Tag Archives: paper props

Dead Rock Follies poster

Crazy for You Props

I have already shown off some of the props in the recent production of Crazy for You which I prop mastered, but I thought I would show a bit more of what I did on that show.

The saloon in "Crazy for You"
The saloon in “Crazy for You”

The saloon was one of the larger set pieces in this production. I dressed it out with photographs, plaques, signs and other items. Several of the objects were rigged for “tricks”, including the cuckoo clock on the second floor above the man in the apron, the antlers above the piano, and the jar on top of the piano (I highlighted the piano in a previous post). I also built the two tables you see above.

Turned table legs
Turned table legs

I turned the legs on a lathe to match a table the set designer and I both liked. Even though the scope and scale of this show was already pretty huge, taking the time to turn these legs really helped transform the scene.

Breaking the hotel sign
Breaking the hotel sign

The saloon also had a “hotel” sign hanging throughout the show. In the second act, the hotel’s proprietor finally grabs the sign and smashes it over his head. I made a new sign for every performance. It was a piece of lauan with grooves scored in the back with a Dremel to make it easy to break. The front was painted with a quick wash and then the letters were spray-painted on with a stencil I made.


I needed to find a set of antlers for one of the tricks, but had no such luck. I ended up buying some fake antlers; these are meant to simulate the sound of real antlers hitting each other and are used by hunters to draw out deer. I cut out a plaque with a routed edge, mounted the antlers, and painted everything.

Dancing benches
Dancing benches

Several other scenes used a number of benches which saw some heavy-duty use. These benches were carried around (sometimes with people on them), danced on, tapped on and walked on. We had three benches in stock that they liked (from a previous production of The Crucible), so I constructed three more to match.

Dead Rock Follies poster
Dead Rock Follies poster

I did some graphic design on this show as well. The set designer found a great research image for the signs, which were meant to invoke a community vaudeville show performed out West in the 1930s. I mimicked the colors and layout of the research, changing the words on the poster to match what was in the script. The poster above was printed out three feet tall. I also adapted the size and scale of the poster so a similar image could be used on the flyers and programs that were also props in this show.

Chez Lank
Chez Lank

The penultimate scene in the play takes place in the Main Street of the town. Though this set piece appears throughout the play, it has been transformed for this last scene into a more fancy French-inspired café. The waiters bring out trays with fancy napkins on them during a brief musical number. The set designer and I decided it would be a nice touch if the napkins would be folded rather than just draped over their arms, so we found instructions for folding a napkin into a fleur-de-lis shape. A prop master is always finding little touches like that to shape the details in the props.


Crazy for You, Elon University.

Directed by Catherine McNeela.

Choreography by Linda Sabo.

Set Design by Natalie Taylor Hart.

Lighting Design by Bill Webb.

Costume Design by Jack Smith.

Sound Design by Michael Smith.


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:



Memorial Day Links

Happy Memorial Day, everybody. Just a short list of links today.

This Ode to a Props Master, by Marissa Bidella, is quite fun.

Magazines from the Future shows off some of the covers of magazines which appeared in the background of the film Blade Runner.

Propnomicon has attempted a gaff of a Mongolian Death Worm using only the traditional materials that the original gaffs were made of: paper, flour, cotton fiber and glue. A “gaff” is a fake “speciman” of an imaginary creature used by carnivals to get people to visit their sideshows. PT Barnum made some of the most famous gaffs, such as the Feejee Mermaid.

March Link Madness

Well, March is almost over, but there is still time to fill in your bracket for March Musical Theatre Madness! You can also enjoy the links I’ve come up with below:

I’ve linked to some repositories of old maps before, which are always good for making paper props. But the Propnomicon website pointed me to Old Maps Online, which gives you an interactive interface to find historical maps within whatever date range you specify. It’s kind of like using Google Maps while traveling through time.

Speaking of vintage ephemera (and musical theatre), Gaytwogether is a blog which occasionally posts vintage photographs of gay couples, which you can browse through all at once at that link.

La Bricoleuse has just posted the final projects from her class on complex masks. Though little is written, the photographs give a lot of information about how the various masks were made, and it is very interesting to see the various methods of construction and the materials used.

Most of us know the Project Triangle: “fast, cheap and good—you can have any two”. For those who don’t, Jesse Gaffney has just posted a good description of it, along with examples.

If you study the technical side of some of the materials used in making props, you may know that “polymerization” is what happens when a resin changes from a liquid to a hard plastic (among other things). If you read MSDS sheets (which you should), you may also have come across the phrase “explosive polymerization”. If, like me, you are wondering what that means, you may be interested in this video; it has a long build-up, but the payoff is worth it.

A Property Man’s Confession, 1903

The following article comes from The New York Times, February 15, 1903:

A property man who has seen many years of service in New York theatres, and who has just lost his position on account of an oversight that almost ruined a first-night production, talked to a New York Times reporter about the difficulties that beset property men in general.

“If an actor takes any pride in his part,” he said, “he usually looks after his personal properties himself. He never takes any chances on making a bull on his part through the forgetfulness of a property man. If it is necessary for him to find a coin, a roll of bills, or a letter in his pocket, he goes to the property room for it before he goes on the stage. But if, on the other hand, he is expected to find a dagger on a table or a note hidden in a desk, he never worries about it. He takes it as a matter of course that the property man has put it there before the curtain goes up. If the property man has a reputation for forgetfulness, (and he soon loses his job if he has,) the actor or actress manages to take a look over the scene before the curtain rises to see that all is right.

“The general impression with an audience when an actor reads a letter on the stage is that he is merely glancing at blank paper and that the lines of the letter have been committed to memory with the rest of the part. As a matter of fact, this is seldom the case, especially with women. Many of them copy the letter themselves. I have even known them to copy the letter in Lady Macbeth.

“Some very amusing stage bulls have happened over the blank letter business for which stage managers have exacted a good many dollars in fines. I remember on one occasion a playwright who is known in the profession for having the lines emphasized exactly as he wants them, and who has some very peculiar ideas as to ‘business,’ decided to change an important letter within three hours of the first performance. He went to his club to write it. When the curtain went up he had not returned. The stage manager had mislaid the original letter, so the villain in the play went on with a blank letter and did the best he could from the text of the original, which he had not taken the trouble to memorize. After the first act we received word that the playwright, in his hurry to get across Broadway, had been run over by a newspaper wagon and was in a bad way at the Roosevelt Hospital. The play failed, and was taken off before he got a chance to see it. But he always blamed the failure on the letter that never came.

“My finish was over a letter to be read in a play we were producing for the first time in Brooklyn. There was a very long communication in that referring to complications over an estate, and expressed in very technical terms. The leading lady had expressly told me that she could not commit such a thing to memory, and asked me to copy it. I promised to do so, and forgot all about it. The letter was delivered by messenger to the actress on the stage, while she was talking to the man who wanted to get control of her property. She tore open the envelope, saw the blank sheet, and paused for a moment. I wondered what she was going to do. She had nerve, I tell you.

“‘Oh, these business letters,’ she exclaimed, petulantly, ‘what a nuisance they are. Here, you read it,’ handing it over to the man.

“He grasped the situation, and the blood rushed to his face. ‘Bless me,’ he exclaimed, ‘there must be something wrong about this. I must find the messenger who delivered it.’ Then he made a rapid exit.

“It took five minutes for him to get around to the prompter, and secure the manuscript of the play. Meanwhile the actress moved about the stage arranging some flowers, and toying with some things on the mantelpiece. When the actor returned he had a bunch of manuscript four inches thick, from which he read one page of typewritten letter that told what was coming in the next three acts. Some one in the audience took the story to the newspapers, and the next morning the incident got everything that was coming, and I received a note from the management with two weeks salary in lieu of notice.”

Originally published in The New York Times, February 15, 1903.