Tag Archives: artisan

It’s Props Month at Stage Directions

This month’s issue of Stage Directions has a special section on props. One of the articles, “Prop Shop Confidential” by Lisa Mulcahy, is about maintaining a props stock. This is a good companion to my own post on which props to keep and which to trash; it features a lot more thoughts on how to organize a prop storage space from a variety of prop masters around the country. It also touches a bit on keeping track of your inventory, as well as how to provide the props for a show.

Looking at that somehow led me to the homepage for the Dramatics magazine. If you’re not familiar with it, it is a magazine aimed toward high school theatre students. They have published a number of technical theatre articles over the years, including a few useful for props people. They have the full text of these articles on their website, but it’s a real bear to use; I hope they won’t mind that I link directly to the PDFs.

How do I make a…?

“How do I make this?”

It’s the question faced by the props artisan on a daily basis. Whether you work in theatre, television, or film, you will be asked to build an infinite variety of objects for an infinite variety of uses. Props are found in many other places as well, such as advertising, photography shoots, commercial displays and exhibitions. You may also wish to build props for your own personal uses, such as holiday decoration or hobbies. Whatever your reason, you are reading this because you want to know how to build anything and everything.

Sometimes the answers are self-evident. If the scenic designer wants a wooden chair, you build a chair out of wood. But what if the director wants the chair to be broken during every performance? What if the designer wants a prop from a historical period where the techniques and materials used are no longer available to us? Most commonly, what if the production calls for props which have no counterpart in the real world?

The men and women who build props come from the most diverse backgrounds imaginable, and are skilled in an endless number of techniques and processes. They approach the construction of a prop from a variety of angles, honed over years of experience and trial-and-error. The “why” of props construction is often based on which materials they are most comfortable using, or by asking questions from those who have been in the business longer than they.

Is there a way to more clearly define this approach? Is there a “scientific method”, as it were, to apply to every prop whose construction is not self-evident?

If you have any time over this Thanksgiving, leave a comment with any insights on your own process; what informs your decision on how to construct a prop?

Taking photographs of your work

If you really want your portfolio to shine, you need good photographs of your props. Taking photographs during a rehearsal or show is another topic entirely; in this article, I’ll be talking about taking photographs either in the shop or backstage.

Blurry and Grainy Pictures

The biggest problem and complaint about bad portfolio pictures are blurry and grainy photographs. Though caused by different things, they are both symptoms of not enough light.

Your camera determines the correct exposure in three ways: shutter speed, aperture, and film or chip sensitivity. With a fast shutter speed, moving objects are frozen in place. As the shutter speed slows down, moving objects become blurred in the photograph. At a slow enough shutter speed, the slight shaking of your hands as you hold the camera will blur the entire picture.

If your pictures are blurry, you need to steady the camera. A tripod is the usual solution. Expensive tripods are made for heavier cameras and able to withstand wind and rain. For smaller cameras used indoors, almost any tripod will help steady your pictures. You can even get table-top tripods, or funky ones like this: Continue reading Taking photographs of your work

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.