Friday Quick Links

Spend twenty minutes to watch this fantastic mini-documentary on the life of a prop master. The American Theatre Wing follows Buist Bickley, Kathy Fabian and Faye Armon-Troncoso as they navigate New York City to prop their shows.

Gabrielle Donathan has a very useful article called “The Cost of Custom Cosplay: Where Does the Money Go?” In it, she takes three complete costumes she has constructed, and breaks down every component and task in the process to show their individual costs. The total is basically what she charges her clients. If you think custom work is expensive, this shows why. And if you do your own work, this is a great primer on how to break down a project and account for all the expenses before you come up with a price quote.

Make Magazine has pictures and videos showing the construction of a wearable Rancor mascot suit by Frank Ippolito for Comic Con 2015. It’s mostly sheets of foam rubber with a killer paint job.

Finally, Bill Tull from Conan O’Brien participates in the Prop Master Challenge. This is how I imagine a lot of prop masters do their job (kidding).

2015 SPAM Conference

This past weekend I attended the 22nd annual S*P*A*M Conference at the University of Maryland, just outside of Washington, DC. S*P*A*M is the Society of Properties Artisan Managers, and its members include the heads of the props departments at most regional theatres, universities and operas throughout the US (and one in Canada).

S*P*A*M business meeting
S*P*A*M business meeting

This year’s conference was attended by 43 prop masters, making it among the largest conferences. The members have a combined 879 years of experience. The mornings of the conference were spent in business meetings, where we shared what we learned in the past year and planned for the future of the organization.

Touring the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center
Touring the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

We spent a portion of the day Friday touring the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, where the conference was being held. Timothy J. James, the props shop manager, gave us a tour of the props shop, and we got to see various other shops and performing spaces throughout the massive center. On Saturday, we also received a tour of their props storage, which is held offsite.

Puppets and headdresses by Marie Schneggenburger
Puppets and headdresses by Marie Schneggenburger

On Saturday, we had two presentations. The first was by Marie Schneggenburger, the props master at Ford’s Theatre and puppet maker extraordinaire. Her work is amazing, her stories were incredible, and she had a lot of techniques that most of us were excited to try out. She also had the enviable side gig of making cozies for satellites at NASA.

Thinking outside the box with a CNC router
Thinking outside the box with a CNC router

The scene shop gave a presentation on the experiments they are conducting with their CNC router. Besides the typical cutting and carving that most shops do, they are working with a lot of 3D applications. The picture above shows one experiment where they scanned in the scene designer’s model and used the CNC to build a full-scale structure that they could then cover and coat.

22nd Annual S*P*A*M Conference
22nd Annual S*P*A*M Conference

All in all, it was a very successful and productive conference. I want to thank Timothy and his staff for pulling it off. It’s not an easy task herding 43 props masters without losing any. Here’s to next year!

Special Saturday Prop Links

Happy Saturday, everyone. Unforeseen emergencies kept me from posting this yesterday, but have no fear, your props reading list is here:

If you somehow missed this article, Maria Bustillos had a great piece in Bloomberg Business called “How High Def is Changing Your Brain – and Driving the Prop Master Crazy.” It delves into how the increased resolution and clarity of film makes amazing props look like cheap plastic knock-offs. It has a fair bit of prop-making history in it, and some wonderful anecdotes as well (the bit about attaching the leaves from small carrots onto the bodies of larger carrots for a perfect carrot was something every prop master could recognize).

Rosco Spectrum has more on the 160 candlestick holders which Jay Duckworth constructed for Hamilton (now on Broadway!). Using his drill press as a lathe, and some FoamCoat, he made short work of this project. Jay, you know you have an actual lathe in your shop, right?

User Ratchet built a Recharger Rifle from Fallout: New Vegas and posted pictures over at the Replica Prop Forum. The process photos do a wonderful job showing how a few simple materials layered up on top of each other can quickly become a complex and interesting prop. The fantastic paint job helps a lot as well.

Finally, I saw this Giant PVC Centipede over at Instructables. It’s the stuff of nightmares, but it’s also interesting some basic hardware store supplies can transform into a fully articulated monstrosity.

US Presidents and the Theatre

President Obama and his daughters attended the July 18, 2015, performance of Hamilton on Broadway. His wife, Michelle, had seen it off-Broadway at the Public Theatre. Former president Bill Clinton and his wife, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, also caught an off-Broadway performance of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s celebrated show about the Founding Fathers. Miranda first performed songs from the show way back in 2009 to Obama, and he sat next to the President during last week’s performance at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.

Many of my friends worked on the show (Jay Duckworth even has an article on how the props shop made 160 turned candlesticks). It made me wonder about the theatre habits of other Presidents. Turns out, the American Presidency has long had a rich involvement with the theatre. Thanks to the book American Presidents Attend the Theatre by Thomas Bogar and a few hours of Googling, I’ve dug up a few interesting stories. Continue reading US Presidents and the Theatre

Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies