First Links After the Eclipse

Star Wars set decorator who ‘cobbled together’ props reflects on film 40 years later – Roger Christian, one of the prop makers and set decorators on the original Star Wars film, takes a look back at how he made some of the most iconic props of the franchise.

Stage Properties student lives the dream behind the scenes – The University of North Carolina School of the Arts blog highlights one of their props students and where she worked over the summer.

The Death Of Local Craftsmanship Is Causing Problems For Costume Designers – Though this article is about costume design, you can see a similar thing happening with props. As more manufacturing moves overseas, we are left with less local craftspeople and shops who can fulfill our needs under the crazy time constraints of our jobs.

Genesis of the Cybermen – Part Six: Designing the new series Cybermen – WhoSFX takes a look at the team who designed the current Cybermen for Doctor Who.  They show how the design went from sketch to model to final product.

Turning Your Garage Into an Intergalactic Weapons Factory, with Prop & Model Maker Bill Doran – The “Busy Creator” podcast interviews Bill Doran, aka Punished Props, who has turned his cosplay and prop-making hobby into a full-fledged business in Seattle.

How I Organize My Tools

Over the summer, while the theater was dark, I had some time to organize my shop and execute some larger projects. One area I focused on was my tool storage, which has always been a bit improvisational and haphazard.

Triad Stage prop tools
Triad Stage prop tools

The cabinet itself began life in the scene shop to organize their hardware and supplies. A few years ago, they removed it to build a better solution, so I snagged it for my own shop. I also added the pegboard along top.

This past summer, I tore out a lot of the shelving in the bottom and replaced it with more custom pieces. I prefer my tools and supplies to be visually “out in the open”; I find it difficult to deal with things in drawers or behind closed doors. My feeling is that “if I can’t see it, I don’t have it.”

Of course, securing the tools is another thing. I may add doors on the front to lock it at night, but during the day, I would still keep it open. My shop itself is kept secure, so I haven’t had things walk off with this kind of setup.

I like using pegboard to organize tools because it allows me to see what I have and it takes up very little floor space. For tools like saws, files, and rasps, it also prevents the edges from becoming dull and dinged, which is what happens when they are stored in a drawer and other tools are constantly thrown on top of them. I would probably use more pegboard if I could, but this was the largest piece I found in the shop.

The tools are roughly organized so that similar tools are kept together: measuring tools, cutting tools, assembly tools, etc. If you are looking for a mallet, and you find the hammers, you know the mallets will be close by. Accessories and consumables are also stored in close proximity to their tool; drill bits are near the drills, and sanding discs are near the orbital sanders.

Most of the smaller paraphernalia is kept in plastic bins, but I made some custom organizers for Dremel bits, router bits, and my tap and die set. Again, keeping router bits and taps in a bin would ding up the cutting edges as they rubbed against each other. Dremel bits just become a nightmare when you start mixing them together into one giant container.

For the future, I may add even more dividers so that the power tools all have their own “cubby”; it would be great to determine which tools are missing just by glancing at the cabinet and seeing an empty space. I may also add labels and trace out the outlines of the tools on the pegboard.  I find its easiest to keep things clean if every item has a specific location that it returns to.

Do you want to share images of your tool storage? Shoot me an email, or leave a comment on my Facebook page!

Last Links Before the Eclipse

But Will It Wash Off… – I forgot to post this when it first came out, but Jay Duckworth and Alex Wylie needed some spray paint that would wash off. During The Public Theater’s production of Julius Caesar, they had a scene where the protesting crowd added graffiti to posters of Caesar; of course, it needed to be removed for the next performance. Yes, that’s the same production that faced heckling and interruptions this summer.

If You’re Going to Copy Broadway Show Design, Don’t Brag About It – A lot of theaters, particularly universities and community theaters, do not seem to be aware that copying the set design of a Broadway show is unethical and often illegal. Christopher Peterson breaks down the issues involved and highlights one recent example that garnered a bit of publicity.

Learn to ‘Sharpen This’ – or Any Other Tool – Chris Schwartz points us to some upcoming events by Lie-Nielsen where they will show you how to sharpen your woodworking tools for free (there’s one in NYC in November). He also links to his whole “Sharpen This” series, where he gives tips, tricks and advice for sharpening; this is a seemingly simple task, but you will find tons of conflicting and arcane information about it online.

Tony Winner Clint Ramos Previews His Shakespeare in the Park A Midsummer Night’s Dream Costumes – Ok, this isn’t really a “preview” anymore since the show has closed, but for you costume fans, this is a great glimpse at Ramos’ renderings.

Stage Scenery and the Men who Paint It (part 2), 1908

The following is a few select portions from an article in Theatre magazine in 1908. I posted the beginning of the article a few months ago:

by Mary Gay Humphreys

[Mr. Unitt at the Lyceum Theatre said,] “There is a story told of a firm of which one of the members thought a chandelier would look well in the scene. So he went out and bought a fine crystal affair. At the dress rehearsal he noticed it was not lighted, and demanded the reason. He was told that the act took place in the afternoon, and the light was coming in the windows.

“He went to the back of the house where his partner asked the same question, and was told the same answer.

“‘Well, light it. Who in h–l’s goin’ to stop us?’

“The anecdote gives the note which dominates a large part of theatrical production to-day, ‘Who in h–l’s goin’ to stop us?’…

Ernest Gros
Ernest Gros

“In the evolution of the scenery of a play, the scene painter is or should have the manuscript to read. In the rush of affairs now he may see only one act, or perhaps only the scenario. In the meantime the stage manager has made a plot and works out the exits and entrances on exact lines. Then the stage manager, author and scene painter get together and consult. That, at least, is the way they must do to get the best results. The scene painter sees only the pictorial side and must be held to the practical necessities of the case. One of these is that the wall scenes must be folded that they can be put in the six feet of doors, for scenery must travel. Fireproofing is another great handicap. This is usually done by painting on fireproof cloth, of which the chemicals are pretty apt to affect the colors. Another difficulty is the harmonizing of real things with the artificial. The use of real antiques, real palms, real flowers and foliage does not produce as successful results as when purely artificial scenery and stage properties are depended on.”…

[Mr. Homer Emens said,] “He must have an instinctive knowledge of effects. A handsome thing may not look handsome behind the footlights. An expensive stuff may look cheap. It is a fact that painted properties look more real than do the real things…

On the edge of things, in one of those architectural monoliths described, Mr. Ernets Gros, the scene painter, was found. His office was interesting with a collection of stage models which could be identified as scenes on the Belasco stage. Here was a scene painter’s library filled with handsome volumes labelled “Greece,” “Rome”—every nation, ancient and modern—books of epochs, periods, archaeology, costumes were represented, as well as periodicals of the most luxurious types in paper, illustration and text. Truly an equipment…

“Modern developments have not helped us in the least,” said Mr. Gros. “Scene painting has in no way advanced. The whole matter lies with the manager. If he is a man with artistic perceptions we have one result. If he depends on his advertising, we have another…

“The first thing the scene painter does is to prepare his model. Then he gives the stage carpenter the measurements. When the frame is ready the painting proceeds. Dry colors only are used; no drop of oil goes into scene painting. Fire-proofing has added to our labors by its effect on the colors. When the scenery is ready comes the problem of lighting, which must be determined by experiment. The electric light is brutal. We try to control it by the use of different media, but in no way can we get at the softness and mystery of gas.”

Stage scenery and the men who paint it. M. G. Humphreys, il. Theatre 8: 203-4, v-vi, Aug 1908.

Friday Prop Links

Summer at The Shop – The Triad Stage blog recently featured their production facilities, which is where I work. Check out my workshop, and get a sneak peek at some of the projects I’ve been working on, like some military radios for South Pacific.

Backstage at Signature: 100 Heads for Venus – Cassie Dorland had to make a hundred fake heads for the Signature Theatre’s production of Suzan-Lori Parks’ Venus. This video shows how her and over a dozen prop builders as they mold, cast, and paint all these heads.

Quiz: Can you guess the Shakespeare play just from its most memorable props? – As the title suggests, it’s just a fun little game to test your prop knowledge.

Watch Adam Savage Make His Own Excalibur in One Day – Adam Savage recreates this iconic movie sword in aluminum using an enviable array of belt sanders. It’s a lengthy video, but filled with lots of little tips and tricks if you are interested in metal working.

Photo-Etching and Soldering Your Own Brass Model Parts – Make Magazine highlights David Damek’s techniques for creating detailed parts out of brass. He uses it for making models, but you can easily adapt these methods for adding decorative brass details to props like treasure chests and jewelry.

Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies