2015 SPAM Grant Winners

The Society of Properties Artisan Managers (S*P*A*M) has just announced the winners of their first grants. Congratulations to Jeffery Bazemore and Lucy Briggs, winners of the Jen Trieloff Grant and Edie Whitsett Grant respectively. I wrote about these grants previously on this blog; they are awarded to individuals wanting financial assistance with transportation, housing or other necessities during an internship in theatrical properties. You can find out more about these grants and other resources at the S*P*A*M website. You can also “like” their Facebook page to stay up to date with news and announcements.

Jen Trieloff Grant – Winner – Jeffery Bazemore

Jeffery Bazemore
Jeffery Bazemore

Jeffery Bazemore recently finished the second year of his MFA in Properties at Ohio University where he’s been studying with Tom Fiocchi, Properties Technologist. While at Ohio, Jeffery acted as the Graduate Assistant Properties Master on 2 shows, including As You Like It, and as Graduate Assistant Properties Artisan on 7 shows, including The 39 Steps, Cloud 9 and Metamorphosis. Prior to his time there, Jeffery accrued a wide range of properties experience after graduating in 2012 with his Bachelor of Arts in Theatre from Berea College, including working in a Properties Assistantship with S*P*A*M members Jim Clark, Properties Director at Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Tim Hogan, Properties Director at Pacific Conservatory Theatre as a Properties Artisan. This summer he will be returning to PCPA to study with Tim Hogan once again, this time in a properties internship, after which he will be heading back to Ohio University to finish up his graduate degree.

Edie Whitsett Grant – Winner – Lucy Briggs

Lucy Briggs
Lucy Briggs

Lucy Briggs recently graduated the University of Michigan with a BFA in Theatre Design & Production – Set Design, where she studied with S*P*A*M member Patrick Drone, the Theatrical Properties Manager and Sarah Tanner, the Associate Theatrical Properties Manger. During her time at U of M she was a paid Properties Artisan on 20 shows over two years, and was able to learn and refine skills working with metal, soft goods, finish carpentry, set decoration and faux finishing. She spent the summers of 2012 and 2013 as a carpentry intern and then a carpenter for Williamstown Theatre Festival and then she took her carpenter skills to the Spoleto Festival for the 2014 season where she worked as a Carpenter Apprentice. Lucy can currently be found at the Guthrie Theater as the Properties Intern working with S*P*A*M members Patricia Olive, Sarah Gullickson and Seán McArdle. From there she will move to Louisville to be the Properties Journeyman at Actors Theatre with S*P*A*M members Mark Walston and Joe Cunningham.

Weekend Prop-pourri

Bondo. You either love it or hate it. Or love to hate it. If you do work with it, Make has some tips on getting the best results with it.

Mental Floss has put together a list of 10 of history’s most terrifying swords. The Urumi seems especially frightening. It would be awesome to see some stage combat done with these weapons rather than just the standard Western rapier dueling.

Tony Zhou has a new episode of Every Frame a Painting called “In Praise of Chairs“. He looks at the importance of the choice of chairs in production design for various films. Of course, we already know that, especially if you’ve ever worked on a show where none of the chairs you found were “exactly right”.

I like this ultimate guide to analog control panels in sci-fi movies. Hopes&Fears looks at the computers and displays from movies such as Star WarsBlade Runner and Predator, and goes into details from the productions of these films to illuminate how they were made and why they ended up looking the way they do.

Behind the Scenes Part 4, 1890

The following comes from an 1890 news article in the San Francisco Morning Call. You can also check out the first partthe second part and the third part:

More ingenious is the cleverness employed to depict other accessories to a complete dramatic production. As pretty a stage snow-storm as one would wish to witness happens in “The Two Orphans.” The material for this display was formerly fine-cut paper, prepared by book-binders; in its place white kid in equally small pieces is utilized at present for such purposes.

They can be gathered up more readily, and last longer than paper; besides, there is an ultimate saving in cost. Salt hangs with a better effect to a hat or coat, and gives a thoroughly realistic look to the character that has just stepped indoors from a storm.

If a flash of lightening is needed, the effect is generally gained where electric lights are burned, by rapidly switching the current.

The time-honored scheme is to flash a torch of alcohol, rosin or lycopodium. Stage thunder is the rustling of a sheet of iron suspended from a rafter and set into noisy motion by a long handle. The mighty peals of thunder recently heard in the “Silver Falls” at the Boston Theater were created by a new device, the beating of a huge drum about thrice the size of an ordinary bass drum. This ingenious contrivance gives more distance to the sound. Iron switches bunched like a broom wisp when beaten together will give forth the limitation of rain or hail dropping.

In the “White Slave” water is utilized. The howling wind comes from a wheel that forces the air violently through a large tin funnel with a whistle at the smaller end.

The audience shivers at it, but it may have only been the ancient “wind” the property man makes by drawing his thumb and index finger down a rosined string running through a hole in a tin box such as mustard is packed in. That is the trick of the wind in “Davy Crockett” when the wolves are howling at the cabin door.

Tempest-tossed waves and their white caps that meet the eye of the liberated Count of Monte Cristo as he stands on an ocean rock beyond the Chateau d’If and announces with Georgian assurance “This world is mine,” are but a few bags of saltpeter or a plain salt tossed on a green cloth against a scene.

The mighty motion of the sea that awes the gallery gods who have “Romany Rye” on the brain comprises the united efforts of four men, two on either side of the stage, who shake a length of emerald baize known as a “sea cloth.”

Originally published in The Morning Call, San Francisco, December 25, 1890, pg 19.

Last Links of May

Vulture has a nice piece on the unglamorous, punishing hours of working on a Hollywood set. Below-the-line workers in film work longer hours than soldiers in Afghanistan. And it’s dangerous to do so. On the flip side, a film shoot has an end date, and if you’re a prop builder, you’re probably not on set.

If that previous article does not turn you off, Frank Ippolito has some advice on how to get started in the effects business. Though he’s talking about practical and makeup effects, the props business has many similarities, and there are some people who work in both worlds.

Tandy Leather has come out with their own thermoplastic, similar to Wonderflex and Worbla. Check out their introductory video on working with TerraFlex Sheets.

Wired has an epic oral history on Industrial Light and Magic, which just celebrated its 40th year in business. It’s interesting to note that the company which pioneered the use of computer effects in the nineties is the same one currently pushing the envelope of practical effects.

If you like the photos in the previous article, check out the accompanying gallery of the awesome props inside ILM’s vault.

Behind the Scenes Part 3, 1890

The following comes from an 1890 news article in the San Francisco Morning Call. You can also check out the first part and the second part:

The ingenuity of the “propertyman” comes to the front again in eating and drinking scenes, when the manager of the theater has to furnish the viands. As a substitute for tea, wine, whisky or brandy he serves the actors water colored with a piece of toasted bread to suit the shade of the desired liquid and then strained. This, by the way, is not a device of modern times.

It comes from the days of Shakespeare, according to stage tradition. Sometimes ginger ale or tea is used, but these are not favored generally because they will not suit all tastes.

To one actor the ale is too pungent, to another the cider is too sour, while the third may not be able to take tea without milk, which, of course, could not be used without impairing the color of the drink. So toast-water has been accepted as the regular thing, agreeable to ever palate.

There are managers of companies and stars who will have the genuine article itself, and in that case provide it at their own expense.

Clara Morris and Fannie Davenport do this. “Rip Van Winkle” Jefferson swallows whisky straight when he “smiles” to the health of the other characters at the end of the comedy, and remarks, “This one don’t count.”

In the memorable representation of Goldsmith’s “She Stoops to Conquer,” years ago, John Gilbert, Lester Wallack and Harry Montague were in the cast. They used in the tap-room scene an English tankard filled with Bass’ ale.

Occasionally stage realism asserts itself, and decrees that only legitimate accessories shall be used in the portrayal. Then it is this especial “piece of business” becomes a feature of the plays, as in the “Hearts of Oak” four years ago, where a party of eight sat down to a New England dinner of meat, pies, coffee and rolls. The component parts of the meal were served in view of the audience, piping hot, and were eaten with relish by the actors and actresses around the table.

Perhaps the most costly stage repast when done correctly is the breakfast in “Camille,” that the heroine gives to Armand, Easton and Mme. Prudence. The period of the drama is modern, and the surroundings on a scale of excellence calling for silverware of recent design and the best of food.

A “propertyman” would supply it in this way: A pot of tea, white cups and saucers, a plate of sliced bread and a papier-mache chicken or ham. How the itinerant actor, who grubs country towns for his patronage, and who cannot supply money or properties, manages to set this scene is as great a source of conjecture as the reasons that induce him to mold the genius to the histrionic requisites of the play.

Every theatre-goer knew John T. Raymond ate pared apples as Colonel Sellers in “The Gilded Age,” whereas the action of the scene called for turnips. So much for eating and drinking on the stage.

Originally published in The Morning Call, San Francisco, December 25, 1890, pg 19.

Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies