Tag Archives: book

Prop Building for Beginners

I came out with a new book a few months ago, but I haven’t written about it here yet. It has been such a tumultuous year!

The book is called “Prop Building for Beginners: Twenty Props for Stage and Screen.” It is now on sale at Routledge.

Cover image of the book, "Prop Building for Beginners."

I wrote this book because a lot of beginners want step-by-step instructions to build specific props. The world of prop building can be overwhelming, and sometimes you just want to know where to start.

I chose the kinds of items that people in theater or film often need to build. These are props that appear in a lot of stories and which are not always cheap or easy to buy.

A collage of the twenty props which are included in this book.
The twenty props you can build from this book.

I designed and built all these items to make sure I was only using materials which are readily available throughout the world, as well as a limited number of tools. In fact, if you complete each project in this book, you will end up with a good understanding of the basic skills that every props person needs, as well as a simple toolkit that you will use on a daily basis.

Sample pages from the book showing step-by-step instructions and corresponding photographs
Sample pages from the book.

I wrote this book for anyone who wants to begin the wonderful journey of learning how to build props. It is useful for teachers who want to introduce their students to the materials and methods used in prop making. And it may be helpful to the theater practitioner who needs to build some props but does not know how.

You can purchase “Prop Building for Beginners” directly from the publisher, from Amazon, from your favorite local bookstore, or from wherever books are sold in your country. If you’ve already bought it, leave a review on the site you bought it from!

Greatest Prop Links of the Day

The 100 Greatest Props in Movie History, and the Stories Behind Them – Thrillist has put together a list of the hundred greatest movie props ever, at least from American films. What sets this list off from others is they contacted prop masters and other people who worked on the films, so you get one hundred stories about great props and where they came from.

20 Years of the 501st Legion: How The Star Wars Costuming Group Became a Force For Good – The 501st is a worldwide group of amateur cosplayers who dress up in screen-accurate Stormtrooper costumes. For their twentieth anniversary, SyFy tells the story of how they got started and what they’ve grown into.

Best Theatre Cities in the U.S. – If you are wondering where to move to find those sweet, sweet jobs in theater, Paste Magazine has compiled a list of nine cities (outside of New York) with a thriving theater scene. I’ve lived and worked in two of these. Do you agree with the list?

Crafting Adventure Time’s Enchiridion as an Ode to Medieval Book Making – Make Magazine points us to this fantastical book created from scratch by Elder Props. It’s got sculpting, it’s got casting, it’s got distressing, it’s got everything!

Review: Props, by Eleanor Margolies

Books that deal with the philosophical aspect of props are few and far between. Certainly you can find a few scholarly articles here and there; Theatre Symposium devoted an issue of their journal to props back in 2009 (I presented a paper at that conference). But the last book of this nature would probably be Andrew Sofer’s The Stage Life of Props.

This lack of scholarly interest should come as no surprise. Universities rarely devote time to props as it is, and when they do, it is purely for practical reasons. The study of technical theatre from a historical perspective is growing in popularity, but that remains mostly devoted to scenery, lighting, and perhaps some costuming here and there. So when a book like Props (Readings in Theatre Practice), by Eleanor Margolies, comes along, I take notice.

Margolies begins the book with some usual thoughts about props; how they become text in a performance, the differences between a prop and a regular object, and how audiences perceive the life of a prop.

However, she also delves into the practical side of props, which highlights the importance of studying both. One cannot talk about how props are used in performances without discussing how they get there. It is the limitations of objects, both found and constructed specifically for the theater, that determines how and when they get used. She devotes some time to specific theater troupes and performances which are dependent on props to create a visual world. She also digs back into historical uses of props in various forms of traditional theater. The process by which props and physical materials can be introduced into rehearsals and modified during the process affects what an audience ultimately witnesses.

You will not find a recipe for papier-mache in this book; it is not a handbook for people who need to construct props. However, you will learn about the history of papier-mache and how it influenced the construction of props historically; currently, it is associated with the cheap nature of amateur theater, and has become a cultural metaphor for fakery and imitation. Other practical topics covered include breakaways, consumables, and fake blood.

Margolies’ Props provides a context for further study and discussion about props. You do not need to already be familiar with Veltruský’s work on affordances to be able to follow this book. For me, at least, it left me filled with so many more questions I wanted to explore and areas I wished to research; it was like opening up a dam of ideas that spilled out of my mind. Hopefully, it will provide a renewed interest in the study of props beyond that of its practitioners.

Props by Eleanor Margolies
Props by Eleanor Margolies

The Prop Effects Guidebook: Coming Soon

Last night I sent off the final manuscript for my next book, The Prop Effects Guidebook. It is all about making your props move, burn, sing, bleed, and break. When you combine it with The Prop Building Guidebook, you will have a pretty complete education as far as constructing props goes.

The book does not come out until March 2018, and we still have a lot of work to do in terms of copy-editing, layout, and proofing. But I wanted to share a few of the photographs I have taken specifically for the book just to give you a taste of what is coming.


I talk about a variety of fake fire effects you can use when your theater does not permit real flame.


I give an introduction to electrical components and wiring your own props, and provide a brief introduction to the world of Arduino and other microcontrollers.


What would a prop book be without talking about blood?

EL wire
EL wire

Lighting is probably one of the most common tricks a prop needs to do, so there is a thorough introduction to all sorts of tiny lights. I do not think any prop book has covered LEDs before, and I also touch on fancier lights like EL wire.

Dry ice
Dry ice

No matter how fancy theatrical foggers get, dry ice still gives me such a visceral thrill. It’s so simple and elemental, but so magical. This book touches on all the traditional tricks too, because you do not always need a high-tech solution, and you do not always have the budget for the latest gadgets.

Mind Blowing Props Links

At the Stage Door with Lori – The San Francisco Opera shines a spotlight on their prop master of nearly 20 years, Lori Harrison. Find out how she got there and watch the video to go backstage in the props shop.

A Beginner’s Guide to Making Mind Blowing Props – Bill Doran of Punished Props has taken his ebook guide to building props and put it up on his website for free, forever.

Giant puppets for “BFG” stage play – Gavin Worth recently made these giant puppets with a group of students at the International School of Lausanne in Switzerland. Check out the image gallery for pictures and animations of how they were built.

These Intricate, Hand Built Suits of Armor Are Fit for a Cat – This is the most important thing on the Internet today. Jeff De Boer has taken his jewelry and metal-working skills and used them to create intricate armor for cats and mice for the past 30 years.