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Musings from the Prop Summit

Today’s post is guest written by Jay Duckworth. Last Saturday was the yearly New York City Props Summit, which Jay has been hosting at the Public Theater for the last seven years.

Musings from the Prop Summit

by Jay Duckworth

That very familiar “buzz, buzz” hits my phone: “I’m leaving. Don’t abandon Rebecca, okay?” It’s Sara, the prop shop manager.

“I’ll be down shortly. Thank you for all your help.” The Props Summit started 20 minutes ago but I ran away to the upstairs bathroom because I was getting panicky with social anxiety. I love talking to students; students actually want to hear what you have to say, and they listen to each word. But downstairs were my peers: Broadway prop masters, The Metropolitan Opera, SUNY Purchase, Yale, Emerson, the theater where I first prop mastered, crafts people, Julliard, Rosco, Spaeth, Costume Armor… it was a lot of people. I finally came downstairs, grabbed a juice box and snuck in.

2015 NYC Props Summit
2015 NYC Props Summit

After an hour of wine, beer, and way too much cheese, we went into the Newman theater and took over the first couple rows of seats. I welcomed everyone to the 7th annual Props Summit, and we went around and said who we were and what we did. We usually have speakers, but this was the first year in seven that I was able to take a two week vacation; I apologized that I was so lax this year and asked for volunteers to help with next year’s Summit.

I opened the doors to questions or concerns that the group had. Some of the younger people were worried about getting work once they graduated and Buist Bickley immediately said that if you are good and pleasant to be around, you can get work. Scott Laule, the props master at MTC, interjected with, “You also have to be on time for God’s sake, and at least be a little normal.”

Other people spoke about internships and getting work outside of regular theater. Emily Morrisey, who works at the event company Imagination, said they are looking for crafts people all the time.  It was the same with Spaeth.

Listening to Carrie Mossman
Listening to Carrie Mossman

Chad Tiller from Rosco spoke about fire retardants and how to approach situations where people don’t have a great concept of what it means to make something fire-retardant vs fire-proof.

Jen McClure spoke about how encouraging it was to see so many young women out and asked them to push themselves out of their comfort zone and go for jobs that seem well out of their reach, because in the end they may not be. That lead into a brain storming session about resumes and what to include and to be as honest as possible. No one is going to be everything, but be honest about your skills. If you are a good portrait painter, don’t say you are great; you will waste time and give yourself a bad rep. We hit on a few more topics and then adjourned back into the props shop for more wine, beer, and cheese.

Every year it just gets better and better. We meet more people and the prop world becomes a little smaller. Ron DeMarco gathered up his students and former students to take a picture; I wish I had done the same with my former interns. It seems that sometimes I only get to see some of these good folk at the Summit, and the rest of the year we communicate with phone calls and emails. I hope that if you haven’t come out to the Summit, you do next year. I’ll most likely be late to it, but now you know why.

Jay Duckworth

Jay Duckworth is the props master at the Public Theater and host of the annual New York Props Summit.  You can see his work at Proptologist.com.


Friday Night Links

Happy Friday, everyone. It’s that time of year when summer seems to be winding down; summer theatres are getting down to their last few shows, schools are getting ready to start up, and busy props people are panicking that they haven’t taken a vacation yet. If you’re stuck inside on a computer, I hope these links will keep you busy for awhile:

The Credits has a great interview with Conor O’Sullivan, prosthetic supervisor for films and shows such as Saving Private Ryan, The Dark Knight, Game of Thrones, X-Men: First Class, and the upcoming Hercules. While the art and craft of prosthetic effects often gets all the press, this article delves into something just as important: the logistics and planning to get it all done. Putting a fake tattoo on an actor is far different than getting matching tattoos on 150 extras every morning in less than five hours.

Fon Davis shows you how to make your own vacuum forming machine in this video. While others have shown how to build cheap or free machines like this, Fon goes a step further and assembles a machine entirely out of found parts, modified with only a drill and some duct tape.

I needed to make some small translucent crystals for a project I’m working on, and the Arms, Armor and Awesome blog has a fantastic tutorial on how to cast gems out of clear resin (h/t to Propnomicon for the link).

The NYC Prop Summit just got a webpage. The Summit itself is typically held each year around August (this year it is August 22nd), where props people from in and around the New York City area get together to network, celebrate, and learn new things. They also have a Facebook group where members go for help or advice.

Dispatches from Props Summit 2012

Though I could not make it to the NYC Props Summit this year, I did follow what was happening via the Twitter. This was the fourth such event, and Jay Duckworth, the props master at the Public Theater, seems to have outdone himself in organizing it this year.

The crowd meets and greets in the Public Theater Props Shop
The crowd meets and greets in the Public Theater Props Shop. Photograph by Jay Duckworth.

The NY Times had a great write-up of the event: “[A]bout 50 props people… gathered on Friday night at the Public Theater for an informal meeting that gave attendees a chance to network, watch demonstrations and exchange insider tips on the latest techniques in an area of theatrical design that often goes unnoticed and unheralded.” The article contains much more information and a great slideshow of photographs.

One of the main events was a talk and demonstration by the owners and employees of The Specialists (formerly known as “Weapons Specialists”), a prop rental and fabrication house just a few blocks from The Public Theater known for supplying guns, weapons and custom effects to many of the film and television shows that are produced in NYC.

The guys at the Specialists described weapons safety while demonstrating and presenting a variety of the weapons they offer. Everything from rubber guns to blood knives was on display here.

Guns from the Specialists
Guns from the Specialists. Photograph by Chad Tiller.

The informal meeting and greeting that happened throughout the night made up the bulk of the event. It was a chance for prop makers to meet prop masters, for prop directors from different theatres to meet each other and for everyone to catch up on what was happening within our community. Props can be a lonely career at times, and it is helpful to learn that others share your woes with demanding directors, absent designers and strange glares as you walk down the street with a bag full of questionable items.

The evening was also a chance to share new resources, tools and materials:

Jay also pre-ordered a copy of my book to give away as a door prize, so I cannot give up the opportunity for a bit of self-promotion here:

Next year’s event promises to be just as exciting. It will be happening around the same time of year (late August/early September), so you can plan ahead a bit if you are interested in attending.

Prop Summit 2012
Prop Summit 2012. Photograph by Sara Swanberg.


4th Annual Prop Summit and Weekend Links

The 4th Annual NYC Props Summit will be held tonight at the Public Theatre. It will be from 6:30-10pm at the Public Theater props shop (425 Lafayette St). It is free to attend. Food and drink will be provided, though you are encouraged to bring your own beverage of choice to drink and share with the group.

The props summit is a chance for prop masters and prop makers to meet each other and get to know the larger community. If you live near the area and want to work in props, you should definitely come. If you freelance or work at a theatre where you need the occasional freelance prop builder, you should definitely come. I have written about the previous three summits on this blog: check out 2011, 2010 and 2009.

You can find out more about it in these articles from Stage Directions and Playbill. If you cannot make it, you can follow along on Twitter with the hashtag #propsummit.

For the rest of you, here are some links to keep you busy this weekend:

  • Many of the futuristic weapons from Men in Black 3 were 3D printed by a two-man company. Their machine allows them to print the props directly out in multiple materials. Check the page out for photographs and a video about their company.
  • In 1970, Robert Resta lost his wallet. Forty years later, someone found it. Check out the post at Retronaut for some photographs of what was inside. It is great research for the sort of ephemera and everyday business one might carry around at that time.
  • Where else can prop makers work? Freelancer Laura Johnson just finished making tiny figurines for a model of Lindisfarne Castle as part of an historical exhibition.

Props Summit Tonight, and Fun Links for the Weekend

Piles of swag for the gift bags
Piles of swag for the gift bags

Still not sure whether you should come to the 3rd Annual Props Summit in New York City tonight? Even though we will have a guest speaker? What if I told you that you’ll get a gift bag filled with goodies? Jay Duckworth has been making some phone calls and sending some emails to get all sorts of cool prop stuff for everyone who shows up, from companies such as Rosco and Rose Brand.

As for those who can’t make it, here are some links to brighten your day:

Dave Lowe has a well done video showing a quick paint treatment to simulate rust. He uses just three paint colors and an old paintbrush.

Mr. Jalopy has a quick welding primer over at Make: Projects. It’s short and sweet, but has some nice photos.

Collector’s Weekly brings us this tour through a fake vomit factory. Not only do you see how this gag (get it?) is made, but you get the whole back story on its history (via Mark Frauenfelder).

Finally, here’s a brief anecdote about Michelangelo carving the David statue, illustrating one of the many ways to deal with a picky designer.