Tag Archives: new york city

Friday Night Links

Friday Night Links

Happy Friday, everyone. It’s that time of year when summer seems to be winding down; summer theatres are getting down to their last few shows, schools are getting ready to start up, and busy props people are panicking that they haven’t taken a vacation yet. If you’re stuck inside on a computer, I hope these links will keep you busy for awhile:

The Credits has a great interview with Conor O’Sullivan, prosthetic supervisor for films and shows such as Saving Private Ryan, The Dark KnightGame of ThronesX-Men: First Class, and the upcoming Hercules. While the art and craft of prosthetic effects often gets all the press, this article delves into something just as important: the logistics and planning to get it all done. Putting a fake tattoo on an actor is far different than getting matching tattoos on 150 extras every morning in less than five hours.

Fon Davis shows you how to make your own vacuum forming machine in this video. While others have shown how to build cheap or free machines like this, Fon goes a step further and assembles a machine entirely out of found parts, modified with only a drill and some duct tape.

I needed to make some small translucent crystals for a project I’m working on, and the Arms, Armor and Awesome blog has a fantastic tutorial on how to cast gems out of clear resin (h/t to Propnomicon for the link).

The NYC Prop Summit just got a webpage. The Summit itself is typically held each year around August (this year it is August 22nd), where props people from in and around the New York City area get together to network, celebrate, and learn new things. They also have a Facebook group where members go for help or advice.

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.

The Magic of Christmas (Windows)

Back when I lived in New York City, I spent a couple seasons working at Spaeth Designs, building props for the holiday window displays at stores like Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue. They’ve produced a few videos this year showing some of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into these mini-productions. These windows are quite intense, with designers and department heads beginning work in February, and dozens of skilled craftspeople starting as early as July to get these ready by Thanksgiving.

First up is Saks Fifth Avenue, which went with a “Yeti” theme:

Next up is Lord and Taylor, who do variations on a Victorian Christmas every year:

Enjoy!

20000 Objects in Opera Property Room, 1912

The following article first appeared in the New York Sun in 1912. Note: This article consistently misspells the name of Edward Siedle, who was the technical director at the Met.

Twenty Thousand Distinct Objects in the Opera’s Property Room

They Range From a Feather to a Set of Furniture, Include Armor, Food Supplies and Fans, and Show in Every Detail Careful Attention to Artistic and Historic Veracity.

One of the busiest men in this strenuous town is Edward Siedel of the Metropolitan Opera House. If you should run across a man wearing a black fedora hat on his head, an anxious frown upon his corrugated brow and a cigar between his teeth, seek no further. You will have found the hero of this tale.

Twenty-four hours out of the day Mr. Siedel is technical director of the opera house. The rest of the time he eats, sleeps and diverts himself. He got two winks of sleep one night last week. That was oversleeping himself by one wink, but he doesn’t expect it to happen again this year.

Mr. Siedel is the high muckamuck to whom all the stage hands, carpenters, electricians, property men and so forth are responsible. As an example of the extent of his duties take a single one of these departments, that of properties. Maybe everybody knows that a stage property, or “prop,” is everything used in a stage setting except the main scenery. Also everything carried by members of the company, artists, chorus or supers, except the clothes actually worn, which come under the head of costumes, and the wigs, which have a classification all their own.

In charge of the property department is a master of properties, who has to look after an insignificant total of about 20,000 objects! These range all the way from so trivial a thing as a single feather to whole sets of expensive furniture. The feather does duty in various operas in which a quill pen is needed, as in “Tosca,” where it is used to write the unhappy singer’s passport before she assassinates Scarpia.

The opera house property department has enough furniture to fill a hotel. There are over 100 side chairs, as those without arms are called; about forty arm chairs and fifteen sofas, not counting various settees, benches and wooden stools. In the same category are about fifty tables, several screens, hatracks, a cheval glass, chests and so on. All this is real furniture.

In “Donne Curiose” the settings for the two scenes of the first act are perhaps more costly, so far as the properties are concerned, than any others to be seen at the Metropolitan. In the first scene, showing the gaming room, the chairs are of wood and real leather, the tables and the buffet are handsome pieces of furniture and the wine coolers and similar articles on the buffet are of good plated silver. In the second scene the chairs are of gilt and brocade, there are several handsome tables and a beautiful cheval glass which was made to order.

The opera house is pretty well fixed to repel an attack, for in the property master’s department there are about 500 swords of all shapes and sizes, 350 helmets, 100 breastplates, 8 full suits of armor, scores of spears, a lot of guns and even some big sticks which would make T.R. himself sit up and take notice. The last named belong to the giants in the Ring and cause an ordinary shillelah to look like a baby’s rattle.

All those little flowering shrubs for “Madama Butterfly” are properties. So are the bunches of flowers used in the second act of that opera, the garlands used in “Lobetanz” and other pieces, the apple blossom leaves showered on the Goose Girl in “Königskinder”, and the dead leaves which drop in “Parsifal.” There is a pretty good sized vegetable kingdom, in fact, under the property man’s care.

He is the Jove too who launches the thunderbolts by means of the thunder drum, although the lightning owes allegiance only to the chief electrician. The thunder drum, which looks more like an overgrown squirrel cage than like a drum, is classed as one of the fifty-five real musical instruments which belong in  the property department.

These are not the fake harps, as in “Lobetanz,” or other imitation instruments but the real thing. They are all numbered, 1 to 55, and include such a curious variety as the thunder drum above mentioned, whistles, wind makers, bells, trumpets, a piano and the great pipe organ itself.

Mighty few persons in the audiences that listen to “Aida,” for instance, know that there is a stage band at the opera house entirely separate from the orchestra. Its members play those silver trumpets in “Aida” and they are the heralds in “Lohengrin.” In fact whenever any instrument is to be played on the stage itself a member of this band does it.

This article will continue in a later post. It was originally published in the New York Sun, February 25, 1912, page 16.

A Cavalcade of Links

For those of you in the regular world, happy four-day weekend! For those of you in theatre, get back to work! I have a couple of really great links for everyone this week:

The LA Times had a fantastic front page article about Film Biz Recycling, a New York City-based non-profit that rescues props and set items from finished productions, and sells them for thrift store prices. It’s the kind of store I wish existed in more places around the country; whenever I work a strike where an entire dumpster is filled with salvageable material, I can’t help but think of all the small theatres and schools where just a few scraps of plywood would make all the difference.

Lyn Gardner talks about prop flops, and how she loves when things go wrong on stage. She gives a few memorable mentions of mishaps from throughout history, and the comments section has a few more submitted by readers.

Volpin Props has an epic post up about a recent build for a Militech Crusher, a fictional gun from a video game series. It has a wide range of tips for working in plastics and inventing shapes and textures from scratch, as well as some really cool paint techniques.

If you are into podcasts, here is an episode of End Credits with an interview of Rob Kyker. Kyker is the props master on shows such as Lost and Castle, as well as films such as Super 8.