SETC Theatre Symposium

Next Friday, I’m flying to North Carolina to take place in the SETC Theatre Symposium. This year’s theme is “The Prop’s the Thing: Stage Properties Reconsidered”; how can I not participate? I’m hoping to bring back all sorts of interesting and useful information for this blog. Also, since I’ll be busy getting ready for this, my postings for next week will probably be shorter than usual.

My paper is called, “Devising a Mental Process for Approaching a Prop.” It’s part of a larger goal of writing a book about props dealing with the choices we need to make before building a prop. Essentially, rather than dealing with specific techniques like carpentry or upholstery, my book will be about how you decide whether you will use carpentry or not on a specific prop.

If you’re interested, here is the abstract for my paper: 

Devising a Mental Process for Approaching a Prop

This paper examines the thought process of a props artisan in determining how to build a prop. When members of a production decide a certain prop should be built, it is often left to the props artisan to choose materials and techniques to transform the words in the play into an object on stage. Most props artisans use an intuitive approach, which is informed by experience and trial-and-error. I feel there is an actual process which props artisans go through for every project, even the simplest. By breaking down the intuitive processes an artisan uses into a usable method, it can help an artisan solve more complicated prop challenges. It is also useful in teaching new artisans this process.

In order to devise a universal process for building props, I break it apart into two parts. A props artisan must determine what a prop needs to “do.” A props artisan must also know what resources are available for the prop. I begin by explaining what I mean by “what a prop needs to do.” A prop must have the proper appearance. It must be able to accomplish all of its actions as laid out by the playwright and the director. I examine other considerations based on the circumstances of specific productions and theatre spaces. A prop must be able to fit through the doors leading to the stage. It needs to be able to fit backstage when not being used.

For the second part of the process, I look at how a props artisan must consider all the resources available for the prop. This includes not just time and money, but the skill level of the artisan and the tools and equipment available for use.

I step through several examples to show how this method is inherent in simpler props, and how it can be used for more complicated props.