Tag Archives: 1921

The Ten Best Props (of 1921)

The following article, written by Lisle Bell, first appeared in Theatre Magazine in May of 1922. It’s interesting that theatre-goers from almost a hundred years ago recognized that props were forgotten during awards ceremonies. It’s also cool that one of the ten best props of 1921 was the bar in “Anna Christie”, a prop that I tackled earlier this year.

As the dramatic year draws to a close, the critical pastime of handing out the laurel begins. The producers are sitting in their box offices, counting out the money, and the actors are beginning to look forward to the relaxations of the Atlantic or of Great Neck, but meantime the critical judges, both professional and amateur, are busy thumbing over their accumulated programmes. Those who have blue ribbons to pin, prepare to pin them now.

These exercises usually take the form of “ten best” and “ten best that.” Combing over the productions of the season, the experts select the plays and players who have, in their estimation, contributed most to the advancement of their art. Their choices, alphabetically arranged or else tabulated in the order of merit, are duly published to a waiting world, and mere theatregoers spend many a pleasant evening quarreling with their decisions or improving upon them.

The Drama League makes an authentic choice of those who have rendered the greatest service to the cause, and those thus honored are invited to a banquet, where they occupy such positions of distinction, and are in fact so conspicuous, that one wonders whether they really have a chance to enjoy the food. Perhaps, however, the actors who attend those functions do not have to satisfy an appetite, and so merely go through the motions of eating with evident relish, much as they might do while taking part in a stage meal.

There is something truly fascinating about stage food, and the manner of its histrionic disappearance. Who will ever forget that patient loaf of bread that Margaret Wycherly kept eternally cutting in “Jane Clegg”? And does anyone recall a more intense scene of drama than that opening of the last act of “The Grand Duke”—with no one on the stage but Lionel Atwill and his breakfast? Here was drama reduced to highest nutriment—the conflict between an epicure and his spices which was as packed with thrills as a conflict between a dope fiend and his vices. Atwill gave as much thought and deliberation to the dressing of his salad as Ziegfeld gives to the undressing of his chorus.

The more we think about the importance of this property breakfast, the more we are struck with the fact that the whole domain of stage props has been neglected in the annual awards of the drama experts. Burns Mantle edits a volume of the best plays of the year; the magazine critics issue their ukases of ten best “unfeatured male players,” and “unfeatured female players;” even the reviewers at Podunk and one-night stands get out lists of the best things that have come to the “opry house,”—and all this time the props have languished, unwept and unsung.

Here goes, then, for the ten best props of the season of 1921-22: Continue reading

Duties of a Property Man, Utah, 1921

The following comes from The Young Woman’s Journal, a self-described “organ of the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Associations”. It was originally published in October, 1921, in Salt Lake City, Utah. I kept in the opening paragraphs so you get a sense of the context which the article was written, then I skipped ahead to the portion dealing specifically with props.

Technique of Play Production

by Maud May Babcock

The community theatre in the days of Brigham Young, was unique. The Latter-day Saints had an organization with such fine ideals and gave performances of such excellence that there has been no equal in theatrical history, and the theatre of Brigham Young stands today the admiration and wonder of the entire world. Have the mighty fallen? We have sold our birthright for a mess of pottage to commercial theatrical enterprise. Instead of leading, showing how communities could entertain themselves and by so doing develop a taste for only the best in music and drama, we are amused by demoralizing vaudeville, and unreal, sentimental “canned” drama. Today our taste is as low as anywhere in the United States. Verily we are what we feed upon! The Mutuals are making splendid effort to help our communities come back to their own and make their own entertainment.

There is a tremendous waste of time and effort in our Ward societies because of the lack of organization, and systematic procedure in our entertainments.

Organization in heaven, in the church, in the world spells efficiency. A successful amusement center depends upon its organization. In our dramatic activities, our organization must consist of the following officers:

  • Director
  • Business Manager
  • Stage Manager
  • Stage Carpenter
  • Property Manager
  • Electrician
  • Scene Painter

The Director and Business Manager should be very carefully selected by the local Mutual Officers, and these should be responsible to them alone. All the other officers are appointed by the Director and responsible to him or her.

The Property Man—”Props”—provides, cares for, and places in proper position on the stage all furniture, draperies, rugs, carpets, lamps, telephone, letters, documents, etc.—in fact, all articles needed in the play except the personal properties of the actor. Things only used by a single actor—such as a fan, a cane, an eyeglass, a parasol, a handkerchief, a letter, if it remains with the one person and not given to another or is not left on the stage—these are personal “props.” A small table should be provided on either side of the stage for offstage “props,” such articles as are needed to be carried on stage, or for properties brought off stage. The property man should see that actors do not carry such “props” to their dressing rooms, but that they are left on the table provided. Stage drinks—which are made of grape juice, ginger-ale, or root beer, according to the color needed, are cared for and bought by “props” on order of the director countersigned by the business manager.

The property man should take an artistic pride in his stage picture and spend a good deal of time to secure, by renting or borrowing or making, the exact style of furniture and things needed for the play. A period play with modern furniture which one sees in stock performances is ludicrous. Charlie Millard, the veteran property man of the Salt Lake Theatre made all his properties and furnished the actors in Brigham Young’s time with even personal “props.” The stage manager furnishes “props” with a property plot containing a list of properties needed for each scene in the play.

This article first appeared in “The Young Woman’s Journal”, October, 1921.

Historic Description of a Props Master

(originally from The Young Woman’s Journal, 1921)

The Property Man

“Props”— provides, cares for, and places in proper position on the stage all furniture, draperies, lugs, carpets, lamps, telephone, letters, documents, etc. — in fact, all articles needed in the play except the personal properties of the actor. Things only used by a single actor — such as a fan, a cane, an eyeglass, a parasol, a handkerchief, a letter, if it remains with the one person and not given to another or is not left on the stage —  these are personal “props.” A small table should be provided on either side of the stage for offstage “props,” such articles as are needed to be carried on stage, or for properties brought off stage. The property man should see that actors do not carry such “props” to their dressing rooms, but that they are left on the table provided. Stage drinks — which are made of grape juice, ginger-ale, or root beer, according to the color needed, are cared for and bought by “props” on order of the director countersigned by the business manager.

The property man should take an artistic pride in his stage picture and spend a good deal of time to secure, by renting or borrowing or making, the exact style of furniture and things needed for the play. A period play with modern furniture which one sees in stock performance is ludicrous. Charlie Millard, the veteran property man of the Salt Lake Theatre made all his properties and furnished the actors in Brigham Young’s time with even personal “props.” The stage manager furnishes “props” with a property plot containing a list of properties needed for each scene in the play.

The Young Woman’s Journal, vol 32, pp. 561-2, 1921