The following is one of several interviews conducted by students of Ron DeMarco’s properties class at Emerson College.
A Man of Many Hats: The Story of Eric Hart
by Junior Johnson
In Greensboro, North Carolina, within the Triad Stage theatre, a tireless artist can be found scavenging for materials to create some of the most meticulous and detail-oriented props, which have been featured in countless shows, operas, and productions all across the nation. That artist’s name is Eric Hart, a props master and artisan. Only in his thirties, Eric has an extensive and diverse résumé that reflects the amount of passion, drive, and professionalism which Eric has for his props. With the determination to succeed, Eric has gained the respect and attention of his colleagues and other people within the theatre community.
He originally studied engineering at Bucknell University, but later transferred majors to try and find a good fit for what he wanted to study. Eric discovered he “liked scenic design, especially the really hands-on aspects.” Eric praises the liberal arts program at Bucknell for allowing him to have a wide-range of knowledge on various topics which comes in handy when researching information on props, more than a decade down the road.
It was a few years later that he began to discover the tasks of a props master at Lafayette College, where he worked as an intern. At Lafayette “it was just me and the TD doing all the sets, lighting and props for the shows, and I found I really liked the prop-building projects that came my way.” Over the next few years, Eric would find himself holding different positions. He would become the Assistant Master Electrician at Hershey Park which Hart describes as “the most corporate job I’ve ever had”, especially in comparison to the non-profit and independent organizations that he’s worked for.
For many summers, Eric worked with the Santa Fe Opera House. It was his first job specifically handling a props position, and with the position also came many opportunities to learn and expand his knowledge within the props field. It was working with such “talented professionals, and working on shows and projects that are among the most ambitious in the country… which really pushed [me] to do the best work you can, because the standards are so high, and so many people are taking notice of your work”. It is that same concept that allowed Eric to come into his own when he took the position of Assistant Props Master at The Public Theatre in New York City.
It was while working at The Public Theatre that Eric Hart began “moving from a props carpenter to a full-fledged artisan and props master”. It was also at that theatre that he experienced some of his greatest memories and challenges in his career. One of his proudest creations was for a production of Titus Andronicus. He had to create a replica of a hand with only a “little mold-making kit to take a mold of the actor’s hand… [and] had to take the subway with a bucket filled with an alginate mold and a plaster cast of a hand.” Experiences like this helped teach Eric what he sees as the most important skills to work in theatre: the ability to work independently, to have a knack for getting along with a wide variety of personalities, and having an independent drive behind what you do.
From all of the experiences and skills, he has gained immense knowledge and insight into the world of theatre. It was while he was working on The Bacchae that he that he realized that “designers and directors have the production as a whole in mind, where [props] only has one small part. They are often better equipped to see how the props interact with every other element.” It was a revelation that occurred after he had to create a decapitated head for the show, and the director continually requested changes to the prop. After constant changes were made, Hart saw the show, and realized his fine detailed original work obscured the gruesomeness of the prop. The changes that were requested were all necessary for the goal of the prop. Also, along those lines, through his practices, he has been able to learn a myriad of techniques and skills that allow him to accomplish many challenging tasks.
Lastly, Eric Hart is easily the most notable name in prop literature. Hart has constantly updated his blog, and has written one of the most detail-oriented and resourceful books available on props. Most of his book has been compiled simply through his experiences and productions. All in all, Eric Hart has successfully made a name for himself in a field where many artisans and craftsman go unrecognized. The amount of skill and talent that he has is prevalent in all of his work. He is someone who has spread the concepts of props through his work and writing.