Prop guns

There’s an interesting post over at Controlbooth.com about the correct handling of prop guns.

What makes this a success is that we SEVERELY LIMIT who touches the guns, how, where, and when. Guns are NEVER ‘dry fired’. That is, fired without a live round in ’em. In our world, if you pull the trigger, you are doing it for real every time. If you’re not doing it for real, your finger does NOT even go inside the trigger guard, and there will still be no live round in it. If the weapon fails to discharge, you DO NOT get to try again. You re-holster it, and move on.

This is, of course, important stuff for every props person to know, especially with a number of incidents that have happened in the past year, which are also linked to from this site.

Knives are another prop where safety is important. About a month ago, I ran across this article: Actor slices neck on stage in prop mixup.

Hoevels, whose character was to commit suicide, had been given a real blade instead of a harmless prop, London’s Telegraph newspaper reports.

As he collapsed with blood spurting from his neck, the audience started to applaud not realising Hoevels was not acting.

The Santa Fe Opera has at least one knife or sword in every show. Drew Drake, the former head props carpenter, taught me that whenever the props supervisor, run crew, or a stage manager placed a blade on your work table, you should drop everything you’re doing and immediately dull the sharp edge. By doing that, you ensure that you don’t forget about it, or worse, you leave it for later only to find someone has taken it off your table and brought it up to stage without checking the blade’s sharpness.

If you don’t have proper safety procedures for dealing with weapons on stage, then you have no business using them. There are already enough things in theatre that can cause injury.

Technical Direction Tidbits

I found a new blog on technical direction for the blogroll. Technical Direction Tidbits is written by L. Jean Burch, a project manager at Chicago Scenic Studios. She has been working on this blog for over a year and a half now, so there’s a ton of information to be found. She has a category dedicated to props, but since there’s a lot of overlap between props and scene shops, the other categories are worth exploring too. And last Tuesday’s post was about this blog.

Another post of note is on custom printed fabric. My fiance just ran across this same company, Spoonflower, which will custom print fabric for $18 a yard. She’s been trying to find the perfect tablecloth fabric for our wedding, but has had no luck even after perusing numerous stores in NYC’s Fabric District. If we test this company, I’ll be sure to post the results, as it seems it could be very useful in the right situation.

Behind the scenes in a props shop

Today, I’m presenting several magazine articles I’ve found which are available online. These give a nice, in-depth look at working props shops around the world.

Prop Art: Theater veteran and students star behind the scenes

From the Winter 2005 edition of Ohio Today. This article takes a look at the props shop of Ohio University, where I attended graduate school for a period.

By Hand

A look at Hunter Spence, who teaches props at Yale University.

All Hail the Backstage crew

A look at the backstage crew of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, with a nice section on Paul James Martin, the props master.

Little London Prop Shop Turns Ideas Into Art

An in-depth look at MDM Props, a London-based props shop which has branched out into fabrication for art installations.

Has your prop shop been featured in a magazine or website? Do you post photographs of your prop shop online? Let me know, I’d love to feature them here.

Life of a Prop Builder

A chair I built for the opera, "Tea"
A chair I built for the opera, "Tea"

Two posts I wanted to mention from this weekend. First off:

The great Toolmonger blog has featured one of my props. I’ve been following Toolmonger for awhile; it’s updated daily with posts about tools: new tools, cheap tools, how to use tools. Pretty much anything you would want to know about tools. I’ve been meaning to add it to my blogroll on this site, so this is as good a time as any.

Second, the Houston Ballet has a blog. On Friday, they wrote about making props for Marie. It has some good photographs showing the techniques they used to make a lot of the fake food.

Using Flickr for Visual Research

Flickr, if you don’t already know, allows people to share photographs. It’s a massive website, and you can easily get lost. I’ve broken it down to help you navigate around.

  • The Commons. The Commons is a place where organizations can post their massive image libraries. Some organizations include The Library of Congress, The Smithsonian, and the New York Public Library. Most of the images are documentary, so it is a good source for primary research into historical time periods. The organizations do a fair job of organizing their images, making specific pictures easy to find. Another great thing about the Commons is that many of the photographs are in the Public Domain (check each one to make sure), allowing you to use the image itself in a show without a license.
  • Places and Map. If you need photographs of a certain place, you can use these to find (usually contemporary) pictures taken there.
  • Groups. Users on Flickr can create their own groups, where they post pictures related to whatever the theme of the group is. Some groups are devoted to specific subjects; for example, you can find a group for vintage kitchen items, medieval combat, or battlefields. It’s not just for photographs; you can find vintage illustration, vintage cigarette ads, or maps and charts.
  • Tags. Flickr users can add keywords, or “tags” to their pictures to make searching for them easier. For instance, you can see all photographs tagged with “furniture“. This gives a lot of results, but you can further revise your search by looking at “clusters“, which are common groupings of related tags. For instance, furniture is clustered with “vintage, antique, old“.
  • Search. When all else fails, there’s good old-fashioned search. You can search through tags or descriptions. This is also where you can search for multiple tags, or search for a photos where one word appears and another doesn’t.

Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies