You sometimes find the title “props coordinator” listed in the back of a Playbill. Sometimes it might be “production props coordinator” or “props supervisor”. You know what a props master is; why is this other term sometimes used instead?
In every Broadway house (and many of the larger union houses across the country), you have a “house props” position. This is a union job in charge of the preset of all the props, running the show, and clearing at the end of the night. Basically, any time a prop needs to be touched or moved outside of the performance, it must be done by the house props or a member of his crew.
This position is distinct from the production props master, who acquires all the props during preproduction through opening. On smaller shows or transfers, a production props person may not be needed, either because the props arrive complete as a “package”, or because the particular house props person is a props master in his own right. But most shows go through their own period of rehearsals, and so a production props master is needed.
Some union props people have both jobs. They work as a production props master on one show during the day, then run a show as the house props at a different theater at night. This is true in other departments as well; many of the union shops around New York City are open from 7am to 3pm to allow workers time to run shows at night.
The production props master position does not need to be union. Many rehearsal spaces around New York City are not union spaces, and the production props master or her assistants can carry the props around, make modifications or repairs, or otherwise work in the space.
However, once the props arrive at the theater space, they can only be handled by the union. This means that a non-union props master can literally carry the props to the front door, then drop them and wait for a member of the house props crew to come and carry it to the stage. Once inside, they can ask the crew to repair or modify props, but cannot physically touch anything themselves. This can lead to potential frustrations, but many non-union props masters have found ways to make this work.
When it comes time to print the Playbill, the union only allows its own members to use the title “props master” or “production props master”. So for shows with a non-union props master, the term “props coordinator” (or one of its variations) is used instead.