Cynthia proudly presents the “Egg Cart” used in A.R.T’s production of “Witness Uganda”

Interview with Cynthia Lee-Sullivan

Over the next few days, I will be sharing some interviews conducted by students of Ron DeMarco’s properties class at Emerson College.

Cynthia Lee-Sullivan, a Master of Her Craft

An article by Charlie Trombadore

Cynthia proudly presents the “Egg Cart” used in A.R.T’s production of “Witness Uganda”

Cynthia proudly presents the “Egg Cart” used in A.R.T’s production of “Witness Uganda”

Cynthia Lee-Sullivan has been the Props Master of the American Repertory Theatre (A.R.T. for short) for over 30 years. Her career as a Props Master has taken her all over the world and given her the chance to work with some of theatre’s most prominent directors and craftsmen. She was gracious enough to find time in her busy schedule to sit down with me and answer a few of my questions. Continue reading

Friday Prop Links

The Chicago Tribune has a story on making fake food for a play called Smokefall. The twist here is that the characters are eating dirt and drinking paint.

Playmakers Rep is making some fake vegetation for Into the Woods. The witch’s costume is actually covered in vegetables from her garden, so the costume craft shop is churning out latex lettuce leaves to sew into a dress.

Propnomicon points us to this new Lovecraft-based prop making blog called Elder Props. It already has lots of tutorials and how-tos for a number of projects.

If you ever wanted to know about marbleizing paper, this page has a run-down of several different techniques, from basic to advanced.

Here is an interesting article on Chad Taylor, a Cleveland-based prop maker who builds replicas of film and comic book props for cosplayers around the world.

When Prop or Player Fails, Part 3, 1919

I’ve been posting some excerpts of prop mishaps from a 1919 New York Times article titled, “When Prop or Player Fails” (here and here). Since they were so entertaining, I thought I would post a final duet of tales from that article:

Franklyn Ardell’s talent for comedy turned a stage wait in “The Crowded Hour” the other night into the biggest laugh of the performance. The climax of the third act is reached when a bomb from an airplane strikes the house in which Jane Cowl, frantically operating a telephone switchboard, is trying to save a division threatened with destruction. At the time Miss Cowl is calling Soissons on the telephone, and the word is the cue for the bomb explosion and the collapse of the house. On this night, as she called “Soissons!” the bomb exploded, but the house failed to collapse. Miss Cowl waited an agonizing second, and then again called “Soissons!” Again a wait, and as she was about to call a third time the voice of Ardell could be clearly heard all over the house. “Never mind Soissons!” he whispered. “Call ‘em up back stage and find out what in blazes is the matter.”…

A slip which was the fault of no one in particular took place some years ago at a performance of “Madame Sans-Gêne” in Scranton. The scene of the first act was a kitchen, or perhaps a laundry, and Kathryn Kidder, in the leading role, was lifting red hot irons from a presumably red hot stove. So hot was the stove, in fact, that Miss Kidder was applying a tentative finger to each iron as she lifted it, and indicating as she withdrew it that the stove was hot indeed. In the midst of the scene, however, the theatre cat chose to stroll out upon the stage, and, as luck would have it, elected to climb up on the supposedly hot stove. And there it calmly sat, licking its paws in lazy comfort. The audience gave way to uncontrolled merriment, and the entire act went for naught.

Originally published in The New York Times, January 12, 1919. “When Prop or Player Fails”, author unknown.

Backstage Videos from 1926 and 1933

Backstage Videos from 1926 and 1933

I recently began checking out the YouTube channel of the British Pathé, one of the largest historical video archives on the planet. Pathé news was filming nearly everything between 1910 and 1970 in the UK and around the world. They have a few recordings of theatre life in decades past. I really enjoyed this 1933 “Peep Behind the Scenes”:

Or how about this 1926 look backstage at the London Coliseum (there is no sound in this one)?

How’d you like to do scene changes while wearing a coat with tails?

Props Links for the Week

This week’s must-read comes from The A/V Club, who interviewed props master Chris Call. This very in-depth conversation takes a look at his career, propping everything from Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Alias, to The Closer. The article takes the time to really dig into the nuts and bolts of a TV prop master’s job and Call’s career path, going far beyond the standard “what’s the craziest prop you’ve ever had to make?!?” kind of questions.

Wired takes a look at Adam Savage’s replica prop-making hobby, and asks the burning question of why he does it. Spolier alert: it’s because props can tell a story.

What did Kermit the Frog look like before the Muppets? Collector’s Weekly takes a look at the history of the Muppets, including photographs of a pre-Sesame Street Kermit, and delves into Jim Henson’s journey from five-minute sketches on a local TV station to a worldwide empire of puppet and creature manufacturing.

Fast Company has an article on five dream jobs that will make your inner child extremely jealous, and “prop master” is one of them. Yes, being a prop master is on-par with running a cat-café or being a chocolate scientist. I’ll have to remember I’m living the dream the next time I’m cleaning a mouse nest out of the bottom of a stove or lugging a sofa up three flights of stairs.

Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies