs to do. For more complicated props, it may be helpful to actually create a design brief.
The first and most important part is asking questions to determine a prop’s needs. Suppose you want to create a table. Your questions may include:
- How tall does it need to be?
- What size is the top?
- How is it used?
- What is the finish on the table? Stain? Paint? Raw material?
- What material is it made out of? More appropriately, what material is it supposed to look like it is made out of?
Most props artisans know that when a table is requested, you should automatically ask the following questions as well:
- Will actors be climbing on top of it?
- Will actors be dancing and jumping on top of it?
- How many actors at a time will be on it?
I swear, some directors only want tables so they have a place for actors to dance.
If you were just building a regular table, the information you need for your design brief may be complete. As this is a theatrical table, you have some additional questions to ask:
- How does it need to come on and off stage?
- Where is it stored backstage?
- Where is it being built?
Why does the last question matter? Most props are built in one location (the prop shop) and transported to another location (the stage). Whenever you are transporting an item, it needs to fit through the smallest opening in that path. Often that is a doorway or an elevator. If the stage is on the second floor of a theatre with only a tiny passenger elevator, you need to build the table so it fits in the elevator and can be reassembled once on stage.
Other props will have different questions to ask. The important thing is to determine exactly what a prop needs to do.