It is Thanksgiving tomorrow for those of us in the US. It is a time to reflect on the things we are thankful for, and I thought I would make a list of ten things that prop masters are thankful for (plus one bonus thing). What would you add to the list?
- A props list that fits on one page.
- Being able to return an item with an open package.
- Finding the perfect prop on eBay… and it has a “Buy it Now” option.
- Interns who understand the difference between craft and fabric scissors.
- When the designer says “I have the perfect one at home, I’ll just bring it in.”
- A publicity photographer who actually includes some of the props in the photos.
- Finding out the Meet and Greet for the next show has real food provided rather than just light snacks.
- When the designer chooses the fabric to reupholster the couch and it’s the cheapest option you presented.
- A cast with no food allergies.
- When that challenging prop you don’t even want to think about gets cut before you even thought about it.
And of course, the thing we can all be thankful for this holiday season:
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
The following comes from a column called “Some Theatrical Observations”, written by Adolph Klauber, and first appearing in the April 26, 1903, issue of The New York Times. Besides being a humorous story (and a reminder to maintain consistency with the props), it also details an interesting props solution for eating a lot of tarts. I’ve heard this same method was used to make dumplings eaten by Carol Channing in the 1964 production of Hello Dolly, but this article predates that by over sixty years.
On one occasion when James. T. Powers was a member of a traveling company he had a scene in which he was obliged to simulate the eating of a dozen or so of jelly tarts in the shortest possible time. When the tarts were properly prepared, the comedian could make way with them easily, and the act never failed to create much amusement. Indeed, Powers was so sure of his laughs at this particular part of the play that he always looked forward to it as a bright particular spot in the performance.
It was the duty of the property man to make the tarts for each performance by pasting together thin strips of tissue paper, adding a daub of jelly to the tops. The paper used was so thin that the tarts would collapse with the slightest moisture, and Mr. Powers could easily store away a dozen or more of them in his cheek.
One night Powers discovered that some of his friends were seated in front, and he was more than usually anxious to make a hit. He longed for the tart-swallowing moment and eventually it came. He seized the dish containing the tarts and hurriedly crammed a number of them in his mouth before he discovered that the property man had used stiff wrapping paper for preparing the dainties and they failed to collapse as usual.
The result was a highly realistic choking scene that was not a part of the business of the piece, and, when the comedian finally managed to dislodge the thick wad of paper from his mouth, there were some laughs both before and behind the footlights that were not usual to the piece.
Written by Adolph Klauber, first published in The New York Times, April 26, 1903.
“Making the Props Pop” is a nice news article about Bonnie Durben, a props master out in San Diego.
Over on the Stage Manager’s Forum is an interesting game called “Hell in a Handbag“. You take a simple note from a rehearsal report (such as “Maria is holding a book in I, 3.”). The first person comes up with five questions that arise from that seemingly innocuous note (“What color should Maria’s book be? What size? Any particular title or author? Will the audience see the inside? Hardcover or softcover? Used or new? Should it have a pricetag on it? Does it need a bookmark? Ribbon? Tie closure? Does it get thrown? Dropped? Destroyed? Burned?”). After asking those questions, that person adds a new note for the next person to ask questions about. It’s a great look at how even ordinary props can have many considerations which need to be answered for every production.
In case you missed it, hear is a video of Adam Savage (from Mythbusters) talking about why we make at this year’s Makers Faire.
Joseph O. Holmes has taken these interesting photographs of workspaces over a four year period.
Happy Memorial Day, everybody. Just a short list of links today.
This Ode to a Props Master, by Marissa Bidella, is quite fun.
Magazines from the Future shows off some of the covers of magazines which appeared in the background of the film Blade Runner.
Propnomicon has attempted a gaff of a Mongolian Death Worm using only the traditional materials that the original gaffs were made of: paper, flour, cotton fiber and glue. A “gaff” is a fake “speciman” of an imaginary creature used by carnivals to get people to visit their sideshows. PT Barnum made some of the most famous gaffs, such as the Feejee Mermaid.
Mother’s Day is this Sunday. Bill Tull, the prop master on Conan O’Brian, has some Mother’s Day gift ideas for those on a budget.
Here’s a blast from the past: an Interview with Anna Marchant, who was a prop maker on the two Matrix sequels. It’s a great interview because it really cuts to the heart of what kind of materials she works with, how the prop department interacts with other departments, and all the other day-to-day details that other interviews forego to talk about “cool props” or “what it’s like to work with movie stars”.
Dallas Poll, a prop maker on Lord of the Rings, had his house burglarized recently, with a number of props and memorabilia stolen. To make matters worse, one of the items stolen was his Stormtrooper costume—and the thieves struck on Star Wars Day!
Rich Dionne’s latest post is about working together in the theatre. This isn’t just about how a playwright works with a director; this is about collaboration within the production department itself, and how important it is for props, costumes, lighting, sound and scenery to occasionally work together on tasks and not just throw walls up around their individual departments.
Robert Lang does a nice job summing up the advantages of not measuring your work. Relying on measuring devices introduces inaccuracies into your work. Sounds counter-intuitive, right? Check the article out.