Tag Archives: Society of Properties Artisan Managers

BRT prop shop

Berkeley Repertory Theatre prop shop

During the 2010 S*P*A*M Conference, we visited the Berkeley Rep prop shop. Even if you’re not familiar with the Berkeley Rep, you’ve probably heard of some of the shows that came from there: American Idiot and In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) are two of the more recent shows which have come to New York City. Ashley Dawn, the prop master at Berkeley Rep and one of the hosts of the Conference, graciously gave us a tour of their prop shop.

BRT prop shop
BRT prop shop

The prop shop is located within the same building as the theatre. Notice all the dust collection hoses. Also, the shop is very clean, and every nook and cranny has some form of boxes, bins, drawers or shelves for storage. Though hectic at first glance, it was actually very clean and well-organized, and once you knew your way around, it seemed it would be easy to quickly locate whatever you needed.

BRT prop shop
BRT prop shop

Berkeley Rep is fairly similar to the Public Theatre in terms of the size and number of shows produced in a season. In fact, many shows we do are co-productions. It was inspiring to see how they’ve organized their limited space to handle the demands of their shows, particularly because our own shop is larger. It would appear one can always squeeze more use out of a space, no matter how small.

Sign over the BRT prop shop
Sign over the BRT prop shop

They have a separate area for welding and working with metal, which is also shared by the scene shop when they are at the theatre loading in a show. During the rest of the time, the scenery is built and painted at a much larger building a few miles away. In the near future, they are getting a new facility where scenery, props and costumes are all housed together; the prop shop I just showed you will soon be no more.

Midsummer Errata

Tonight and tomorrow night finally see the official openings of our two Shakespeare in the Park shows done in repertory: A Winter’s Tale and Merchant of Venice. I’ve been working on these shows since February, so it’s a bit strange at the moment to think of them as “done”.

Merchant received a particularly glowing review in the New York Times. It spends a bit of time discussing the set, and even goes so far as to point out particular props, something which is exceedingly rare in reviews at this level.

A spotlighted ticker-tape machine sits commandingly center stage as the play begins, right across from a manual exchange board.

That ticker-tape was made by the very talented Natalie Hart. The body was re-purposed from the inside of the gramophone machine which also appears on stage; the plastic dome had to be custom made by a plastics company she found. It seems one company in America used to make acrylic bell jars like the one we needed; I remember buying one for a ticker-tape machine I had to build back in 2002. When Natalie contacted them and told them it was for a theatre show, the owner asked, “Is it for Beauty and the Beast“? It would seem many productions of that show eventually find this same company. Unfortunately, they have ceased manufacturing them, and the only options these days is to have one custom-built like we did, find a used one, or go with the dangerous option of using a glass one on stage.

I’ll be remiss if I don’t thank all the other artisans, shoppers and interns who worked so hard on these two shows and helped create something so wonderful and amazing. I’ll be sure to go into more depth of what I’ve experienced and learned from these once I get some rest and some photographs.

Later this month, I’ll be attending my first S*P*A*M conference in the Bay Area. S*P*A*M (The Society of Properties Artisan Managers) includes the heads of properties departments at most of the countries regional theatres, educational theatre programs, and many other theatres of comparable size. Every year they have a conference to network, share stories and experiences, and take part in some activities. This is my first time going since I’ve joined, and I’m really excited to both meet so many people I’ve heard about and communicated with through email, and to visit San Francisco for my first time.

We will be touring the prop shops of Berkeley Repertory Theatre and American Conservatory Theater, as well as the Pixar Studios. In addition, we will be participating in a workshop by Monona Rossol, the President and founder of Arts, Crafts and Theater Safety, Inc. Those of you who’ve spent a summer at the Santa Fe Opera know her from the annual Safety Day which all artisans and employees are required to attend every two years. I’ve been through her seminar twice as a properties carpenter; it will be interesting to attend as a properties master.

On a final note, if you visit this website regularly, you may notice it undergoing various tweaking and modifying. If you have any comments or suggestions on how to make it more useful in terms of organization, or more pretty in terms of… prettiness, please feel free to share them with me.

S*P*A*M website relaunches

S*P*A*M (The Society of Properties Artisan Managers) is a group of theatrical prop managers, directors, and educators throughout the United States. If there is a larger prop shop in a regional, non-profit, or university theater, chances are the prop master is a member of S*P*A*M.

Over the weekend, they relaunched their S*P*A*M website to include a lot of useful information about who they are and what they do. Readers of this site will be familiar with the Properties Director Handbook, which was written by Sandra Strawn (a member of S*P*A*M) and includes information and photographs from a variety of other S*P*A*M members. The PropPeople discussion forum is another resource that was initially set up by S*P*A*M members. And of course, yours truly is a member.

Of greatest interest for now is the list of props internships they provide. If you were interested in learning how to work in props through an internship, this is where you will find a shop. While there may be other companies who offer internships, you run the risk of working somewhere that uses interns as free labor and impart no educational value; working long hours for little pay in a theatrical setting is not the same as learning a craft. In addition, the companies in this list are the companies that are recognized throughout the country and will help you with future employment.