Tag Archives: award

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

The Tonys and Theatre Technicians

Last night was the 67th annual Tony Awards. I tweeted this, and it seems to have struck a chord in many people:

I actually enjoy watching the Tonys. I wrote this not out of bitterness, just as an annual reminder that the technicians, crew and artisans of theatre make a lot of the “magic” happen. We already receive little recognition in the playbills; to be ignored by this and most other major theatrical award ceremonies is a huge oversight.

I sometimes think this helps lead to an atmosphere where directors and producers think magic just “happens” and that theatre tech can accomplish anything. They think it’s perfectly reasonable to request a new prop on Saturday night and have it by Sunday morning. Or to give a paint note before dinner break and have it be done and dry by the time they are back on stage. Or my favorite, that any item imaginable can be found in the “prop room” that you have hidden away.

Of course, many of the recipients of Tony Awards take the time to thank the crew and technicians, knowing that their hard work helped contribute to the success of the production. Some even take the time to thank individuals. Last night, Andrea Martin thanked the rigger for Pippin in her Tony acceptance speech. In 2011, Sutton Foster broke into tears while thanking her dresser. That’s not bad when you consider they only have 75 seconds to thank everyone in their life.

The Tonys used to honor technicians and craftspeople. The Tony Award for Best Stage Technician began in 1948 at the second Tony Awards ceremony, and ended in 1963, being received by 14 individuals. Joe Lynn won in 1949, making him the only props person to win a Tony. Peter Feller won the the Tony Award for Best Stage Technician for Call Me Madam. In 1984, he won a Special Tony Award in recognition of his “theater stagecraft and magic” for over 40 years.

Other stage technicians have also been recognized through special Tony Awards. Some include P.A. MacDonald (set construction) in 1947, Edward Kook (lighting) in 1952, Thomas H. Fitzgerald (lighting) in 1976, and Walter F. Diehl (president of IATSE) in 1979.

The Tony Honors for Excellence in Theatre have also been used to recognize technicians. IATSE won the award in 1993. In 2003, it was given to wig and hair stylist Paul Huntley. In 2007, wardrobe supervisor Alyce Gilbert and CEO of Hudson Scenic Studios Neil Mazzella both won. Last night, one was awarded to Peter Lawrence, the Production Stage Manager on Annie, and over 20 previous Broadway productions.

Tony Awards 2012

Congratulations to Donyale Werle for her Tony Award win last night! The whole design team of Peter and the Starcatcher came away with Tonys as well. Congratulations to the whole team as well, including Paper Mâché Monkey, as well as the Broadway Green Alliance. I’ve written about all these people and groups here in the past because I’ve worked with them previously, and I love what they do. Here is Donyale’s acceptance speech from the 2012 Tonys:

Here is a video showing the set for Peter and the Starcatcher as it is built in the shop:

Odds and Ends

For all of you hip people, I am on Twitter, @ericbhart. I share links about props and theatre, and sometimes say funny things.

In case you missed it, About.com had an article about the lack of recognition for theatrical props people, featuring some quotes from me, Eric. In a similar vein, BroadwayGirlNYC wrote this heartfelt appreciation for those who work behind the scenes of theatre after a stagehand died backstage of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

Here is an (unfortunately, very brief) look at how the California Shakespeare Theater releases all the blood in Titus Andronicus.

Speaking of bloody, here’s a newspaper article on Autonomous F/X, a California company that makes realistic body parts and corpses for medical dramas and police procedural on television.

This site is pretty self-explanatory: Table Saw Accidents. It takes a comprehensive look at the statistics of all reported saw injuries and explains why table saws can be dangerous. Not surprisingly, most table saw injuries occur making common cuts rather than attempting things out of the ordinary.

2011 Tony Awards for Best Scenic Design

Last night was the 65th Annual Tony Awards. As longtime readers of this blog know, there is no Tony Award for props, whether it’s props design or prop mastering (actually, there is very little recognition of the craft and labor of backstage theatre overall, but I digress). Instead, I will look at the Tony Award winners for Scenic Design, which encompasses the world of props.

Congratulations to Scott Pask, designer of The Book of Mormon, for his Tony Award for Best Scenic Design of a Musical. Scott is the designer for both Shakespeare in the Park shows this year, which began preview performances just this past week. I couldn’t find his acceptance speech online anywhere, so in lieu of that, here is a video in which he talks about the scenic design of The Book of Mormon.

You can also read a great feature on Playbill about the design of Book of Mormon, featuring a number of photographs of the sets as well as the scenic models.

The winner for Best Scenic Design of a Play went to Rae Smith for War Horse. I highlighted some video of the horse puppets from this show back in 2009 when it was still on the West End. It’s worth watching again, because the puppets are really, really cool. The link also has some information on the puppets’ creators, Handspring Puppet Company, which incidentally, won a Special Tony Award last night as well.

Her acceptance speech is online, though I can’t seem to embed it. You can browse to it from the Tony Awards video gallery though.