I’m still catching up with a lot of things; you may have noticed Monday’s post did not appear until Tuesday. First up, I want to mention that Puppet Kitchen will be giving a live chat interview today at Theatre Face, starting at 2pm (E.S.T.). We’ve worked with them together and individually on a number of projects here at the Public, like The Bacchae and Hamlet, and will be joining them again on our upcoming production of Compulsion. Check it out!
Here are a few links to help you make it through the week:
The Replica Prop Forum is posting a three-part interview with John Dykstra, perhaps best known for creating the visual effects on a little film called Star Wars.
The LA Times’ Hero Complex has an interview with Barry Wilkinson, prop master for all the Harry Potter films. He’s constructed over 500 magic wands just for the final film alone.
We just finished our summer season in Central Park with a theatricalized concert version of “Capeman”, the musical by Paul Simon. Though it got less-than-stellar reviews the first time around (and cost $11 million for 68 performances), this reincarnation was very well-received and quite enjoyable. It was also a lot of fun to work on, sort of like a chaser to the stomach-churning intensity of the two Shakespeare shows in repertory we did at the beginning of the summer (though having one of them transfer to Broadway is a nice feather in the cap). Plus, production meetings at the end of a long day of tech become a lot more fun when Paul Simon is giving you notes.
Anyway, the show had a few paper props I made; these are two of them, one of which made it in, the other which was cut. If you’re unfamiliar with the story, here’s a quick summary so you can follow along. “Capeman” is a fictionalized retelling of a real event. In 1959, during a gang fight in Hell’s Kitchen (a New York City neighborhood), a 15-year old named Salvador Agron stabbed and killed two teenagers. He wore a cape, hence the nickname; the story exploded in the news media. He was convicted and placed on death row, but his sentence was lessened to life in prison. The musical follows his early life in Puerto Rico, the stabbing, his imprisonment, and his search for redemption and salvation while in prison.
The airline ticket is given to Agron’s mother while they lived in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, by a New York preacher who wishes to marry her. As the show is based on a real event within the last century, I was able to dig up a lot of historical information and primary sources right on the internet. Several sites in particular came in handy. Airline History has a database showing which airlines were operational in different parts of the world throughout the history of aviation. They also have a lot of images of airline tickets. The front cover is an early 1950s ticket from Caribair, an airline that flew out of Mayagüez during the time period of the show. I liked the artwork of it, so I copied it “as is”. I resized it to the size of a typical airline ticket at that time, which I found by looking at several 1950s airline tickets on eBay that listed dimensions in their descriptions.
Airline Timetable Images was another great site I used. Though they cover timetables throughout history, rather than tickets, the artwork is still the same. This is where I found the back cover for my ticket shown above. I resized it and changed the colors to match the front cover. Airtimes is another great source for these kinds of images and information.
These are the inside pages. I made these from bits and pieces of ticket images I found from the previously mentioned sites, as well as eBay. It’s always a little harder to find images of the boring parts of ephemera, since most sites only scan and display the fun colorful parts. Also, the actual ticket part is taken by the airlines which tend to throw them away, as opposed to the traveler who is more likely to keep it as a souvenir. I’ve never even bought a real paper airplane ticket in all the times I’ve flown, so I couldn’t use my own memories as a reference.
I think what I came up with was close enough, particularly since they never display the inside of the ticket to the audience. I even remembered to check which airports existed in New York City at this time period; she couldn’t very well have a ticket in 1953 from Mayagüez to JFK!
I also made some postcards. I made three, but they were only going to use one. I thought these three were different enough to give them some choices. I really liked the red one on the right, as it reminded me of “West Side Story”, which was happening during this same time period and which dealt with some of the same issues and locations as the real Capeman saga. During rehearsal, they decided to change the postcard to a letter in an envelope.
I found an image of the back of a postcard from this time period as well. I printed the stamp image out separately and cut it out with those craft scissors that give you a wavy edge. Jay has several postal ink stamps in his tool bag, so we finished this off with a cancellation mark and a date stamp. It’s the little details like that which add so much more depth to a paper prop without adding too much effort.
Ephemera can be some of the hardest props to research and produce accurately, but thanks to the falling prices of bandwidth, storage, and digitization technologies, we see more and more scanned images of ephemera online everyday. It can be daunting to go through all the galleries and collections, and search engines are still less than ideal for finding the perfect image. Here are some sites I’ve discovered to help aid your search for the minor transient documents of everyday life. A lot of sites post a ton of links to other sites, but it can be frustrating as many places do not post images online, their images are unusable, or the navigation and search are just too complex and esoteric to use. Remember to search my blog in case you don’t see one of your favorite sites listed; I may have listed it in an earlier article.
The Ephemera Network has a lot of images uploaded by users. Because it is a community, there is also plenty of discussions and interaction concerning other places to track down ephemera. If you are a die-hard fan, you can even join in and share your interests or ask questions with other members.
The Ephemera Catalog has a very large and very varied selection of ephemera for sale. The great thing about sites that sell ephemera is that they offer high-quality scans to entice buyers. The site also has a fantastic selection of ephemera links which should give you a few hours of entertainment.
Quadrille Ephemera shows a rotating selection of what they offer for sale. The shop specializes in more hand-written and personal ephemera, like invitations, checks and holiday cards.
Scott J. Winslow specializes in selling American historical memorabilia, mostly from the nineteenth century. The images on the site are pretty high-resolution.
Sheaff: ephemera has a lot of great images in a variety of interesting categories. Be sure to check out the “links” on this site; you’ll never leave the internet.
Beer Labels has nearly 5000 beer labels. The images on the website are watermarked, but they say they can email higher-resolution files without watermarks.
This huge collection of Wine Labels is organized by subject as well as brand.
The Ad*Access Project has over 7000 American and Canadian advertisements from 1911-1955.
A Nation of Shopkeepers is a collection of trade ephemera from 1654 to 1860. Check it out if you need business-related items from old-timey Britain.
Scrapbooks are great because they preserve many types of ephemera of lesser importance and pedigree that would normally be passed-on by collectors, but are nonetheless vital to adding detail to the world of the play. Heritage Scrapbooks has images from 21 scrapbooks of various ages. You can also check out Marion’s Scrapbook, from a young woman during her college years of 1913-1917.
If you’re interested in medical and surgical imagery, you can browse several thousand images at the History of Medicine.
Arms, crests and monograms began to be used on stationary in England in the 1840s. They replaced the wax seal in many cases, which is oh-so-popular as a theatrical prop device. For the prop-maker obsessed with utmost historical accuracy, you can browse crests organized by topic to add to the stationary in your show.
Like stamps? Who doesn’t like stamps? Though images of stamps aren’t terribly difficult to search for, you can save time with this comprehensive index of stamps from around the world. Browse by country or topic and narrow your search by year.
Dying Speeches & Bloody Murders is an interesting collection; in 18th and 19th century Britain, broadsides were sold at public executions with an account of the crime or description of the criminal. They’re like an old-timey (and more gruesome) version of a program at a sporting event.
Similarly, the Roscommon Historical Research site has ephemera from County Roscommon in Ireland. They do not have many examples online, and the pictures are too small to print directly, but they have such a great range of items that are often overlooked at other sites.
If you are interested in learning more about ephemera rather than merely looking at it, the articles at the Ephemera Society of America delve into the histories of all sorts of fascinating categories and subcategories of printed paper materials.
As always, one of my favorite sources for ephemera is Flickr. Do you have any favorite sites or sources? Leave me a comment and let me know!
I just finished reading Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World. It’s a great book about one man’s journey into a more DIY lifestyle. As props people, we can’t always make every prop by ourselves, but the more we understand how objects are made and how we can alter them, the greater our vocabulary of prop solutions becomes.
Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies