Tag Archives: Broadway

Order Up! Prop Stories To Go

Order Up! A Working Ziosk Prop – Jay Duckworth details how his shop built a working computer-ordering system for a booth at a Chili’s restaurant that appeared on stage. It took a combination of a cheap tablet, a 3D-printed housing, and some clever programming and graphic design to pull it off.

SYFY WIRE Fan Creators – The SYFY Channel has created a whole series of mini-documentaries about fans of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, who build things related to their fandom. It’s a mix of propmakers, cosplayers, artists, and even a baker.

In Memoriam: John C. Taccone, IATSE Stagehand – John Taccone was a stagehand in New York City and a member of the New Amsterdam Theatre props crew for 21 years. His untimely passing earlier this month was memorialized on the Broadway marquee of the New Amsterdam.

The House That Mr. Mayer Built: Inside the Union-Busting Birth of the Academy Awards – This is an oldie, but it was new for me. The Oscars were originally created as a way to prevent the unionization of actors, writers, and directors in Hollywood. It didn’t work. Still, it is a good reminder of how spectacle can often be used to mask some deeper purpose. If you want to know more about the history of unionization amongst the Hollywood technicians, I covered a bit of it in my “Brief History of IATSE” article from a few years back. It was outright war at times.

First Prop Links of Spring

BB-8 and Porg Puppeteer Brian Herring on His Journey to the Last Jedi – This is a great interview with the puppeteer who operated numerous Star Wars puppets during its filming, including BB-8 and the Porgs. I love the behind-the-scenes images showing how much of these creatures were done practically, rather than digitally.

Virtual Author Talk: The Prop Effects Guidebook – I talked about my newest book, The Prop Effects Guidebook, with the Virtual Costumer magazine. The book had some publishing delays, but it should start shipping out this week if you have pre-ordered it.

Props and SFX Guru, Jennie Marino, will present “Don’t Miss” Storied Show & Tell/Seminar – If you are in Burlington, NJ, on May 20th, be sure to check out this lecture and workshop by Jennie Marino. She has built props, puppets, and masks on over forty-five Broadway productions, as well as countless Off-Broadway and television shows. The event is about an hour-and-a-half from NYC, but it is only a short hop over the river from Philadelphia if that is your home.

Cara Cooper, Jessica Rush, and Celia Keenan-Bolger on Broadway Baby Mamas – Though focused on performers, a lot of these issues are similar for new mothers working in theatre design and tech. Some theaters have made good strides toward being more family-friendly, but we still have a long way to go.

Last Props in September

Top 10 Resource Websites For Prop Makers and Art Directors – The Frankly Materials store has started a blog, and their first entry lists ten websites worth checking out. You’ve probably seen some of these, but others may be new.

Get Up Close With the Props of Dear Evan Hansen - Buist Bickley brings us backstage with this hit musical to share a wealth of photographs of the props.

How to Age and Distress Wood – Make Magazine shares a couple of videos that demonstrate techniques for making your wood look old and worn.

How To Make a Silicone Brush-Up Mold – In this video, Frank Ippolito demonstrates how to make a mold by painting silicone rubber over a surface.

Present To Past – Stage Directions magazine talks with Natalie Kearns, the head of props at the Grand Theatre in Canada. They look at her career and some of the props she has built at various other theaters.


Whither Go Those Props? 1954

The following comes from a 1954 article and talks about where props retire to after their Broadway career:

By Arthur Gelb

When “Kind Sir” closed last spring, Joshua Logan like other producers before him, tackled a recurrent and vexing problem: What to do with a show’s props after they have been sat on, gazed upon or wielded for the last time.

Over the years, resourceful producers have evolved a carload of methods for converting superannuated trappings into cash, but Mr. Logan, in an entrepreneurial flash, thought up a new wrinkle. After finding that the authentic pieces he had picked up in Paris and London would fetch only a fraction of their worth at local antique shops, he decided to unload them on the highest bidders.

The Parke-Bernet Galleries were commissioned to auction off the props and, although it rained the day of the public sale, thereby reducing the attendance, Mr. Logan still netted more than a quarter of the original expenditure of $12,000. There were twenty-six lots in all, the highest being $825 for a Steinway grand and the lowest, $35, for three tea trays.

Mr. Logan’s off-stage success, in this era of costly play production, may well spur some of his hard-pressed confreres to follow suit. Actually, when a show has been a rousing financial hit, no one worries unduly about what will happen to the well-worn set decorations. But in the case of flops or modest runs, whatever money can be realized on the still shiny items of furniture, bric-a-brac and costumes is sought—eagerly.

Other Methods

In contrast with Mr. Logan’s innovation, most producers rely on less spectacular methods for prop disposal. They sell or rent items to TV studios, or sell them to out-of-town theatres or second-hand shops. Occasionally, props are stored for future use by the more active of the producing concerns. Sometimes they are burned (when there are no buyers and the price of storage is too high). Once in a while, choice items find their way into the homes of producers and other upper-echelon members of the company.

There are several known instances of showmen having furnished their homes and offices with chairs, couches, tables, lamps and other odds and ends selected for their productions by scenic designers. One producer foresightedly decorated a set with numerous volumes of second-hand books he had always wanted to read. (They now fill two wall-length cases in his home.) And a producing firm, now defunct, got off to an elegant start by furnishing its offices in midtown with Victorian pieces donated by the Shuberts’ warehouse. The furniture—orphaned by dead musical comedies—included two secretaries, a crystal chandelier and garlande mirrors and perfume tables.

Some producers appropriate items of trifling value from the sets of their plays as mementoes of the production. Producer Harald Bromley, for instance, saved a pair of angels on pedestals that were designed for “Glad Tidings,” and later planted them on either side of the stage as a special decoration for “Dead Pigeon.” Between plays, the angels rest at Mr. Bromley’s country home in Brewster, N. Y. Miss Theresa Helburn of the Theatre Guild, has no less than forty items, all from Guild productions, decorating her office. They include a tartan from “Mary of Scotland,” a prop star from “Carousel,” a garter from “Oklahoma!,” a dagger from “Othello,” a gold bracelet from “Time of Your Life,” a gold fan from “Taming of the Shrew,” a shoe from “Caesar and Cleopatra” and a cigarette from “Idiot’s Delight.”

Leading ladies like Helen Hayes frequently keep favorite costumes for sentiment’s sake after their plays close, but leading men tend to abandon theirs—and they often seem to turn up on press agents. A green slipover worn by Lee Cobb in “Death of a Salesman” found its way to publicity man Arthur Cantor; another press agent is still wearing a gray flannel suit that was part of the debris from a flop called “The Biggest Thief in Town” a few seasons ago.

Supporting actors and actresses, when they do not find themselves the recipients of free stage paraphernalia, are known to put in modest bids for useful items. Thus, a set of $450 draperies used in last season’s “The Prescott Proposals” was acquired for $25 by an enterprising family man. It is probable that an attractive apartment could be furnished very inexpensively by this sort of shopping around; anyone who plans to go about furnishing his quarters in this way merely needs unlimited patience, a taste that doesn’t conflict with that of the producer’s wife, and an eye for a flop (furnishings from hit shows are apt to be pretty threadbare by the end of a run).

Working Props

Some props, of course, are fairly impervious to wear and tear, but the producer knows this as well as you do and the chances are he will store the hardier items. Take “Angel in the Pawnshop.” More than 1,000 antiques and other pieces were displayed on the stage during its run a few seasons back. The producers stored most of them in their New Jersey warehouse and have since found a practical use for many of them. The musical instruments were used in “Hazel Flagg” and “Two on the Aisle.” “The Girl in the Pink Tights” had a French restaurant scene in which many of the “Pawnshop” props appeared; the umbrella with which Jeanmaire made her entrance in the same show was also from “Pawnshop.” Between shows, the props are rented out to TV studios.

Producers sometimes practically are forced to give away their painstakingly executed sets and costumes. Mike Todd had to sell his $200,000 “Night in Venice” scenery (for the operetta produced in 1952-53 at Jones Beach) to New York State for $750 because it would have been too expensive to dismantle it and ship it back to Manhattan for storage. The state intends to use the lumber for its parks.

Also disposed of at bargain prices not too long ago were the props and costumes from “Carnival in Flanders.” Some of the gowns went to Minsky’s burlesque in Newark. Minsky’s abbreviated the bodices.

Gelb, Arthur. “Whither Go Those Props?” The New York Times, 21 Nov. 1954, p. X3.

Great Big Prop Links

When Broadway Actors Sit Down for an Onstage Meal, Who Makes the Food? – The prop master, of course! Although, in this article, we find out that the Broadway musical Waitress also has a pie consultant working on the show. Read all about the complicated maneuvers it takes to get a fully-cooked meal on stage every night on cue.

Meet SNL’s 78-Year-Old “Heart Of The Show” – If you know anything about American theatrical set design, you know the name Eugene Lee. Chances are, if you’ve worked in regional or New York theater long enough, you’ve worked on a show he’s designed. Eugene has also designed the sets for every episode of Saturday Night Live since the beginning. Read all about his crazy schedule to make that happen.

Use a Drill to Shape a Chair Seat – Christopher Schwartz demonstrates a technique for using a drill to rough out the complex curved shape of a wooden seat before shaping it by hand. I’m sure this technique has a name, as I’ve seen it used in a variety of ways with other materials.

The Passion of Phil Tippett: Building Stop-Motion Masterpieces by Hand – Great Big Story looks at the latest project by Phil Tippett. Phil has worked in various capacities as a visual effects artist on films like Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and RoboCop. But his labor of love is a stop-motion film he has been creating entirely by hand for the past 30 years.