I’m surprised more props people do not know about The Prop Master by Amy Mussman. No other book more clearly defines how to be a prop master in a contemporary setting. With a publish date of 2008, it is also amongst the most up-to-date props books out there. I feel strongly that if you read and reread this book as well as studying the Properties Directors Handbook by Sandra Strawn, you are armed with as much information as possible to prop a show short of actual experience. This is the book you want if you are in school and someone tells you, “You are the props master on the next show,” and you have no idea what that entails. It is amazing that until two years ago, a book like this had not been written.
Keep in mind that this book will not show you how to build any props. It focuses solely on the management and process of propping a theatrical show. Perhaps it is also useful to a prop master on a film, though I have no experience in that arena so I cannot say for certain.
The beginning of the book is filled with the important task of defining what props are, what props do, what a prop master does, what other props people do, and how it relates to the other departments and to the production as a whole. One of my favorite parts is where Mussman spells out a list of the basic props that a prop stock should have. From there, it delves into what skills and personal attributes a props master should develop to succeed. Where a props artisan can find success by perfecting various technical and vocational skills, a prop master’s greatest path to success is honing interpersonal skills and the proper forms of etiquette; in essence, getting people to “like you”. This book breaks that down into much more realistic and better-phrased terms than I just did. It breaks down the way many theatres are organized, how a props master relates to these various departments, and what is expected of a prop master in a professional setting.
From there, Mussman dives into how to achieve what is expected of you. Drawing on her over ten years of experience, it describes how to set up an ideal prop shop and how to organize your files. From there, she describes how to proceed through the process, beginning when you are first chosen as the prop master and receive a script, through rehearsals, into tech and when performances begin.
Not content with presenting all that information, she also includes safety information, a theatrical glossary, and a whole chapter of tips and tricks for prop-making.
In short, I cannot emphasize how important this book is for the beginning prop master and for our industry as a whole. If you were picking someone randomly to prop master a show, you can say, “I need you to be the prop master. Here is your instruction manual.”
As I mentioned earlier, this book goes well when combined with the Properties Directors Handbook. Read them both. I’ve written about the difference between a prop master versus a properties director; while they are distinct terms, they are often similar positions and career paths, and the information in each is complementary and often overlapping.