Tag Archives: StageBitz

Chairs as far as the eye can see.

USITT 2013 Wrap-Up

This past week was the 53rd USITT conference in Milwaukee. This year’s conference featured a lot of things for props people. I couldn’t get to them all, but I saw a lot of them. I took notes which I may go through later, but since I’m writing this on the flight home (and have to work first thing in the morning), I’ll just give the highlights.

First off, there was the Expo floor, filled with companies, organizations and universities peddling their wares. Wonderflex World had plenty of samples of their products, including a sneak peek of a new product coming out soon that is pretty exciting.

Smooth-On had their usual cool booth with all the rubber monsters and foam cinder blocks you can make with their products. There’s a possibility I may start getting samples of their new products to test out for this blog. That would be neat.

StageBitz had demos of their props management and inventory software. I first tested them out about two years ago, and it’s almost completely different now (in a good way). You can do a 3-week free trial of their software from their website, which is really the only way to start discovering how easy and seamless this can make propping a show, from letting the designer share images and research with you, to letting you send the designer pictures of items in your stock, to keeping up with changes in rehearsal, creating to-do lists to send to your artisans and shoppers, maintaining a budget, to finally adding all the props to your stock when the show closes.

RC4 Wireless Dimming had tiny wireless dimmers. It sounds simple, but it’s amazing how these little devices act so seamlessly to let you control any sort of battery-powered light or motor from your theatre’s lighting console. I also attended a session called “Wireless Light and Motion for Propmasters”, where a couple theatres were showing off various ways they used the RC4 units.

One of the last sessions of the conference was on sustainability in design and production led by Donyale Werle. It included the exciting unveiling of the College Green Captain Toolkit, based off of the already-successful program which every Broadway show participates in (I’ll post a link when it appears, or you can contact the Broadway Green Alliance for more information). Jacob Coakley from Stage Directions Magazine live-blogged much of the session.

An earlier session on “Reimagining Theatre with Green Ideals” also featured information about sustainability and the Broadway Green Alliance. Once again, Jacob Coakley live-blogged the whole discussion.

“Grave Matters” was a session with a lot of good tips and tricks for making gore and corpses. One of the speakers, Gary Benson, has his presentation online , including step-by-step photographs of how he made some skulls.

“You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out” was a bit disappointing since 3 of the 4 presenters could not be there. However, you can check out the handouts on firearm safety that they had. You will also find a link for a survey they are running to discover how various theatres deal with guns on stage (and off). I’m not sure how long that link will last, so you should download those files rather than bookmarking them.

I got to check out the Young Designer’s Forum, which had some great work. I was also able to meet two of my future coworkers this summer at the Santa Fe Opera.

The Milwaukee Rep props shop hosted a SPAM get-together at their space, though it was nice to see plenty of non-SPAM props masters and prop makers there as well. I wrote about their shop for Stage Directions this month, but to actually see their work space and storage facilities in person was a great treat.

Chairs as far as the eye can see.
Chairs as far as the eye can see.

Oh yeah, I also sold out of my book by the end of my signing. The response has been overwhelming so far. I am ecstatic that so many people are excited about this book, and I can’t wait to hear back from those of you who use it or teach from it.

Did I forget anything about the conference? Was there something I missed? Let me know in the comments what you saw at USITT that excited you.

USITT 2013

By the time you read this, I should be in Milwaukee for the 53rd annual conference of the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT). This is the largest US conference dedicated solely to design, production and technology in theatre and other live entertainment. If you follow me on Twitter, I’ll be twitting about events during the conference. I thought I’d take a moment to share some events and sessions that may be of interest to props people who will be there.

First up, as if I haven’t written about it enough already, is my book signing. Stage Directions Magazine is hosting the signing on Friday, March 22nd, at 12:30 pm, at Booth 100, located in the far corner of the exhibition (to the left of the entrance, on the side of the hall with Cover the Walls).

In the same vein, be sure to check out the book signing for The Properties Director’s Handbook by Sandra Strawn. It will be held at the USITT Booth/Market Place on Friday, at 4:30 pm. The book is a great complement to my own; Sandy was also the technical editor on my book.

The Society of Properties Artisan Managers (S*P*A*M) has a booth at the Expo; I will be behind the counter on Saturday morning from 9:30-11am. Come check it out at table 670, in front of the USITT Booth & Marketplace, and right across from IATSE Local One’s booth.

If you go to the New Product Showcase (often called “Swag and Brag”, held Thursday night from 7-9pm), keep your eyes and ears open for Stagebitz. They will be giving away copies of my book, as well as copies of The Properties Directors Handbook. Check out their booth as well, #1260 in the far corner diagonally opposite from Stage Directions’.

A few panels devoted to props have caught my eye this year:

  • On Wednesday morning at 8am (yikes!) is “3D printing for the Stage”. One of the presenters, Owen Collins, was featured in my own article on 3D printing, “Printing a Set“.
  • Wednesday at 1pm is a session on stage firearm safety called “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out!” Despite the accidents that have happened in the past, I still hear horror stories of dangerous practices with firearms on stage, so this should be a very useful session for any prop master dealing with weapons.
  • At 6pm on Wednesday is “Wireless Light and Motion for Props Masters”. The presenters include the guys at RC4 Wireless, who make small wireless dimmers and radio control devices intended for theatre.
  • Thursday morning at 9:30am is “Reimagining Theatre with Green Ideals”. While it’s not specifically geared toward props, it does involve set design and production, so props people may get something out of it.
  • On Friday at 2:30pm is perhaps one of the most promising sessions on props: “Grave Matters.” With discussions about stage gore, severed limbs and dead bodies, it should be a bloody good time. With my former instructor Tom Fiocchi as one of the presenters, it should be fairly high-energy as well.
  • Saturday has another 8am session (bleh) called “Preparing Props People”. While it is focused on what educators should be teaching future props masters, students and early career props people may find it useful to see if their own education is complete enough.
  • At 2pm on Saturday, Donyale Werle will be discussing the art of green scenery. Donyale won the Tony last year for Peter and the Starcatcher, as well as a Lucille Lortel Award for the off-Broadway production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (which I was assistant props master on). Her talks on using recycled materials for sets and props are always enlightening.

Stagebitz and Opera Australia

Stagebitz is an online project management software which first began beta-testing back in 2010. It’s designed to streamline all the tasks you handle when propping a show (or when working on scenery, costumes, etc.). They have recently secured a hefty investment that will allow the development of the software to really take off over the next few years; they will be at USITT this year where you can play around with the software and ask them any questions you wish.

But that’s not what this post is about. They have also brought on Mat Lawrence, who, up until now, was the head of props manufacturing at Opera Australia (whose home is the Sydney Opera House). The video below shows them working on the props and puppets for Julie Taymor’s 2012 Magic Flute. It looks like some pretty intense work there, and it is the kind of props shop many of us dream of working in.

Top Prop News of 2010

With the end of 2010 fast approaching, I thought I would take a look back on some of the major news stories which have affected the world of props. The world of props is not really a fast-changing industry, so changes in the world are slow to impact all of us working in props. Still, a few stories this year have enough of an impact to be worth mentioning here.

SPAM website relaunches – The Society of Properties Artisan Managers is the largest organization of props masters and directors in the United States, with members from most of the major regional and educational theatres and operas. In the past, information about them or how to contact them seemed shrouded in mystery (though not on purpose). That changed in March with the launching of a new website, www.propmasters.org, which is more geared to props people seeking information on them and how they can get involved.

StageBitz software enters beta testing – This story just squeezed into this past year, and I don’t have much to report on it. StageBitz is a new (and possibly the first) online tool for professional props management. We’ve seen several minor attempts at software aimed toward the props master, though many of us end up adapting more general software, such as Microsoft Office, FileMaker Pro, or Google Docs for our needs. I’ll be beta-testing StageBitz through next March, and letting you all know how it is.

E-cigarettes – E-cigarettes continue to be in the news. As one of the few viable alternatives for on-stage cigarettes in many venues, prop masters and directors should be interested in the current legal state of using them. This past year, I summarized their current situation, which began with a July, 2009, report by the FDA on the potential health hazards of e-cigarettes. They were attempting to classify them as a drug-delivery device, which would allow them to enact a ban and prevent their importation, as opposed to a tobacco product, which would be regulated similarly to regular cigarettes (and not banned). Last January, the FDA attempted to block the shipment of e-cigarettes into the US, but a federal judge ruled against it. In September, they again attempted to classify e-cigarettes as a drug-delivery device rather than a tobacco product; a drug-delivery device, such as nicotine patches or gum, needs to be “proven safe and effective”, and so e-cigarettes can be effectively banned unless they underwent rigorous (and costly) testing to prove their efficacy as a stop-smoking aid. As a tobacco product, they are subject to far less regulation (a major problem is that many e-cigarette manufacturers insist on marketing their products as “safe alternatives to smoking” and helpful in quitting cigarettes, yet argue in court that they are merely recreational tobacco products. They’re trying to have it both ways). The court stopped the FDA from banning e-cigarettes. Finally, this past December, an appellate court withheld this ruling, and as of the end of this year, e-cigarettes remain legal in the US and most likely will be regulated as a tobacco product.
What’s most frustrating in all of this is that, as a prop, we are only interested in the zero-nicotine versions of e-cigarettes. In other words, we don’t need either a drug-delivery device or a tobacco product; what we want is something more akin to a mini–theatrical fogger.

Donmar Warehouse actor shot in face – David Birrell, an actor in a West End production of Sondheim’s Passion, was injured in his eye when a blank-firing replica flintlock rifle misfired, and taken to the hospital. He nearly lost his eye. This incident reinforced to prop masters and directors everywhere that when it comes to blank-firing weapons onstage, you can never be too safe.

Original Stargate auctioned off – Now, props from television and movies are constantly being auctioned off, so I’ll admit this one is included in the list due to my own personal excitement. Still, it does have some more significance than your average prop auction. Stargate SG-1 was the longest-running American sci-fi series, and when it ended, they began auctioning off most of the props and scenery. This past September, the actual Stargate used on location (not the one used on set) came up for sale. It had been created for the pilot episode and was used throughout the entire ten-year run of the show.

Reoccurring prop newspaper – This wasn’t so much a 2010 “event” as it was a thrilling series of investigative journalism that broke this past June. Starting with a compilation of images from TV and film that showed characters reading the same newspaper, the following day, an article in Slashfilm expanded on this and went viral. A few days later, Slate Magazine had tracked down not only the source—the Earl Hays Press in California—but also the reason: getting clearance to use real newspapers takes time and money.

My list ends here. I’ve covered all of these stories on either this blog or on my Twitter, so if you follow each, you’ll always be up-to-date on news that affects you as a props person. I’m sure many other stories happened in 2010 which are relevant to the props practitioner, so I leave it up to you: what are your favorite events, tools, materials or anecdotes that came out of the past year?

The First Links of Winter

Christmas is fast approaching, so I have less time to write, and you have less time to read. But if you really need your props fix, here are some fun links to check out:

Vacuum Bagging – If you’ve ever worked with fiberglass or carbon fiber, you may find vacuum bagging to be a helpful way to squeeze the layers together. I’ve even seen it used to laminate veneer into bent plywood. This is a great tutorial.

Wooden Halo Gun – Over on the 405th (a site for those interested in prop and costume replicas for the Halo video games), a member is documenting the gun he is building from scratch. The cool part is that the original model he made is constructed out of wood. Go carpentry!

Medical Objects brought to life – The Science Museum in London has photographs of over 3,000 of the objects in their “History of Medicine” collection. It’s a great research source, and also a fascinating collection of curious objects to just peruse.

Typewriters – A lovely collection of vintage typewriters.

StageBitz – This looks interesting; online software to manage your prop lists. It’s still in beta testing, but I’m one of the beta testers, so I’ll let you know how it is.