Tag Archives: Berkeley Rep

Milwaukee Rep

Organizing a Props Shop

We have a bit of a break during the summer at Triad Stage between when the last show opens and the new season begins. It’s the time we spend cleaning and organizing the shops. We’ve been busy in the props shop doing a pretty big overhaul with building new shelving and storage spaces, and moving around where things go. Organizing a props shop can be a challenge, since props people want to save every bit and scrap they come across. I thought I’d share some pictures of various shops I’ve been in to show how others have tackled this problem.

ACT Scene Shop
ACT Scene Shop

The first picture is actually from the scene shop at ACT in San Francisco, but props shops need to store and organize hardware as well. It’s pricey way to store things, with tons of metal shelving and matching bins. But it allows everything to be separated out while allowing you to find anything just by visually scanning the room; nothing is tucked away.

Childsplay Theater
Childsplay Theater

Childsplay Theater in Arizona uses the full wall approach, where a whole wall is covered in shelving from floor to ceiling and filled with bins. You can see boxes and bins of all sizes, as well as plastic tubs, baskets, and loose items. It’s very modular, allowing one to change what is stored there if you run out of one type of material and decide not to reorder it. It also has the benefit of displaying everything you have available without hiding anything away.

Berkeley Rep
Berkeley Rep

The Berkeley Rep props shop takes full advantage of using every square inch of their tiny props shop. A mix of open shelves, bins and drawers fill every hole in the wall.

Berkeley Rep
Berkeley Rep

Various cabinets and shelving units are tucked in every corner to keep every spare area utilized. I’ve found that if you don’t designate uses for all the out-of-the-way areas of a shop, they end up accumulating piles of random items and scraps in a big heap. Likewise, if you don’t have a bin or shelf to put a thing away in, then it will always be in the way, and you will always be moving it around.

New York City
New York City

Here is part of a shop of a Broadway prop maker in New York City. He is also using the “every square inch” approach in his tiny shop, though he has opted to keep everything out in the open, rather than in bins and boxes.

Milwaukee Rep
Milwaukee Rep

Props shops seem to naturally accumulate little metal file box cabinets over the years, and Milwaukee Rep has put them to good use. With bins, you can carry the whole bin to wherever you need it in the shop, whereas with drawers, a prop maker doesn’t have to hunt down a missing bin that someone else has taken. It’s a matter of preference which you use, though many prop shops have a mix of both.

San Francisco Opera
San Francisco Opera

I liked these drawers underneath the chop saw in the San Francisco Opera. Adding storage under tools and machines is a great way to use space, especially if you can store the materials and equipment associated with that tool.

Public Theater
Public Theater

The tool and hardware cabinet at the Public Theater was in a weird area, so a custom storage area was built by the shop. The angle in that corner was not square, and the walls sloped backwards as well, so any ready-made shelving or storage units would end up wasting precious space.

Public Theater
Public Theater

Here is the opposite side of the Public’s tool cabinet. With the right organization and storage, a shop can hold more tools, materials and supplies, and yet have more open working space than a poorly organized one.

How is your shop organized? I’d love to see pictures. Send them my way.

Friday Prop-pourri

Friday Prop-pourri

It has been a busy week. I taught the second of my master classes at Elon University, and I am preparing for a big workshop I am teaching tomorrow. I have also finished going through the proofs for my book yesterday; with those submitted, the book is basically on its way to the printers. Just think, in a few short months, it will be in bookstores! Here are some sites from around the Internet for you to peruse and enjoy:

The LA Times has a profile of George Barris, who has been making custom cars for film and television for over 70 years. The Batmobile from the original television series and the Munsters’ car are both his.

This giant collection of vintage hotel luggage tags should help supply you for years to come.

I may have mentioned an upcoming book called The Furniture of Necessity before; it’s a look at the major archetypes of furniture used by regular people throughout the centuries, as opposed to the highly-designed stuff used by aristocrats. It promises to be a great reference for period prop design. Christopher Schwartz has an update on that book in his blog, but that’s not the interesting part. His latest post also features photographs of almost 50 variations of a 6-board chest. This style of chest was popular in working-class European households from the 9th century through at least the 17th century, and again in American households from the 1600s on up to the present. In other words, this page is great research for a prop that can appear in a vast range of period plays.

Scenic charge Lisa Lazar from Berkeley Rep shows off her “bikini-wax” method for removing old paint without dust or chemicals.

This is a fairly fantastic behind-the-scenes look at the original Robocop (1987) film. Watch Peter Weller as he talks about putting his costume on; he’s a very eloquent (and funny) guy:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?&v=4_1K2GvCyvY

 

Proptober Fest Links

Berkeley Rep has posted a video of the set changes in Chinglish. It’s fun and very well made; I saw Chinglish back on Broadway and the scene changes were slick, fast and fluid. I wish more theatres featured their technical and backstage elements like Berkeley Rep has done here; so much of what we do is underrepresented in the media, and it all just disappears once the show closes.

If you like James Bond, a new website called “The Credits” has a short article on some of the famous gadgets in those 22 films. The website also has a cool story and video on Western Costume, one of the large costume rental houses in Los Angeles.

A blog called “She Creates Stuff” has an interesting technique for aging glass bottles with hardening oil rather than paint; this keeps them food safe so they can still be drunk from (found via the Propnomicon blog).

Of the 68,890,282 chemicals used in business and industry today, only about 900 have been tested for cancer-causing abilities. As props people, we are exposed to many chemicals on a daily basis in our paints, adhesives, cleaning products, molding and casting compounds, coatings and even when cutting solid materials. Many of these chemicals are introduced to products without testing whether they are toxic or cause long-term harm. The Safe Chemicals Act means to amend the current laws so that manufacturers have to test chemicals before they sell them to you, rather than the other way around. Currently, it is languishing in the Senate; you can help push it along by contacting Senator Harry Reid, signing this online petition, or by contacting your own Senator to urge action.

Happy Belated Earth Day

Almost a month back, the Guardian had an article titled Classics for a New Climate: how to produce a low-carbon-footprint play? It examines how the Young Vic, over in London, has been trying to cut back on its environmental impact while still producing quality theatre. The comments to the article follow the same pattern that many such articles see; so-and-so attempts to be “greener”, but since they still emit some carbon or produce some waste, they are scolded for not being green enough; as if a “better” solution should be ridiculed because it is not “perfect”. It is impossible to be fully “green”, whatever that means, but it is always possible to take steps to become a little more sustainable and a little less wasteful. Some of the commenters seem to make the claim that just doing theatre is not environmentally friendly, because the people are emitting carbon as they watch the show; do they disappear into a state of complete environmental harmony upon exiting the theatre?

But I digress.

About a month and a half ago, Mike Lawler published an article at Drama Biz Magazine called The Eco-Friendly Theatre of the Future. It lists what some US theatres are doing to improve their environmental impact. The article mentions Berkeley Repertory Theatre, which specifically states their prop shop as being one of the leaders of their various green initiatives. Other lists, such as the 50 Things You Can Do Towards Being a Green Theater, have good general tips though they do not mention the props shop in particular. Broadway Green Alliance’s Better Practices for Theatre Professionals is a bit better in that regard. They have also given workshops which focus on the set and props departments; luckily for you, I attended one of these a few years ago and took copious notes. I also attended an event a few months ago where thoughts on going green in theatre were discussed.

The Green Theatre Choices Toolkit from the Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company remains one of the most valuable tools for making more environmentally-conscious decisions. It looks at broad categories of materials, such as paints, textiles and plastics, and rates the various choices according to their environmental impact.

The Broadway Green Alliance has a list of set-recycling options, including sources in NYC where you can buy reclaimed and re-purposed materials. Down here in North Carolina, we have the Scrap Exchange, which collects industry discards and sells them to artists for extremely low prices. Many towns and cities offer similar services if you look hard enough.

BRT prop shop

Berkeley Repertory Theatre prop shop

During the 2010 S*P*A*M Conference, we visited the Berkeley Rep prop shop. Even if you’re not familiar with the Berkeley Rep, you’ve probably heard of some of the shows that came from there: American Idiot and In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) are two of the more recent shows which have come to New York City. Ashley Dawn, the prop master at Berkeley Rep and one of the hosts of the Conference, graciously gave us a tour of their prop shop.

BRT prop shop
BRT prop shop

The prop shop is located within the same building as the theatre. Notice all the dust collection hoses. Also, the shop is very clean, and every nook and cranny has some form of boxes, bins, drawers or shelves for storage. Though hectic at first glance, it was actually very clean and well-organized, and once you knew your way around, it seemed it would be easy to quickly locate whatever you needed.

BRT prop shop
BRT prop shop

Berkeley Rep is fairly similar to the Public Theatre in terms of the size and number of shows produced in a season. In fact, many shows we do are co-productions. It was inspiring to see how they’ve organized their limited space to handle the demands of their shows, particularly because our own shop is larger. It would appear one can always squeeze more use out of a space, no matter how small.

Sign over the BRT prop shop
Sign over the BRT prop shop

They have a separate area for welding and working with metal, which is also shared by the scene shop when they are at the theatre loading in a show. During the rest of the time, the scenery is built and painted at a much larger building a few miles away. In the near future, they are getting a new facility where scenery, props and costumes are all housed together; the prop shop I just showed you will soon be no more.