Tag Archives: conference

USITT Props Lab 2018

At this year’s USITT Conference, we will be conducting the first ever Props Lab on the Stage Expo floor. Jay Duckworth, last year’s Early Career Honors speaker, has organized a dynamite team of props experts and myself to provide demonstrations and hands-on activities. A lot of these sessions have already filled up, so sign up quickly!

Thursday, March 15

11:00am-1:00pm

Welcoming Our Robot Overlords with Adam Daley, support by Karen Rabe

Overcoming fear of new technology and integrating it into our work with robots and quick Prototype. Hands-on with 3D printer, Rapid Prototyping 3D Printing/Robot Making for Props. Learn how to use this equipment, when you need to build a model at ¼” scale, idea exchange.

1:00pm-2:30 pm

Welcoming Our Robot Overlords with Adam Daley, support by Karen Rabe

2:45pm-4:00 pm

Small Food Casting – “Berries” with Michelle Bisbee, support by Abbey Plankey.

Learn fast and effective casting process using Smooth-On OOMOO 30 Fast Set. Take home your very own freshly cast berries!

4:00pm-5:30pm

Small Food Casting – “Berries” with Michelle Bisbee, support by Abbey Plankey.

Friday, March 16

11:00am-1:00pm

Prop Gizmology Pew, Pew! with Thomas Fiocchi, support by Liz Hastings

How to design and execute cosplay weapon props without stinking up the place. Learn a seven-step process going from research, design, scaling, to engineering, constructing, and finishing your prop weaponry. We will discuss different methods, materials, and techniques to create world-class props in your budget and time frame. Woodworking, foam working, steel techniques, creative gizmology, it is all in this session!!!

1:00 pm-2:30 pm

Prop Gizmology Pew, Pew! with Thomas Fiocchi, support by Liz Hastings

2:45 pm-4:00 pm

Prop Gizmology Pew, Pew! with Thomas Fiocchi, support by Liz Hastings

4:00pm-5:30pm

Small Food Casting – “Berries” with Michelle Bisbee, support by Abbey Plankey.

Saturday, March 17

9:30am-11:00am 

Stage Combat and Safe Weapons with stage combat specialist Rick Sordelet, support by Jay Duckworth.

Safe stage combat and weaponry. Don’t end up a horrible statistic.

11:00am-12:30pm

Blood Pack Demos with stage combat expert Rick Sordelet, support by Jay Duckworth.

Tricks with blood bags with stage combat expert.

12:30pm-2:00pm 

Simple Pneumatics with Eric Hart, support by Jay Duckworth

Eric will introduce the principles of pneumatic prop design and demonstrate everything from simple puffs of dust to more complex movement using pneumatic cylinders and solenoid valves.

About the presenters

Adam Daley is a Mechanical Engineer turned Prop Master who has worked for companies ranging from Pacific Coast Theatre Festival to Utah Shakespeare Festival. In his free time, he mentors for FRC First Robotics and builds electric guitars.

Michelle Bisbee is an active member of S*P*A*M and a pillar of the props community.

Thomas Fiocchi has been the Props Technologist at Ohio University, training future props artisans, since 1997.  He worked for a decade as a props artisan at the Shakespeare Theater in Washington DC, and at McCarter Theater in NJ.  He operates Fiocchi Sword and Prop, doing custom stage combat weaponry and freelance props out of Athens Ohio.

Rick Sordelet is the top Fight Director in the country. He has 54 Broadway shows to his credit. He has staged all of Disney Theatrical productions, Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Tarzan, Aida, and The Little Mermaid.

Eric Hart is the props master at Triad Stage and visiting professor at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. He is the author of “The Prop Building Guidebook: for Theater, Film, and TV” and “The Prop Effects Guidebook.” He has built props for numerous theatres on and off Broadway and throughout the United States.

USITT Props Lab
USITT Props Lab

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!

Making a Life-Size Dragon

Here is a very cool video showing how Frank Ippolito made a life-sized dragon. Capcom wanted the front portion of one of their video game monsters for their booth at the E3 gaming conference, so they turned to sculptor and special effects artist Ippolito to make it happen. Tested shot this video, which shows all the stages of the build, from planning to creating the structure, and from sculpting the foam to coating it with a hard shell. If you ever wanted to create your own life-size dragon, this video is a good place to start.

USITT 2013 Wrap-Up

This past week was the 53rd USITT conference in Milwaukee. This year’s conference featured a lot of things for props people. I couldn’t get to them all, but I saw a lot of them. I took notes which I may go through later, but since I’m writing this on the flight home (and have to work first thing in the morning), I’ll just give the highlights.

First off, there was the Expo floor, filled with companies, organizations and universities peddling their wares. Wonderflex World had plenty of samples of their products, including a sneak peek of a new product coming out soon that is pretty exciting.

Smooth-On had their usual cool booth with all the rubber monsters and foam cinder blocks you can make with their products. There’s a possibility I may start getting samples of their new products to test out for this blog. That would be neat.

StageBitz had demos of their props management and inventory software. I first tested them out about two years ago, and it’s almost completely different now (in a good way). You can do a 3-week free trial of their software from their website, which is really the only way to start discovering how easy and seamless this can make propping a show, from letting the designer share images and research with you, to letting you send the designer pictures of items in your stock, to keeping up with changes in rehearsal, creating to-do lists to send to your artisans and shoppers, maintaining a budget, to finally adding all the props to your stock when the show closes.

RC4 Wireless Dimming had tiny wireless dimmers. It sounds simple, but it’s amazing how these little devices act so seamlessly to let you control any sort of battery-powered light or motor from your theatre’s lighting console. I also attended a session called “Wireless Light and Motion for Propmasters”, where a couple theatres were showing off various ways they used the RC4 units.

One of the last sessions of the conference was on sustainability in design and production led by Donyale Werle. It included the exciting unveiling of the College Green Captain Toolkit, based off of the already-successful program which every Broadway show participates in (I’ll post a link when it appears, or you can contact the Broadway Green Alliance for more information). Jacob Coakley from Stage Directions Magazine live-blogged much of the session.

An earlier session on “Reimagining Theatre with Green Ideals” also featured information about sustainability and the Broadway Green Alliance. Once again, Jacob Coakley live-blogged the whole discussion.

“Grave Matters” was a session with a lot of good tips and tricks for making gore and corpses. One of the speakers, Gary Benson, has his presentation online , including step-by-step photographs of how he made some skulls.

“You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out” was a bit disappointing since 3 of the 4 presenters could not be there. However, you can check out the handouts on firearm safety that they had. You will also find a link for a survey they are running to discover how various theatres deal with guns on stage (and off). I’m not sure how long that link will last, so you should download those files rather than bookmarking them.

I got to check out the Young Designer’s Forum, which had some great work. I was also able to meet two of my future coworkers this summer at the Santa Fe Opera.

The Milwaukee Rep props shop hosted a SPAM get-together at their space, though it was nice to see plenty of non-SPAM props masters and prop makers there as well. I wrote about their shop for Stage Directions this month, but to actually see their work space and storage facilities in person was a great treat.

Chairs as far as the eye can see.
Chairs as far as the eye can see.

Oh yeah, I also sold out of my book by the end of my signing. The response has been overwhelming so far. I am ecstatic that so many people are excited about this book, and I can’t wait to hear back from those of you who use it or teach from it.

Did I forget anything about the conference? Was there something I missed? Let me know in the comments what you saw at USITT that excited you.

USITT 2013

By the time you read this, I should be in Milwaukee for the 53rd annual conference of the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT). This is the largest US conference dedicated solely to design, production and technology in theatre and other live entertainment. If you follow me on Twitter, I’ll be twitting about events during the conference. I thought I’d take a moment to share some events and sessions that may be of interest to props people who will be there.

First up, as if I haven’t written about it enough already, is my book signing. Stage Directions Magazine is hosting the signing on Friday, March 22nd, at 12:30 pm, at Booth 100, located in the far corner of the exhibition (to the left of the entrance, on the side of the hall with Cover the Walls).

In the same vein, be sure to check out the book signing for The Properties Director’s Handbook by Sandra Strawn. It will be held at the USITT Booth/Market Place on Friday, at 4:30 pm. The book is a great complement to my own; Sandy was also the technical editor on my book.

The Society of Properties Artisan Managers (S*P*A*M) has a booth at the Expo; I will be behind the counter on Saturday morning from 9:30-11am. Come check it out at table 670, in front of the USITT Booth & Marketplace, and right across from IATSE Local One’s booth.

If you go to the New Product Showcase (often called “Swag and Brag”, held Thursday night from 7-9pm), keep your eyes and ears open for Stagebitz. They will be giving away copies of my book, as well as copies of The Properties Directors Handbook. Check out their booth as well, #1260 in the far corner diagonally opposite from Stage Directions’.

A few panels devoted to props have caught my eye this year:

  • On Wednesday morning at 8am (yikes!) is “3D printing for the Stage”. One of the presenters, Owen Collins, was featured in my own article on 3D printing, “Printing a Set“.
  • Wednesday at 1pm is a session on stage firearm safety called “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out!” Despite the accidents that have happened in the past, I still hear horror stories of dangerous practices with firearms on stage, so this should be a very useful session for any prop master dealing with weapons.
  • At 6pm on Wednesday is “Wireless Light and Motion for Props Masters”. The presenters include the guys at RC4 Wireless, who make small wireless dimmers and radio control devices intended for theatre.
  • Thursday morning at 9:30am is “Reimagining Theatre with Green Ideals”. While it’s not specifically geared toward props, it does involve set design and production, so props people may get something out of it.
  • On Friday at 2:30pm is perhaps one of the most promising sessions on props: “Grave Matters.” With discussions about stage gore, severed limbs and dead bodies, it should be a bloody good time. With my former instructor Tom Fiocchi as one of the presenters, it should be fairly high-energy as well.
  • Saturday has another 8am session (bleh) called “Preparing Props People”. While it is focused on what educators should be teaching future props masters, students and early career props people may find it useful to see if their own education is complete enough.
  • At 2pm on Saturday, Donyale Werle will be discussing the art of green scenery. Donyale won the Tony last year for Peter and the Starcatcher, as well as a Lucille Lortel Award for the off-Broadway production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (which I was assistant props master on). Her talks on using recycled materials for sets and props are always enlightening.