Tag Archives: conference

Childsplay Theatre

I am back from the 18th (or 19th?) official S*P*A*M conference. This year’s host was Jim Luther, the Prop Director at Childsplay Theatre in Arizona. On the Saturday of the conference, he led us on a tour of his props shop and their facilities.

Welcome to the props shop

The front room of the shop is the “clean” room, which also had a number of props out for display. Jim showed us some pieces as we looked around. Continue reading Childsplay Theatre

Leaving Arizona

I am flying out of Arizona today after a fun and learning adventure at this year’s S*P*A*M conference. I have a lot of notes to go through and photographs to share from this years conference of propmasters, but I have to get to my computer first. Until then, enjoy this piece from PBS NewsHour on the Maker Movement. It’s an hour-long video exploring the DIY and maker movement, including things like Maker Faires and training in public schools.


USITT 2011

As you read this post, I will probably already be in North Carolina at this year’s USITT. I may be manning the S*P*A*M booth (table 80) at some point. On Friday, I’ll be reviewing portfolios. Other than that, I’ll be checking out as many workshops and panels as I can, and meeting up with as many people as I am physically able. If you will be there, drop me a line if you want to say hi.

I know Jacob Coakley will be live-blogging the conference over at Theatre Face. While USITT has its own Twitter feed, it also has a feed specifically for the conference. You can also follow the #USITT hashtag at Twitter for up to date news as well. In other words, even if you can’t make it, you can still stay informed as the conference is happening through the end of this week.

For those unfamiliar with the conference, USITT is the United States Institute for Theatre Technology. They hold a yearly conference to bring together members from around the country involved in lighting, sound, video, scenery, costumes, props and every other facet of technical theatre. It’s a chance for young designers and technicians to show off their work, for established professionals to meet and reunite with others, and for vendors to show off their latest products. The conference has panels, discussions and workshops on all sorts of subjects. It really is the only conference devoted solely to technical theatre here in the United States and Canada.

Interestingly, the first four USITT conferences from 1961-1964 were held here in New York City. In fact, 8 of the 51 conferences took place in the Big Apple, but the most recent one was way back in 1985. And unless you count Ohio or Pittsburgh, the last conference on the East Coast was the 1991 conference in Boston. Did they forget that we’re still making theatre out here?

Maker Faire 2010

Rocket Roundabout
The retro-futuristic sculpture at the Rocket Roundabout

This past weekend, I attended Maker Faire in New York City. For those who don’t know, Maker Faire is an event begun by Make Magazine. This year was the first time it came to New York City (or anywhere on the east coast for that matter). Though not strictly prop-related, it has a lot of overlapping areas of interest to the props community, and a lot of props people are interested in a lot of things here. Imagine if a science fair and a craft fair had a baby and it went to Burning Man for an episode of Mythbusters.

The New York Hall of Science and Flushing Meadows Park could not be a more ideal setting for this Faire. There is a retro-futuristic rocket sculpture in the center, and off to the side is a Gemini Titan II rocket and a Mercury-Atlas D Rocket; two of the rockets that first shot Americans into space.

Knitfitti on a real Space Age rocket.
Knitfitti on a real Space Age rocket. That sums it up.

Outside were several very dangerous looking carnival rides set up by a Brooklyn art collective called the Madagascar Institute. They had also set up the World’s Largest Mousetrap, a reference to the classic kid’s board game, not an actual mousetrap.

Life Size Mousetrap
Life Size Mousetrap

Later in the day, they hosted a chariot race, featuring all sorts of home made vehicles racing around the Rocket Sculpture in a truly dangerous and hilarious spectacle.

Swimming Cities in the chariot races
Swimming Cities in the chariot races

The Faire had a few tents devoted to fabrication technologies. In the first were the familiar commercial brands, such as ShopBot CNC machines, Epilog laser cutters and engravers, and a slew of similar devices. Another tent was set up with MakerBots, RepRaps, Fabbers and the like. These are 3d printers designed to be made-yourself. Some, like the MakerBot, can be purchased as a complete kit which you assemble, while others, like the Fabber, you can build solely through blueprints and instructions available online. Most of them have various intermediate possibilities, where you can purchase the electronic parts as a kit but construct the physical parts yourself, or vice versa. The common thread between them is that they are based on an open-source community, where individuals make modifications or improvements and tell everyone else in the community how they did it. None of the technology that goes into them is secret or hidden.

Fire, danger, and awesomeness at Maker Faire
Fire, danger, and awesomeness at Maker Faire

The Faire offered a number of events, talks and demonstrations. I attended one called “Turning Pro: Becoming a Professional Maker” presented by the husband and wife team of Because We Can. They talked about the lessons they learned and mistakes they made in their journey from full-time jobs to running their own design and fabrication shop for interiors and events. It was very interesting; like many other prop-makers, I frequently do outside projects, and occasionally consider breaking away and making that my full-time job (especially during meetings or tech!) Their talk was based on an article they wrote called “Venturing Out…” if you’re interested in hearing what they had to say but couldn’t make it.

I watched the Fashion Show by Diana Eng. For you Project Runway fans out there, you may remember her from season 2. Since then, she’s remained busy in the fashion design world, incorporating all sorts of technology into her pieces. I wanted to see some of these in person, so I figured I’d check it out. A lot of other people had the same idea, as the line to get in was very long. Still, it was interesting to see clothes with LEDS and other lights, inflatable dresses, and 3D printed fabrics.

Diana Eng Fashion Show
Diana Eng Fashion Show

One of the things which surprised me was how many children were there. I follow Make Magazine and a lot of the community online, and just kind of assumed the attendees would be the same set of people. It wasn’t a bad surprise; it was actually very heartening to see kids who were even more excited and knowledgeable about these things than I am. If Maker Faire was around when I was a kid, I would probably be a bigger (and better) nerd than I am now. One might not think kids should be in the same space as anarchic arts collectives like the Madagascar Institute, but then again, this is New York City; if parents have their kids pose with topless mermaids for pictures at Coney Island’s Mermaid Parade, than seeing guys wearing nothing but gold lamé short-shorts is downright pedestrian.

One of the golden girls of the Madagascar Institute
One of the golden girls of the Madagascar Institute

At the end of the day, I attended a talk by Mark Frauenfelder, founder of Boing Boing, editor of Make Magazine and author of Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World. He talked about his book, which describes his efforts to take a more DIY approach to his life rather than just buying a solution. It’s a great inspiration to props people (I’ll be doing a full review at some point in the future). At the end, I introduced myself and got my copy of the book signed. It was a nice way to end a long and tiring, but insightful and inspiring day.

So if you’re into props, I highly recommend you check out the next Maker Faire that comes near you. Outside of USITT and SETC, it’s one of the most relevant get-togethers for us, and certainly one of the most fun.

Prop Masters Conference Roundup

This past weekend, I visited the lovely city of San Francisco for the first time. It was the 2010 S*P*A*M conference. For those of you not in the know, the Society of Properties Artisan Managers represents full-time properties directors (and their assistants, like me) in theatre, opera, and education. The currently 98 members work in nearly every part of the country and many of the major cities, as well as one in Canada.

As part of the conference, we toured the facilities at the San Francisco Opera and at Berkeley Rep. Each if those may become a blog post in the upcoming days. We also toured Pixar Studios, but that was all secret and no cameras were allowed.

We also had a hazardous communications training seminar with Monona Rossol. It has reminded me that I’ve posted very little information and links about safety on this site.

Finally, S*P*A*M is working on some exciting new things, which I will keep you all apprised of as they happen. I’d write more, but I’m at the airport waiting for my overnight flight home to NYC, and I have to go straight back to work in the morning. This Hart won’t be left in San Francisco!