Tag Archives: Tom Fiocchi

A Friday of Websites

A Friday of Websites

Not too much going on this week. Everyone seems to be transitioning from regular seasons/school to summer work. Still, there were some interesting things on the Internet in the past couple of days:

My latest article for Stage Directions Magazine is up. “Fast, Cheap and Under Control” takes a look at how you build a prop when that prop has never been built before. I interviewed several props people for their perspectives on this particularly perplexing problem; Tom Fiocchi, props instructor at Ohio University; Lori Harrison, props director at San Francisco Opera; and Seán McArdle, worldwide freelance prop maker.

Speaking of Stage Directions, I interviewed Kacie Hultgren in an earlier article about 3D printing for theatre. Make Magazine has revisited Kacie to see what she has been up to lately.

Joshua Meltzer, prop master on the show Dexter, shares 14 bloodthirsty secrets from the “Dexter” set. Some of the shocking secrets? They don’t actually cut the actors with knives.

Finally, do you know the proper way to chuck a drill bit?

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.
Props at the Ohio University booth

USITT 2011 Wrap-Up

Props at the Ohio University booth
Props at the Ohio University booth

This will be my last post about this year’s USITT conference. I would have done a more extensive wrap-up, but I had to jump straight into tech for “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide…” immediately upon returning to New York City. Instead, I’ll highlight some summaries from around the web. Much of USITT is very lighting/audio/automation oriented. Since the coverage of props is so under-served, I promise to do a more in-depth post next year.

One of the sessions I attended was “Everything is a Weapon”. Tom Fiocchi, one of my first prop teachers, was joined on stage with Wayne Smith, Brian Ruggaber, and a giant marlin fish with a sword for a nose. The session dealt with what factors make a weapon “stage combat–worthy”, and how to apply those factors to objects that were never intended to be weapons. Jacob Coakley has a great summary of the workshop on TheatreFace if you want to learn more.

Tech Expo is a display of interesting and innovative technical solutions to theatrical problems. The best ones are selected to be published in a catalog after the exhibition. La Bricoleuse has more information and photos of this year’s Tech Expo, including a spontaneous combustion parasol she helped create.

You may have noticed in her photos a blood sample chart in this year’s Expo. The chart was showing off a new type of stage blood which washes out of nearly everything. Developed by Meghan O’Brien-Blanford and Peter W. Brakhage at the University of Delaware, the chart featured a swatch of the most common fabrics used on stage. Each was soaked in the blood, then washed after either one hour or two hours. As fas as I could tell, only one fabric showed any signs of staining; the rest were completely clean, even after sitting two hours before being washed. They were giving away samples which they named “Fugitive Blood”; the labels invited us to check out FugitiveBlood.com, but at the moment, the website is still in its “coming soon” phase.

I love blogging
I love blogging

I’ll take “Swords” for $100

Three-quarter hilt rapier made by Eric Hart
Three-quarter hilt rapier made by Eric Hart

Let’s face it. Swords are cool. Luckily for props people, swords pop up all the time on prop lists.

I learned some basic swordmaking techniques from Tom Fiocchi while at Ohio University. Usually, when I’m asked to make a sword, it’s a decorative or trick sword with a very show-specific look. If it’s for stage combat, the swords are often rented or pulled from stock. For Twelfth Night at Shakespeare in the Park, we rented many of the swords from Weapon Specialists here in New York City (hopefully I’ll be doing a tour of them in the upcoming weeks).

Old Swords has a wealth of information on historic swords. There is a gallery of swords categorized by nationality and time period, as well as a comprehensive search function of their database. The site also includes a cornucopia of resources, articles, and links about antique swords, sword makers, and anything else you may need for research and reference. You need to sign up to access the information, but it’s free, quick and well worth it.

The Wikipedia article on Historical European martial arts is a great jumping-off point for information on historical sword-fighting techniques. The Mid-Atlantic Society for Historic Swordsmanship also has a great list of links for all things related to historic swordsmanship, as does William Wilson’s list of links on historical fencing.

The Association for Renaissance Martial Arts also has an introduction to Historical European Martial Arts at their site. They also have a large reading and research list, including online historical fencing manuals. If you scroll to the bottom, you will find two manuals by Alfred Hutton, who helped begin the revival of historical swordsmanship over 120 years ago. Old Swordplay (5.54mb PDF) and Cold Steel (11.1mb PDF) are both available for free on their site.

If there are any other sites or resources you use for swords or similar weapons, let me know in the comments!