I just stumbled upon this video from a few years back that goes behind the scenes at the Walnut Street Theatre’s props and scenery shop. I was a stagehand apprentice there back in 2001, and spent a bit of time learning how to build things in that shop, an old military magazine in northeast Philadelphia. So check them out as they build props and scenery for The King and I:
Here is a look at History for Hire, a large prop rental and fabrication shop in LA. The video below takes us through part of their fabrication shop, with the added bonus of showing some of the pieces they were working on for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
They have a number of other episodes showing more of History for Hire’s warehouse; I’ve arranged them into a playlist so you can watch them all in order if you like.
The following is the conclusion of a newspaper article about the property shop of E. L. Morse on Twenty-ninth Street in New York City. The article first appeared in The New York Times on May 8, 1904, and Mr. Morse’s property shop is long gone. I have previously posted the introduction, a bit on Morse’s career, a story of a fake fish he built, all the skills a prop maker must possess, making things from papier mache, and dealing with people who don’t know what they want.
The old property master is thoroughly happy in his dusty den. He stays there from early morning till dusk. He likes the room so much that he brings his lunch with him to avoid going out for it. It is evident, after a moment’s talk with him, that his is not living and working at his trade every day merely for the shekels that may come to him.
Every object in the dingy place brings back the memory of some man or playhouse formerly dear to him. He hates to throw away anything that has been put on the stage and has come back to him. It is not so much that he made as it is that So-and-So wore or handled it.
The visitor to his shop some rainy afternoon will find a unique sort of gathering. Of the ten or a dozen men sitting around on old couches, chairs, or boxes, not one but is a stage carpenter, property maker, or in some way connected with the behind-the-scenes phase of the theatrical business.
They all know Morse, and they have come to chat with him. Most of them are as old and experienced as he is, and consequently they have a sort of reverence for him. They talk of theatrical affairs from fifty years ago up to the present day. They argue over whether a stage that was torn down thirty years ago had one trap door or two, whether it was 35 or 40 feet broad. Their hands linger fondly over scroll saws and other implements, and they never leave at nightfall without heaving a sigh that the hours have passed so quickly.
It is their greatest joy—this discussion of their trade and of the good old days. And there is nowhere they would rather go for their gossip than to the half-hidden shop labeled “E. L. Morse, Theatrical Properties.”
This article first appeared in the New York Times, May 8, 1904.
It is the end of another week, and time for another round of the best props-related articles on the web:
Anna Warren continues adding great projects and articles at her Fake ‘n Bake blog. The latest shows a vintage Cheetos bag filled with vintage Cheetos that still allowed the actor to eat healthy (and non-staining) snacks during the actual performance.
Ron Paulk has a really well-made woodworking shop that fits in the back of his truck. Not only is there a video and pictures to give you a tour, but he has put the Sketchup plans online so you can download them for free. Though prop shops rarely need to be mobile, most of us work out of spaces not too much larger than Ron’s truck, so it is useful to see what space-saving methods he has come up with.
The Original Prop Blog has an interesting post about the Harry Crocker museum, which may have been the first Hollywood memorabilia museum, dating back to 1928.
Chris Schwartz has a great piece about making sure your obsession with the tools does not get in the way of actually practicing your craft.
Finally, if you like Star Trek, you really want to see this photograph.
This past weekend I made a trip up to Cornwall, NY, to visit Costume Armour. Brian Wolfe, the general manager, happily showed me around the shop, storage areas and all the pieces they have on display. Costume Armour was founded over 50 years ago by Peter and Katherine Feller, and later purchased by theatrical sculptor Nino Novellino in 1976, and has produced pieces for nearly every Broadway show since then.
The piece that kind of began Costume Armour is the armor from the original Broadway production of The Man of La Mancha. Before then, armor was either leather, felt or heavy metal. They solved many problems by vacuum forming a suit of armor from newly sculpted molds based off of historical research. Though the suit itself predates the company, Novellino made it while working with Peter Feller on the vacuum forming machines built by Feller to construct the Vatican pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair. Costume Armour still has those machines, and they are part of what makes their company extraordinary. The vacuum tank is over 1000 gallons, and they can produce pieces from sheets of plastic as large as 52″ by 12′-0″.
The shop was in the midst of a big order for the Disney Jedi Training Academy, Star Wars Weekends and Celebration, which they have been doing since 2004.
I was interested to learn that the shop still uses Celastic quite a bit for many of their sculptures. The original brand-named Celastic has long ceased being manufactured, though they did have a few rolls stock-piled for those extra-special projects (pictured above). The modern equivalents are a bit thicker, but act the same; the cloth is saturated with acetone, than draped or molded over a form or sculpture, and when the acetone evaporates, you are left with a rigid and rock hard surface. Brian explained that it is unrivaled for making realistically-sculpted drapes and clothes on statues.
So I stand corrected on my earlier article on Celastic, in which I claimed that it is rarely used and that there are less toxic alternatives that can do the same thing. Of course, using it requires the proper safeguards for dealing with large buckets of acetone, but working with most materials in the props shop requires understanding and protecting yourself against any potential hazards and toxins.
While I saw something cool around every corner, I thought I would point out the above picture. They cast a head based off of a scan and model of the Shroud of Turin, so what you have here is what many believe to be the real head of Jesus. He is, of course, on a shelf next to a C-3PO mask.
The statue pictured above was produced was was sculpted in foam, molded in silicone and cast in fiberglass . Though larger than me, I could easily pick it up off the ground; most of the weight, in fact, came from the plywood base, and not the statue itself.
Novellino was featured in the American Theatre Wing’s In the Wings series; watch the video to learn more about the company and to see the vacuum forming machines in action.