Tag Archives: Buist Bickley

Props and Fine Art From Movies, Television and Theatre

The following is the press release for an exhibition I am a part of:

Props and Fine Art From Movies, Television & Theatre and Working Objects: Props by Ross MacDonald Open at The Beard & Weil Galleries, Wheaton College, Norton, MA
March 1 – April 13, 2018

In film, television and theatre, a hero prop is any item intended to be held or used by one of the main actors. Examples of hero props might include Shylock’s money box, as used by Al Pacino in The Merchant of Venice at New York’s Public Theater; the Red Apple Tobacco tin used in Quentin Tarantino’s film Hateful Eight; or the Mendl’s chocolate box from the film The Grand Budapest Hotel.

All of these objects, plus watercolors from La La Land, sketches from Moonrise Kingdom and other beautiful works of art, appear in Props and Fine Art from Movies, Television and Theater and Working Objects: Props by Ross MacDonald, opening in the Beard & Weil Galleries at Wheaton College in Norton MA, March 1 through April 13, 2018.

On March 1 from 5:00 to 6:00 pm, Haas Visiting Artist Ross MacDonald will give a talk about his work, followed by an opening for both exhibitions from 6:00 to 8:00. The public is invited to attend.

Curator Elizabeth Keithline commented that “prop makers are required to make objects that integrate perfectly into the action, both historically and aesthetically. Prop makers often have deep background knowledge on their subject, yet to create something that would take audience attention away from the action would be the worst kind of mistake. Hidden in plain sight, the props and artwork in this show often remained unnoticed by the audience, yet they drove plot completely.”

Props from the television show Boardwalk Empire by Ross MacDonald
Props from the television show Boardwalk Empire by Ross MacDonald

In the Weil Gallery, Working Objects

Ross MacDonald illustrates for Vanity Fair, The New York Times, The New Yorker, Newsweek, Time, Spy and Rolling Stone. He has authored and illustrated 4 children’s books, as well as the adult humor books In and Out with Dick and Jane, (with co-author James Victore) and What Would Jesus Craft?. MacDonald recently designed the bandana worn by Justin Timberlake in the 2018 Super Bowl halftime show.

Yet all the while he has led a secret double life designing and fabricating props for over 40 movies and television series. He has made everything from the book Bradley Cooper’s character throws out the window in Silver Linings Playbook, to the titular Book of Secrets for the second National Treasure movie; Jennifer Lawrence’s mop patents for Joy; baby’s favorite book in Baby’s Day Out; Nucky Thompson’s checkbook and Arnold Rothstein’s calling card for Boardwalk Empire; the morgue toe-tags in The Knick; the Pawnee town charter for Parks and Recreation; the Red Apple Tobacco tin in Tarantino’s Hateful Eight; Versace’s book in the latest season of American Crime Story and thousands of other props. For more information: https://www.ross-macdonald.com/.

Mendl's Chocolate box from the movie Grand Budapest Hotel by Annie Atkins
Mendl’s Chocolate box from the movie Grand Budapest Hotel by Annie Atkins

In the Beard Gallery, Props and Fine Art from Movies, Television and Theater

Annie Atkins specializes in graphics for filmmaking, which means that she makes any graphic pieces outlined by a period film script—like postage stamps and banknotes to help create Wes Anderson’s fictional State of Zubrowka in the Grand Budapest Hotel; or shopfront signs and fake passports for Steven Spielberg’s New York as depicted in Bridge of Spies. Other films she has worked on include Box Trolls, Wonderstruck and Isle of Dogs. For the Mendl’s chocolate box exhibited at Wheaton, Ms. Atkins also credits the artists Wes Anderson, Liliana Lambriev, Jan Jericho and prop master Robin Miller.

Buist Bickley – According to Crains New York Business, “Bickley is one of the most in-demand prop supervisors on Broadway.” Current productions include Spongebob Squarepants, Frozen, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Dear Evan Hansen and Fun Home. In the February 4 Playbill, Bickley was quoted as saying “Picture frames, rugs, chandeliers, sconces, any picture on the wall—those are all props… I always say that the ceiling, the floor, and the walls are sets. Everything that makes it what it is, is a prop.”

Krabby Patty from SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical provided by Buist Bickley
Krabby Patty from SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical provided by Buist Bickley

Jay Duckworth is props master at the Public Theater in NYC. In over three decades in theatre he has worked from an old Mule Barn up to Prop Master on Hamilton. He’s founded the Prop Summit for all properties people to meet, network and learn; given keynote speeches for KCACTF and USITT. He is currently curating the first Props Lab at USITT’s National conference, he is a contributor to Stage Directions Magazine and is a Professor at Pace University. Jay’s website, the Proptologist, can be explored here: https://www.proptologist.com/.

Eric Hart has been building props for theatre, opera, retail display and other industries since 2003. He is currently the props master at Triad Stage in Greensboro, North Carolina, and a professor at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. His props were built for theatres both on and off-Broadway, New York’s “Shakespeare in the Park”, the Santa Fe Opera, and the Actors Theatre of Louisville, among others.

Eric also writes about building props and other things. He is the author of The Prop Building Guidebook: for Theatre, Film, and TV, and The Prop Effects Guidebook and writes regularly for his blog The Prop Agenda: https://www.props.eric-hart.com/.

Randy Lutz is the Properties Director for the Santa Fe Opera, where he has held various positions since 1979. Lutz often presents workshops at regional and national theatre festivals and conferences. Lutz serves as a responder for allied crafts and prop construction and design for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.

Under Randy’s direction, the heads on loan from the Santa Fe Opera were created by Anna Warren, Hannah Shoemaker, Robin Lu Payne, Eileen Garcia, C. David Russell, Chastity Collins and Nancy Allen.

Carl Sprague is a designer working for film and stage as well as special, site-specific projects. Career highlights include art direction on The Royal Tenenbaums, concept illustration for Academy Award Winners The Grand Budapest Hotel and Twelve Years A Slave. Carl is currently developing a feature adaptation of Edith Wharton’s 1916 classic Summer.

Visit the Wheaton College event page for more details.

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.

 

Prop-alicious Prop Links

For this Broadway prop master, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is the golden ticket – Buist Bickley is back, with his biggest Broadway show ever. Crain’s New York takes a look at how Buist brought the Wonka factory to life from his Greenpoint studio.

Bringing the animals of the jungle to life in the stage show Running Wild – The puppeteers from War Horse are back, and this time they created a whole jungle’s worth of puppet animals to frolic on stage. Check out the sketches of some of their designs, and watch a video to see the final puppets in action.

Let’s Talk About Sets, Baby – Helen Keller is back, and her play was just on stage at UW-Stevens Point. Check out this conversation with the set designer and the props master about how historical accuracy with the set dressing and properties brought her world to life.

Ironhead Studio’s Superhero and Specialty Costumes – Ironhead makes some of the most iconic superhero suits for films today, such as the Batman suit from Batman V Superman. Tested talks with founder Jose Fernandez at this year’s Monsterpalooza.

Friday Quick Links

Spend twenty minutes to watch this fantastic mini-documentary on the life of a prop master. The American Theatre Wing follows Buist Bickley, Kathy Fabian and Faye Armon-Troncoso as they navigate New York City to prop their shows.

Gabrielle Donathan has a very useful article called “The Cost of Custom Cosplay: Where Does the Money Go?” In it, she takes three complete costumes she has constructed, and breaks down every component and task in the process to show their individual costs. The total is basically what she charges her clients. If you think custom work is expensive, this shows why. And if you do your own work, this is a great primer on how to break down a project and account for all the expenses before you come up with a price quote.

Make Magazine has pictures and videos showing the construction of a wearable Rancor mascot suit by Frank Ippolito for Comic Con 2015. It’s mostly sheets of foam rubber with a killer paint job.

Finally, Bill Tull from Conan O’Brien participates in the Prop Master Challenge. This is how I imagine a lot of prop masters do their job (kidding).

Podcast with Buist Bickley

Head on over to the “In 1 Podcast” site and check out this episode with Buist Bickley. Buist is fairly new to the New York props scene, but he has already served as production props supervisor (the Broadway term for “props master”) on a number of high profile shows: Other Desert CitiesThe MountaintopAct OneMothers and Sons, and many others.

The podcast is a little over two hours long, but you learn so much about working as a props supervisor in New York and on Broadway shows. Buist talks about how he gets hired on new shows, and what the beginning of the process is like. He discusses when he likes to put the real props into rehearsal (“as soon as possible”).  He divulges his favorite places to go shopping and how he manages to get things shipped as quickly as possible.

I learned a few things as well. I did not know that the props person is also responsible for providing rehearsal scenery. Buist talks about the intricacies of dealing with unions, and how once he gets to a theatre, he is no longer allowed to touch any of the props, or in some cases, even set foot on stage.

The episode is filled with so many more tidbits and information. Buist talks about his favorite designers to collaborate with, his favorite materials to use, and how he got started in the business. And check out the other episodes of “In 1” as well, to learn more about your favorite Broadway designers.