Tag Archives: Skills

1903 Lectures on the Property Man’s Job

I recently came upon the 1903-1904 academic catalog for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. At that time, it was a two-year program for young men aged sixteen to seventeen. The school still exists, granting two-year associates degrees to aspiring actors.

All students at the time were given introductory lectures in the various technical departments on stage. The lecture on props has a bullet-point list of all the topic covered, which I have reprinted below. It is fascinating to see the list of what a props person was responsible for and what skills they were required to have from over 110 years ago, and compare it to today.

The lectures were given by a Mr. Wilfred Buckland, with assistance by Mr. Edgar J. M. Hart (no relation) and Miss Louise Musson. The topics of the lectures are as follows:

The Property Man’s Work in Preparing a Production:

  • The property plot
  • cabinet work
  • paper work
  • upholstery, furniture, bric-à-brac, carpets, rugs, hangings
  • stage props
  • side props
  • hand props
  • written letters
  • inserts in newspapers

The Property Man’s Work at Performance:

  • Helpers and clearers
  • system
  • the property room
  • laying the floor cloth
  • setting the stage
  • marking
  • dressing a scene
  • hanging curtains
  • hanging side props
  • effects
  • apparatuses
  • flash pans
  • rain box
  • thunder box
  • thunder crash
  • glass crash
  • carriage roll
  • knocks
  • snow box
  • salt
  • fuller’s earth
  • blowers
  • leaves, stumps, and grass mats
  • animals
  • the rosin box
  • eatables

Striking Properties:

  • Clearing
  • handling furniture
  • care of props

You can read the whole 1903 Annual Catalog of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts here.

 

 

Skills to Pay the Bills

If there is a specific type of prop you want to build, or a specific style or medium you want to work in, find the companies that specialize in that. Fill your portfolio with that kind of work. If you want to build sci-fi weapons for instance, but all your previous work is in constructing furniture, employers won’t necessarily make the leap that your furniture construction skills will translate into sci-fi weapon-making. Even if you have to build your own props on your own time, do it.

This is also true for skills you lack; a lot of theatres with a one-person prop shop are looking for well-rounded prop makers, which includes being able to upholster. I never learned how to upholster, so I started practicing it every chance I could get, and taking on any little upholstery project I could.

Once you are out of school, no one will be around to guide you with what you need to learn next, so you should always be experimenting with new skills, new materials and new techniques.