Friday Rehearsal Report

The Compliance and Safety Blog has created this great infographic on PPE basics (personal protective equipment) that they shared with me.

Volpin Props has an extensive build diary for his latest project, a shark bazooka gun from The League of Legends. It’s quite the complex process, using casting, vacuum forming and even some puppetry.

Dug North has a new tutorial up showing different methods for bending brass wire, tube and sheets. You can make some pretty quick but intricate small props using nothing but brass.

The Walking Dead has a video showing off some of the best props, effects and explosions from Season Five. Warning: if you haven’t seen Season Five yet, it gives away quite a few spoilers. Also, blood and guts and stuff.

Finally, Nick Offerman tells us why we should build stuff. Besides playing Ron Swanson on TV’s Parks and Rec, Nick is quite the accomplished woodworker, and runs his own shop employing half a dozen other woodworkers.

Property Department viewed from the south

The San Francisco Grand Opera, 1899

The following article about the Grand Opera in San Francisco originally appeared in The Sunday Call in 1899:

To most people there is an indefinable sense of mystery in the simple phrase “behind the scenes.” Some imagine it to be a vague sort of place peopled with beings who live dual lives, the one either very wicked or much-abused, and the other the artistic and pretty-to-look-upon one of the footlights. To such the theatrical managers appear as abusive hobgoblins whose delight it is to torture and mistreat. That is about as far as such imaginations go; beautiful scenic effects, and the smooth and unbroken succession of harmonious arrangements are taken for granted and expected, with no thought of the vast amount of labor, care, capital, trouble and ingenuity required in the production of an evening’s entertainment for the throngs who come nightly to be amused from the other side of the footlights…

Property Department viewed from the south

Property Department viewed from the south

Yards and yards of canvas, bolts of calico, rolls and rolls of paper, kegs and pots of paint, and a succession of other paraphernalia poured in from all sides, and were pounced upon by the different departments and carried away, to be utilized and transformed into settings and scenery…

James S. Cannon, Property Master, designing for the Christmas spectacle, "Sinbad"

James S. Cannon, Property Master, designing for the Christmas spectacle, “Sinbad”

Mr. James Cannon, the inventive genius of the stage, and the master property man, went about inspecting his great thunder drum, the big wheel and its silk flap which is the source of the wintry wind which whistles out from behind the scenes and causes one to turn up one’s coat collar—the apparatus which so closely imitates the breaking of the waves against the crags, and the numberless other apparatus for adding to the realistic nature of the performance. From his modeling room on a level with the gallery, to his little electrical room below ground, Mr. Cannon was busy with his rounds. His was the task of casting plaster models of the stage properties to be used in the various scenes, and to keep everything going harmoniously.

Originally published as “In the Workshops Behind the Scenes”, The Sunday Call, San Francisco, December 24, 1899, pg 2. Photos by Alishy.

Milwaukee Rep

Organizing a Props Shop

We have a bit of a break during the summer at Triad Stage between when the last show opens and the new season begins. It’s the time we spend cleaning and organizing the shops. We’ve been busy in the props shop doing a pretty big overhaul with building new shelving and storage spaces, and moving around where things go. Organizing a props shop can be a challenge, since props people want to save every bit and scrap they come across. I thought I’d share some pictures of various shops I’ve been in to show how others have tackled this problem.

ACT Scene Shop

ACT Scene Shop

The first picture is actually from the scene shop at ACT in San Francisco, but props shops need to store and organize hardware as well. It’s pricey way to store things, with tons of metal shelving and matching bins. But it allows everything to be separated out while allowing you to find anything just by visually scanning the room; nothing is tucked away.

Childsplay Theater

Childsplay Theater

Childsplay Theater in Arizona uses the full wall approach, where a whole wall is covered in shelving from floor to ceiling and filled with bins. You can see boxes and bins of all sizes, as well as plastic tubs, baskets, and loose items. It’s very modular, allowing one to change what is stored there if you run out of one type of material and decide not to reorder it. It also has the benefit of displaying everything you have available without hiding anything away.

Berkeley Rep

Berkeley Rep

The Berkeley Rep props shop takes full advantage of using every square inch of their tiny props shop. A mix of open shelves, bins and drawers fill every hole in the wall.

Berkeley Rep

Berkeley Rep

Various cabinets and shelving units are tucked in every corner to keep every spare area utilized. I’ve found that if you don’t designate uses for all the out-of-the-way areas of a shop, they end up accumulating piles of random items and scraps in a big heap. Likewise, if you don’t have a bin or shelf to put a thing away in, then it will always be in the way, and you will always be moving it around.

New York City

New York City

Here is part of a shop of a Broadway prop maker in New York City. He is also using the “every square inch” approach in his tiny shop, though he has opted to keep everything out in the open, rather than in bins and boxes.

Milwaukee Rep

Milwaukee Rep

Props shops seem to naturally accumulate little metal file box cabinets over the years, and Milwaukee Rep has put them to good use. With bins, you can carry the whole bin to wherever you need it in the shop, whereas with drawers, a prop maker doesn’t have to hunt down a missing bin that someone else has taken. It’s a matter of preference which you use, though many prop shops have a mix of both.

San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera

I liked these drawers underneath the chop saw in the San Francisco Opera. Adding storage under tools and machines is a great way to use space, especially if you can store the materials and equipment associated with that tool.

Public Theater

Public Theater

The tool and hardware cabinet at the Public Theater was in a weird area, so a custom storage area was built by the shop. The angle in that corner was not square, and the walls sloped backwards as well, so any ready-made shelving or storage units would end up wasting precious space.

Public Theater

Public Theater

Here is the opposite side of the Public’s tool cabinet. With the right organization and storage, a shop can hold more tools, materials and supplies, and yet have more open working space than a poorly organized one.

How is your shop organized? I’d love to see pictures. Send them my way.

Friday Links

Friday Links

Stage Directions has a round-up of some of the top theatrical special effects companies out there. They talk about the most challenging effects they have pulled off in a live performance, and how they work with a theater to plan it out and make it happen.

The Wire has a short history of ventriloquism which is quite fascinating, if a little bit creepy. I especially enjoyed the video of Ray Alan performing with his “Lord Charles” dummy, who was performing a ventriloquist act with his own, even smaller, dummy.

Pop Chart Lab has a great poster giving a stylistic survey of graphic design. It looks like a handy reference for when you want to check if your period piece has correct-looking paper props and ephemera.

Marvel Entertainment has started their own web video series on cosplay, and the first installment shows them planning and designing the costume they will build. And hey, looks like they are borrowing a costumer from the world of theatre to help them out. Go, theatre!

How to Copy Carve a Rotary Phone with a Router

How to Copy Carve a Rotary Phone with a Router

Here is a great video showing how to copy carve a rotary phone out of a chunk of wood using a router. The video comes from Matthias Wandel, who runs the amazing Woodgears.ca. Check it out if you haven’t already, it’s on my list of the 100 best sites for the prop maker. He is an engineer by trade, and approaches woodworking from a unique angle.

I just (re)discovered his YouTube channel, where he has videos for many of the projects he posts on his site. The aforementioned video for copy carving a phone is there, as is a video showing how to build your own copy carver.

Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies