Happy Friday 13th!

I wanted to talk about Halloween today. It’s a long ways off, but since Friday the 13th is kind of like mini-Halloween, I figured I can get away with it. What does Halloween have to do with props? It’s the most DIY holiday; every year, millions of people make their own costumes and decorations. It’s probably the biggest season for amateur prop-building. With the internet, there is all sorts of pages filled with photographs, tutorials, guides, inspiration, and discussions.

This is not just useful to the props artisan who needs advice on how to build a skeleton for a show; with enough creativity, you can adapt many of these props for non-Halloween challenges. A how-to guide for building a vampire who rises out of a coffin can be altered to make flowers rise out of the ground; a tutorial for a homemade fog machine can be used for any number of effects onstage.

So here are some links to keep you busy for awhile:

The Monster Page of Halloween Links – This is a huge list of links, some of them good, some of them, not so much. It’s divided into sections, so be sure to scroll past the long list of individual projects at the beginning. The last section links to some more general tutorials.

Instructables – They do a good job of promoting Halloween-related material, so there’s quite a good deal of tutorials here. The DIY Halloween 2008 and DIY Halloween 2007 contest pages are some good jumping-off points for delving into what’s available here, or you can just search for everything tagged with “Halloween“.

Halloween Prop Building For The DIY Home Handyman and Beginners Alike – A much smaller and more selective list of links to tutorials and resources around the internet. The descriptions of the sites are a great help too.

Books – I haven’t read any books on Halloween prop building, so I can’t really recommend any. However, you can head over to Amazon, and do your own research; their recommendation engine is pretty top-notch, and checking out a user-made list, such as So you’d like to… Have Great Halloween Festivities, will give you a quick introduction to some of the more popular books on this subject.

I know this list seems short, but these links are merely gateways to much larger lists of tutorials and resources throughout the web. I hope these prove useful; at the very least, I hope it has gotten you thinking about alternative sources for information about building props.

Learn How to Build Anything

I came across this interesting website:

101 Free Open Course Classes to Learn How to Build ANYTHING

What are open course classes? Basically, they are all the materials of a college class made freely available to anyone online: the syllabus, handouts, lecture notes, assignments, etc. If you were so inclined, you can use this to take the class on your own. Obviously, you lack the feedback and interaction with a professor, and it does not count toward any certification or degree, it can be a great resource for self-education in a more structured way.

Most of these classes come from MIT, which pioneered the open course class idea, but more universities seem to be jumping in on the bandwagon. This list has some fairly high-tech classes (holographic imaging, bioengineering, and space propulsion), but there are some others that seem interesting for a props artisan or other theatre practitioner, such as intro to stagecraft, scenic and costume design, and furniture making.

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.

Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies