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Prop Masters Conference Roundup

This past weekend, I visited the lovely city of San Francisco for the first time. It was the 2010 S*P*A*M conference. For those of you not in the know, the Society of Properties Artisan Managers represents full-time properties directors (and their assistants, like me) in theatre, opera, and education. The currently 98 members work in nearly every part of the country and many of the major cities, as well as one in Canada.

As part of the conference, we toured the facilities at the San Francisco Opera and at Berkeley Rep. Each if those may become a blog post in the upcoming days. We also toured Pixar Studios, but that was all secret and no cameras were allowed.

We also had a hazardous communications training seminar with Monona Rossol. It has reminded me that I’ve posted very little information and links about safety on this site.

Finally, S*P*A*M is working on some exciting new things, which I will keep you all apprised of as they happen. I’d write more, but I’m at the airport waiting for my overnight flight home to NYC, and I have to go straight back to work in the morning. This Hart won’t be left in San Francisco!

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.

A quick update

Sorry for missing the last two updates. I’ve been excessively busy getting ready for back-to-back techs for Merchant of Venice and A Winter’s Tale for this year’s Shakespeare in the Park, and this past weekend was also a wedding for two of my good friends in Nebraska.

Rest assured, tomorrow will see a return to regularly scheduled posts!

Elephant’s Trunk

Playground equipment at the entrance of Elephant's Trunk
Playground equipment at the entrance of Elephant's Trunk

Faye Armon and I headed up to Elephant’s Trunk this past weekend. It’s one of the largest flea markets in New England, and only about 2 hours north of New York City.

It runs only on Sundays from April until November, 7am-2pm. They claim it takes up 55 acres; maybe that’s true if you count the parking lot. Regardless, it took us all day to walk past every single booth at least once.

I saw Americana, ephemera, steampunk treasures, baubles, furniture from around the world, and more than a few things where I had to stop because I didn’t know such a thing had existed. The prices ranged from thousands of dollars for pristine antique furniture, to tables filled with sundry items for a dollar each.

We brought a van along which we filled with potential props for both Merchant of Venice and Winter’s Tale. Next time I think I’ll bring a rolling cart as well, as the carts that are available for borrowing there are so rusted they’re nearly immovable.

Collection of wares for sale
Collection of wares for sale

Deer Butt

Last Monday, my wife and I saw A Lie of the Mind by the New Group up at Theatre Row.

Deer Butt
Deer Butt

We went because Natalie had her deer butt in the show. She didn’t make it for this production though; she made it at Ohio University over seven years ago. Matt Hodges, the prop master for the current production, found it in his search for a deer butt; it just so happened he was in our shop around when Tom Fiocchi, the prop master at Ohio University, told Natalie that someone had bought her butt. Thus, I was able to score some tickets, and Natalie was able to see a prop from her past.

Remember kids; build a prop well, and it can live for years to come!