Tag Archives: story

Top Prop News of 2011

I will be taking the next week off for the Holidays, so it will be 2012 the next time you read this. The world of props isn’t exactly one of constant change, but news stories occasionally affect us. I’ve narrowed down four of the most notable ones of 2011. Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. E-Cigarettes are banned in Boston workplaces. I am not sure how this affects their use on stage. I’ve written about e-cigarettes before on this site as their legal status and safety issues are constantly changing and evolving. Expect e-cigarettes to continue to make the news in 2012.
  2. Guns on the set of Brad Pitt’s World War Z were seized by Hungarian authorities. This story first appeared with sensationalistic flair in the gossip and tabloid sites; they got most of the facts completely wrong, and the real story was far more interesting to props people. I did my own round-up and debunking of what really happened.
  3. Occupy Wall Street began on September 17th, and dominated the news through much of the autumn, and is still happening in various forms throughout the world. If you’ve looked at any of the photographs, you may have seen some protesters wearing a certain kind of mask. “Say,” you ask yourself, “isn’t that a prop from the film V for Vendetta?” It is, and several news articles discussed who is behind the masks and interviewed Alan Moore, creator of the original V for Vendetta comic.
  4. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is soliciting comments from the public on new proposals for table saw safety. If you are familiar with the SawStop technology, they are basically considering whether to make that technology mandatory on new table saws (You can read the actual proposal here). The Popular Woodworking blog has been keeping up to date with this story since it began, as this will have quite the effect on anyone working on the carpentry side of things.

Friday Funnies

Here are some whimsical tales to tickle your funny bone on this Friday.

When Macready opened in “Lear” at the Nottingham Theatre the “property man” received his plot for the play in the unsual manner, a map being required among the many articles–(map highly necessary for Lear to divide his Kingdom.) The property-man, being illiterate, read mop for map. At night the tragedy commences; Macready, in full stage on his throne, calls for his map; a supernumerary “noble,” kneeling, presents the aged King a white curly mop. The astounded actor rushed off the stage, dragging the unfortunate nobleman and his mop with him, actors and audience wild with delight.

-The New York Times. February 6, 1881

Imagine King Lear being handed a mop! Priceless! This next chestnut is quite a gem as well.

The other night the critical scene in “Iris,” in which Oscar Asche “breaks up housekeeping,” was almost spoiled by a property man. To avenge a fancied wrong the man glued down the vases on the mantle which Mr. Asche breaks first. When that trying scene came Mr. Asche turned Iris into the streets as usual, and turned to the vases. With a sweep of his hand he struck them. They were so firmly glued, however, that only the tops were broken by the blow–and Mr. Asche’s hand incidentally bruised. A property man is now looking for a new job.

-The New York Times. November 2, 1902

Oh that wacky property man! This final anecdote takes place at one of the first theatres I worked at professionally.

Another story which has to do with edibles on the stage used to be told by Joseph Jefferson, who described the incident as happening in the early days of the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia. “Camille” was the piece that was being played and all was going beautifully. Then came a scene between Camille and Armand, in the course of which a a servant was to enter with lights. “In those days,” said Mr. Jefferson, “Sea Island cotton was stage ice cream, just as molasses and water was stage wine.”

Armand and Camille were seated at the table and the crowded house was rapturuously following their scene. Then in came the maidservant with the wobbliest sort of a candelabrum, but the scene was so tense that nobody seemed to notice her. However, as she set down her burden between the lovers one of the candles toppled over and set fire to the ice cream. That was more than the audience could stand and the curtain was rung down.

-The New York Times. June 5, 1910

Sounds like that show was “on fire” that night! I hope these quirky little tales leave you smiling for the weekend.

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?

Friday’s Link-tacular

It seems like everyone is working on at least one, if not more, shows at the moment. I should have some cooler stuff to write about in a few weeks. Until then, enjoy another list of links!

Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet, London 1870

A skull for Hamlet

From The Truth about the Stage, by Corin, 1885 (pp. 53-57)

Chapter 2: Stage Traps and Pitfalls – Stage Properties

Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet, London 1870
Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet, London 1870

Now, throughout the whole range of dramatic literature, there is no play easier to produce than Shakespeare’s noble tragedy of “Hamlet.” In the most wretchedly-appointed theatre an old green baize, a rampart set, a palace arch chamber, a back landscape, and a pair of castle gates are usually to be found. And what temple of the drama does not possess a couple of huge throne chairs, upholstered with Turkey twill and all ablaze with Dutch metal. The bare announcement that “Hamlet” would be played for one night was sufficient to gladden the hearts of the stage-carpenter and the property-man. The prompter would scribble his plots, i.e., lists of scenery and accessories required for the tragedy in a few moments, and many an experienced property-master would scorn to accept a “plot” of “Hamlet.” There is, however, one most important “property” used in the first scene of the fifth act of that tragedy, and its absence would be fatal alike to the Gravedigger and the Prince of Denmark. It is nothing more nor less than a human skull – Yorick’s skull! Now, the managers of some provincial theatres cannot boast of having in their heterogeneous collection of properties a real cranium viri. Consequently, the ingenuity of the property-man, that veritable Jack-of-all-trades, is frequently put to a severe test before a presentable substitute can be produced. Continue reading