One reason I began this blog is because I am working on my own book on props. It is going to be a guide for approaching the build of a prop. Rather than listing materials and techniques, or presenting a series of how-to’s, my book will look at the intuitive process an artisan uses when deciding how to build something, and see if there is a framework to be used for building other props.
There are a number of books already written about props. These are incredibly useful, whether for a beginning props person, or an experienced one. The following is a list of the ones I’ve read/owned that I’ve found most helpful.
The Theatre Props Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Theater Properties, Materials and Construction by Thurston James. One of the granddaddies of props book, found on almost every props person’s bookshelf. No matter how experienced you are, you’ll probably learn something new when you flip through it.
The Prop Builder’s Molding & Casting Handbook also by Thurston James. A great introduction and reference for all things molding and casting.
The Theater Props What, Where, When: An Illustrated Chronology from Arrowheads to Video Games by, yes, Thurston James. A handy visual reference guide to the look of common objects throughout history.
The Prop Builder’s Mask-Making Handbook by Thurston James. Though it’s about masks, which may or may not be part of the props department depending on where you work, I just wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t list the entire Thurston James quadrilogy.
The Backstage Handbook: An Illustrated Almanac of Technical Information This is one of those books you don’t remember buying, because you can’t remember a time when you didn’t have it. If you work in theatre, this is almost required. For props people, there’s all sorts of useful information, such as parts of a chair, types of drapery swag, and the names of common mouldings. Not to mention, there’s all sorts of handy drawing and drafting tricks I always come back to, such as drawing a pentagon with a compass.
The Prop Master: A Guidebook for Successful Theatrical Prop Management by Amy Mussman. This is about as comprehensive a guide as you’ll find for being a prop master.
Making Stage Props: A Practical Guide by Andy Wilson. This has a great introduction on the process behind approaching a build for a prop. It then goes through sections devoted to the most common materials and techniques used in a prop shop: wood, metal, molds and casting, foam, upholstery, and paint.
A Guidebook for Creating Three-Dimensional Theatre Art by Ann J. Carnaby. This book has a great introduction for approaching the build of a prop when you’re not entirely sure how to make it. The bulk of the book is dedicated to projects which highlight a number of ways of making three dimensional pieces, mostly animals.
I would consider these books the heart of any props person’s library. There are of course, hundreds of other books on any manner of subjects that will be useful in props; our work requires us to find or make anything and everything from all places and time periods, real or imaginary. Feel free to share some of your favorites.