Tag Archives: opera

Tina Stevenson

Interview with Tina Stevenson

The following is one of several interviews conducted by students of Ron DeMarco’s properties class at Emerson College.

Across the World in Props, with Tina Stevenson

by Jeremy Stein.

Tina Stevenson
Tina Stevenson

“Be flexible, smile even when you’re frustrated, if you don’t know the answer say so, learn something new everyday, never be afraid of a challenge, but never stretch yourself or department because of it.” Continue reading

Deb Morgan

Interview with Deb Morgan

The following is one of several interviews conducted by students of Ron DeMarco’s properties class at Emerson College.

Deb Morgan: One-Woman Prop Shop

by John Meredith

Deb Morgan
Deb Morgan

Deb Morgan is a freelancer who is the current Property Master at the Lyric Opera of Kansas City. She has a strong background in music that started at a young age, when she started taking dance classes and participating in music recitals in grade school. Her interest in performance continued as she took up the flute and played it in both her school band and marching band as well. During the summers of her high school years, she was part of a musical program. That is what peaked her interest in theater. All of the students in the program not only sang and acted in the show, but built props and sets as well. She loved performing, but not so much the acting, and gained awareness of the design aspects of theater. Continue reading

Property Department viewed from the south

The San Francisco Grand Opera, 1899

The following article about the Grand Opera in San Francisco originally appeared in The Sunday Call in 1899:

To most people there is an indefinable sense of mystery in the simple phrase “behind the scenes.” Some imagine it to be a vague sort of place peopled with beings who live dual lives, the one either very wicked or much-abused, and the other the artistic and pretty-to-look-upon one of the footlights. To such the theatrical managers appear as abusive hobgoblins whose delight it is to torture and mistreat. That is about as far as such imaginations go; beautiful scenic effects, and the smooth and unbroken succession of harmonious arrangements are taken for granted and expected, with no thought of the vast amount of labor, care, capital, trouble and ingenuity required in the production of an evening’s entertainment for the throngs who come nightly to be amused from the other side of the footlights…

Property Department viewed from the south
Property Department viewed from the south

Yards and yards of canvas, bolts of calico, rolls and rolls of paper, kegs and pots of paint, and a succession of other paraphernalia poured in from all sides, and were pounced upon by the different departments and carried away, to be utilized and transformed into settings and scenery…

James S. Cannon, Property Master, designing for the Christmas spectacle, "Sinbad"
James S. Cannon, Property Master, designing for the Christmas spectacle, “Sinbad”

Mr. James Cannon, the inventive genius of the stage, and the master property man, went about inspecting his great thunder drum, the big wheel and its silk flap which is the source of the wintry wind which whistles out from behind the scenes and causes one to turn up one’s coat collar—the apparatus which so closely imitates the breaking of the waves against the crags, and the numberless other apparatus for adding to the realistic nature of the performance. From his modeling room on a level with the gallery, to his little electrical room below ground, Mr. Cannon was busy with his rounds. His was the task of casting plaster models of the stage properties to be used in the various scenes, and to keep everything going harmoniously.

Originally published as “In the Workshops Behind the Scenes”, The Sunday Call, San Francisco, December 24, 1899, pg 2. Photos by Alishy.

Flag tubes

Magically-Appearing Flags

This past summer, our production of The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein at the Santa Fe Opera had a lot of tricks. Like… a lot of them. One trick I worked on was a set of magically-appearing flags. The set had seven flag poles along one wall, and during one big moment of pomp and circumstance, the design team wanted flags to suddenly appear on them. The idea is kind of like those “bang” flags that pop out of guns in the cartoons.

Flag tubes
Flag tubes

The basic mechanism behind the trick is that each flagpole has a second pole which sleeves inside. The two poles have slightly less than half of their surface notched out, as you can see in the photo above. The outer pole is fixed in place on the set, while the inner pole can spin around inside. So you can spin the inner pole to a position where the whole flag pole looks like a solid rod, and the flag is trapped inside. Then when you spin the inner pole around so the notches line up, the flag is free to drop down.

You can watch it all in action in the video below. The video also shows how I rigged the tubes so they could be activated by pulling a string off-stage, since there was no room on set to activate them directly.

 

Make your own TARDIS

Another Friday, another set of links

Creative Choices has published a fantastic article about Antony Barnett, the Head of Props at the Royal Opera House. He has been working at the ROH since the mid-1980s. Incidentally, the ROH remounted a production of Cendrillon in 2011 that I worked on back in 2006; I built some pretty cool props for it, including Prince Charman’s throne, and it’s nice to see how well they have stood up.

The New York Times has an in-depth look at how the Metropolitan Opera stores and maintains all the sets for their repertory productions. I find this stuff fascinating, particularly since I’ve been reading a lot about how the Met’s technical department worked 100 years ago. The locations of their storage units may have changed, but the amount of work and organization they have to do to put up a different opera every night remains the same.

Bill Hunt has a “virtual tour” of Bob Burns’ massive movie prop collection. Scroll to the bottom of the article to see a slideshow of all the historical film props he has in his collection. Burns has been collecting for decades, and has quite a few unique pieces, including the only surviving King Kong armature from the original 1933 production.

Here’s a shorter interview of a working prop-maker; Rosie Tonkin is a UK-based freelancer and artist. It’s an interesting comparison between a young prop maker at the start of her career like Tonkin and a seasoned veteren like Barnett up above.

Finally, at last week’s Burlington Mini Maker Faire, I was making a miniature Dr. Who TARDIS out of paper, and handing away sheets to people to make their own. If you didn’t get one, or you couldn’t make it to the fair, you can download and print your own TARDIS, complete with instructions.

Make your own TARDIS
Make your own TARDIS