Tag Archives: articles

Nathan Santucci

photograph by Leila Navidi
photograph by Leila Navidi

The Las Vegas Sun has a little article about Nathan Santucci, the prop-builder for Penn and Teller.

Good ‘magic’ is bloody science – Las Vegas Sun.

Santucci – who has many skills, including woodworking, plastic working, milling, welding, painting and SCUBA diving for underwater props – spends most of his days with blood on his hands and his clothes and the seat of his car. It gets everywhere.

Mostly this is because of the trick where the guys use a timber mill-size circular saw to cut their lovely assistant in half.

The article also has a great story about a fake snake.

I’ve always thought trick props can be approached in the same way as magic props. Building a prop for a stage illusion requires the same sort of creative thinking and knowledge of mechanics, pneumatics, electronics, and other control systems.

Unfortunately, information about magic is a closely guarded secret. Information in books tends to focus on sleight-of-hand tricks, or well-known illusions. Magic websites suffer from being overwhelmed by spam sites, link farms, and plain old con jobs.

Surprisingly (or not), some of the best information on these kinds of tricks can be found on DIY Halloween decoration websites.

RAC Props

RAC Props is a website and online magazine run by Richard A. Coyle. Mr. Coyle has made props for Star Trek II, IV, V and VI, as well as Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The magazine has a wealth of articles on props, written by Coyle and others. Some highlights include

It’s an interesting mix of original prop making and fan replica prop making.

Fake Food – Making inedible replicas

How do I make fake food props? The props department is frequently called upon to make all manner of food and food replicas for the stage. When food needs to be eaten by the actors, the props director is in charge of making the food every night, either for real, or by figuring out a subsitute. If the food is not eaten, the props director has more latitude in choosing what to do, usually making the food out of a material that will last the run of the show. This article is about the latter type, where we make inedible but realistic fake food.

uploaded by PetitPlat by sk_
uploaded by PetitPlat by sk_

Research is very important here; a good reference, either a photograph or the real thing, will go a long way to help you capture the essence of the food. Notice in the photograph above how the tomato, orange, and potato are all distinctive and recognizable, even though their shapes are fairly similar.

Sometimes you need to do research just to decide which food to use. Jay Duckworth pointed me to a website with a food timeline. If your production of Twelfth Night is set in 1810, can you have Macadamia Nuts at the picnic (no, they weren’t around until 1828).

Ron DeMarco pointed me to an older article with photographs about the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre (boy, they get a lot of press!).  Julia Powell, the principal craftswoman, describes her process for replicating food. Ron linked to another article about food on stage. Though it’s mainly about the preparation and adaptation of real food, there are some tidbits on constructing completely artifical food.

There are a number of other articles floating around the internet giving tutorials for specific types of food. “Shortone” has a cool Instructable on how to make fake cupcakes. Amy Sedaris (yes, that Amy Sedaris) has instructions for making a cake out of styrofoam and spackle. Between these two, you can get a good idea of how to replicate any number of pastries and desserts.

Michael Koslovsky has an article in Proptology describing how he made lettuce for a fake sandwich. Kyle May has a pictorial showing an interesting method for making fake ice cubes. The PropPeople forum has a few good food-related posts. Dead animals can be a particularly tricky kind of prop; here is one way to make a dead goat. Here are a few tips and ideas for making raw hamburger meat. The last one references an Instructable on making Playdough, which might be useful, though it uses flour.

There are, of course, countless places you can simply purchase fake food replicas.  DMOZ Open Directory has a number of listings under “Fake Food Props“. Or just search for “fake food” or “food props”. One of the top New York City food replica shops is Trengove Studios, which is actually geared more toward photography and film. Though probably too expensive for theatrical work, the pictures of their products are great just to drool over.

Prop People across the news

A few weeks ago, at the SETC Theatre Symposium, I met Ron DeMarco, the props director at Emerson University.  He gave me a ton of material he’s collected over the years to use in his class on props. Today, I’m going to point to some of the many news articles he’s found on various props people across the country. I always like reading these because they offer different perspectives on how props people work and think about their craft.

Tom Fiocchi

Tom is the props director at Ohio University, where I spent a brief stint doing graduate work. I worked in his shop a few semesters, and took a class where I built a sword. This article, “Theater props specialist has a thing about Athens“, delves a bit into how he got started as a props artisan. His website has more information about his custom stage combat weapons.

Liza Kindl

Liza also attended Ohio University at the same time as me, and we also worked at the Santa Fe Opera together a few times. “Top of the Props” talks about the beginning of her career as a props artisan.

Sandra Strawn

Strawn teaches props at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. You may recognize her name from the Properties Director Handbook. “UWM Theater Students Learn Their Way Around the Prop Shop” provides a look at her class on properties construction.

Amy Reiner

Reiner has been the props director at Omaha Community Playhouse for the past 8 years. “Theater props master finds something old, something odd” is a look at the endless scavenger hunt that a props person lives in. It also has an interesting sidebar asking other prop masters what the most difficult item they’ve ever had to find was. The first one mentions the iron lung from “City of Angels,” which is one of the props Ron mentioned as a perennially difficult item to acquire.

Control Booth Collaborative Articles

I’ve been lurking around ControlBooth for awhile now. Though it’s mostly geared toward the lighting and sound kind of theatre technician, you can find some useful information for scenery or even props.

I just discovered the site has a whole section called “Collaborative Articles“. This is a collection of articles written, surprise, collaboratively. It’s organized alphabetically, and there is some useful information there.