Tag Archives: prop master

Feeling Creative and Design Patterns in props

I focus a lot on the “building” and “making” of props on this blog; it’s time for a bit of information about the organizational and motivational part of the job.

43 Folders is a website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work. It’s great if you’re a prop master trying to get more organized or motivated at work, or a props artisan trying to manage your time and energy better.

I found one post in particular to be interesting. The Problem with “Feeling Creative” talks about how “creative work” is still work. There are a lot of books and blogs out there which want to inspire you to feel artistic, but the only way to really get creative work done is by hard work and perserverance.

Merlin Mann, the author, writes:

The athlete got good not by reading reviews of headbands, but by waking up early, lacing shoes in the dark, and hitting the track to train hard. While the surgeon got good not by watching reruns of Trapper John, M.D., but by slogging through medical school, residencies, and hundreds of hours of face time with patients, colleagues, and mentors. “Feeling” had nothing to do with it.

He continues his post by introducing the idea of “design patterns”, commonly used in the fields of architecture, design, and software engineering. As he explains:

By documenting and categorizing the things that “tend to work” within a given context (and within a given set of constraints), individual patterns can provide the basis for a pattern language that encourages flexible problem-solving that discourages the costly and time-consuming tendency to reinvent the wheel.

It got me thinking about props, and whether there are any design patterns in our fields. The paperwork and prop plots used by propmasters have become fairly standardized throughout the industry. Prop artisans have tried-and-true techniques for building chairs, casting an actor’s head, or distressing leather. Props running crew layout their prop tables in much the same way throughout the country.

For your homework this weekend, think of any other design patterns which may exist in props. Think of some things which you wish had design patterns, or things you wished could be taught in schools to upcoming prop professionals. Write all about it in the comments below.

The People Who Prop Up the Shows

The People Who Prop Up the Shows, by Davi Napoleon, is an oldie but a goodie. Though written in 2001, it still has a lot of great information on a number of the top prop professionals and how they got into the business.

photograph by Eric Hart
photograph by Eric Hart

Some of the names in the article have been mentioned before on this blog. Jim Guy, the propmaster of the Milwaukee Rep, was highlighted in my Milwaukee Rep’s Prop Shop post.

They also showcase the Berkeley Rep prop shop. I looked through my archives and was stunned that I haven’t written about them yet. Not only does the Rep maintain a wonderful blog, but the prop shop regularly contributes all sorts of behind-the-scenes articles.

Mary Robinette Kowal

Mary Robinette Kowal is a puppeteer and science-fiction writer in New York City. She is also works in props. Her blog contains the occasional post about the interesting props she’s built, and fascinating stories about the day-to-day life of a NYC props master (such as getting a moose-head down five flights of stairs, or carrying an axe on the subway).

You can quickly peruse all the posts dealing with props. Be sure to look at all the pages, as there’s quite a bit of great information there.

Jay Duckworth

Jay makes a flat foam figure.
Jay makes a flat foam figure.

I’ve been working in the props shop at the Public Theatre for the past week and a half. Jay Duckworth is the props master there, and a fantastic guy to work for. You can see his work on his website.

Jay runs a podcast on props. You can listen to “Prop Dept” on iTunes. I’ve never really dealt with podcasts before, so I don’t know how you would get it if you don’t have iTunes installed. I have it, so I was able to download the latest five episodes. He presents tips and tricks such as making a barb-wire crown that oozes blood, turning a switchblade comb into a switchblade knife, and making slime.