Tag Archives: shop

The Property Department of an opera house in 1851

This article first appeared in The Critic, a London literary journal, in 1851.

A Peep into the Interior of an Opera House

The Property Department

The word “property” implies that vast variety of articles which, after the scene is placed and the actors are dressed, are still required to complete the picture. It is easier to name some of these things than further to define their general character. Among them are stage furniture – tables, chairs, sofas, ottomans, curtains, draperies, musical instruments (other than those used by the orchestral performers), flowers, vases, garlands, helments, swords, spears and shields, thrones and canopies, animals, jewel caskets, crowns, coronets, and sceptres, guns, halberds, wings and wands for fairies, altars, cabinets, goblets, banquetting boards, tombs, sledges, carriages, garden seats, chandeliers, banners, trophies, croziers, flags, mitres, candlesticks, beds, clocks, looking-glasses, lanterns, emblems, masks, palm branches for angels, and torches for devils. With such a specimen of the varieties, each of which is “a property,” some idea may be formed of the ingenuity, readiness, and industry which send up all these things when wanted, and a thousand others, from the bowels of the theatre itself. For nearly everything is manufactured on the spot. Descending through some labyrinthine passages, and below the level of the put, the explorer finds a series of apartments where day does not seem to come, but where eternal gas more than supplies its place, and where – under the superintendence of the most talented of property masters, Mr. Bradwell – a body of workers male and female, are engaged in making and ornamenting these articles, renovating old ones, and transforming them from one fashion to another, or skillfully carving, and gilding, and painting new and fresh ones. The scene, as may be imagined, is extraordinary, from the miscellaneous character of the manufacture. For while some of the objects are substantial and real, others are but imitations. A chair or a sofa, for example, is solid and steady – which is well, for Signor Lablache may chance to sit upon it – whereas the spear of the angel, or the pickaxe of the peasant, which is to be wielded by some young lady in the wings or a jacket, as the case may be, is of some light wood, with silver paper counterfeiting steel, or a little dark paint affecting to look like iron. There is, of course, a separation in the labour, but to the unaccustomed eye there is a series of visions of gold, shavings, bright colour, carpenters’ benches, diamond stars, tenpenny nails, goblets of rosy wine, and unmistakeable gluepots. But it requires a more intimate inspection of the work, and a comprehension of its heterogeneous character, to do justice to the extraordinary ability of the property master. When a new opera or ballet is to be produced, he makes out, very early in its history, a list of everything which can possibly be wanted upon the stage, and he is responsible for the scenes lacking nothing when the curtain rises.

Originally printed in The Critic, London Literary Journal. Volume 10, Published by J. Crockford, 1851 (pg. 183)

Milwaukee Rep’s Prop Shop

Anna masters embroidery stitches
Anna masters embroidery stitches

Anna Warren pointed me to an article which goes behind the scenes at Milwaukee Repertory‘s prop shop. “Props Properly Placed“, by Susan Bence of WUVM, shows Anna and the other artisans, along with properties director Jim Guy, getting ready for a production of Pride and Prejudice.  There is an audio segment as well as a written one. Don’t miss the link to the photo slideshow as well.

For more information, Mike Lawler’s website has a profile on Jim Guy, including a short video.

Humana Festival

Actors Theatre of Louisville
Actors Theatre of Louisville

I had the pleasure of working at the Actors Theatre of Louisville back in 2006-7. This time of year, they begin working on the Humana Festival, a festival of new plays. It’s a hectic time for the props shop, with six new plays, three short plays, and apprentice scenes all being fully produced within two or three months. That’s a lot of props.

This year, Mark Walston, the props supervisor at ATL, is writing a blog during this process. It looks pretty interesting so far, and really gives a good inside look at life in the props shop at one of America’s great regional theatres.

I’ve linked to Mark’s Flickr stream of photos from the production studio a while back, which gives another great look behind the scenes at ATL.

Alabama Shakespeare Festival on Video

Alabama Public Television has produced a video focusing on the production of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. The video on props is pretty good, showing one of the fastest life-casting processes ever. The rest of the series, called “The Art of the Theatre“, isn’t bad either.

It’s videos like this that make me wish more theatres, especially prop shops, had their own video series. If your prop shop has any videos anywhere, or if you know of any that do, let me know.

A tour of the Mythbusters Shop

I’m not the only props person who is enthralled with Mythbusters. Working there would be a dream come true. There is a video on YouTube of Jamie giving a tour of their shop. It’s an amazing space, the kind every props artisan wishes they had. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have an entire warehouse to fill with tools, materials, found objects, and miscellaneous parts. Still, it’s a great video to watch, showing how they organize all the various bits they’ve accumulated over the years, and the challenges of keeping order in such a large shop.

Mythbusters: Behind the scenes tour, part 1

Mythbusters: Behind the scenes tour, part 2