Broadway Design On Display At McNay Museum – If you are in San Antonio, TX, before June 30th, check out this exhibition of theatrical and film designs. The show features models and renderings from some of the 20th and 21st centurys’ most prolific designers.
Get Up Close With the Props of Dear Evan Hansen – Take a look backstage at the hit Broadway show to see how the props are stored. This series of photos is a great look at all the minute detail that goes into preparing seemingly ordinary props. Even the most mundane details have some story behind it, or some kind of trick rigged into it to make the show run smoothly and consistently.
Woman’s Day Magazine’s Star Wars Playset Designs (1978, 1980) – In two separate issues in 1978 and 1980, Woman’s Day Magazine published plans and instructions to construct Star Wars playsets for the popular action figures. These plans had you build them fully from scratch, using sheets of plywood, plastic, laminates, and other raw materials. This article includes links to the original plans as well, so grab them while you can!
The Secret Tools Magicians Use to Fool You – In another photo series, Louis De Belle has photographed devices used by magicians for his upcoming book, and shares a few of them with us here. He doesn’t actually give away how any of the tricks work, but it is a fun exercise to guess what each magical prop accomplishes.
First things first, a lot of you have noticed that the original publication date for The Prop Effects Guidebook has come and gone, but you still cannot order it. It turns out there was some problems with the printers, so the book needs to be reprinted, meaning its release is postponed for the time being. So sorry! If you come to USITT, my publisher will have one copy at their booth you can look through, or you can hunt me down and I will tell you everything that is in the book.
‘Props’ go to Wheaton: Exhibitions celebrate stage, movie, TV artistry that usually goes unnoticed – Last week I was in Massachusetts for the opening of the “Props and Fine Art from Movies, Television and Theatre” exhibition I was a part of. Besides my props, it also features work from Jay Duckworth, Ross MacDonald, and Carl Sprague, who were all at the opening with me, as well as Randy Lutz, Buist Bickley, and Annie Atkins. The show runs through mid-April, so check it out if you’re in New England!
The Goblet of Fire – I did not realize that the original Goblet of Fire from the Harry Potter films was carved from a solid piece of English Elm by the Head Propmaker. Many of the film’s actual props are on display in London at the WB Studio Tour. Unfortunately, this link does not go into too much detail into the Goblet’s construction, but it’s still pretty cool.
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.”
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/.
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.”
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.
By the time you read this, I should be in Milwaukee for the 53rd annual conference of the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT). This is the largest US conference dedicated solely to design, production and technology in theatre and other live entertainment. If you follow me on Twitter, I’ll be twitting about events during the conference. I thought I’d take a moment to share some events and sessions that may be of interest to props people who will be there.
First up, as if I haven’t written about it enough already, is my book signing. Stage Directions Magazine is hosting the signing on Friday, March 22nd, at 12:30 pm, at Booth 100, located in the far corner of the exhibition (to the left of the entrance, on the side of the hall with Cover the Walls).
In the same vein, be sure to check out the book signing for The Properties Director’s Handbook by Sandra Strawn. It will be held at the USITT Booth/Market Place on Friday, at 4:30 pm. The book is a great complement to my own; Sandy was also the technical editor on my book.
The Society of Properties Artisan Managers (S*P*A*M) has a booth at the Expo; I will be behind the counter on Saturday morning from 9:30-11am. Come check it out at table 670, in front of the USITT Booth & Marketplace, and right across from IATSE Local One’s booth.
If you go to the New Product Showcase (often called “Swag and Brag”, held Thursday night from 7-9pm), keep your eyes and ears open for Stagebitz. They will be giving away copies of my book, as well as copies of The Properties Directors Handbook. Check out their booth as well, #1260 in the far corner diagonally opposite from Stage Directions’.
A few panels devoted to props have caught my eye this year:
On Wednesday morning at 8am (yikes!) is “3D printing for the Stage”. One of the presenters, Owen Collins, was featured in my own article on 3D printing, “Printing a Set“.
Wednesday at 1pm is a session on stage firearm safety called “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out!” Despite the accidents that have happened in the past, I still hear horror stories of dangerous practices with firearms on stage, so this should be a very useful session for any prop master dealing with weapons.
At 6pm on Wednesday is “Wireless Light and Motion for Props Masters”. The presenters include the guys at RC4 Wireless, who make small wireless dimmers and radio control devices intended for theatre.
Thursday morning at 9:30am is “Reimagining Theatre with Green Ideals”. While it’s not specifically geared toward props, it does involve set design and production, so props people may get something out of it.
On Friday at 2:30pm is perhaps one of the most promising sessions on props: “Grave Matters.” With discussions about stage gore, severed limbs and dead bodies, it should be a bloody good time. With my former instructor Tom Fiocchi as one of the presenters, it should be fairly high-energy as well.
Saturday has another 8am session (bleh) called “Preparing Props People”. While it is focused on what educators should be teaching future props masters, students and early career props people may find it useful to see if their own education is complete enough.
At 2pm on Saturday, Donyale Werle will be discussing the art of green scenery. Donyale won the Tony last year for Peter and the Starcatcher, as well as a Lucille Lortel Award for the off-Broadway production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (which I was assistant props master on). Her talks on using recycled materials for sets and props are always enlightening.
Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies