Speaking of butchers, two high school students were hospitalized after having their necks cut with razors during a performance of Sweeney Todd. As with most news stories of prop mishaps, the details are confused. It appears they were using real razors that were filed down and wrapped in duct tape. These stories are always presented the same way; a spokesperson gives all the reasons and excuses why this shouldn’t have happened. They list all the precautions they took and safety measures in place. But the simple fact that an accident did happen points to a problem somewhere. But no one ever reveals what those problems are.
Lost Art Press introduced me to the Index of American Design. This WPA project had artists drawing and painting all manner of household items, toys, furniture and tools in an attempt to document and define the American aesthetic. You can follow the links on his page to get to the online Index, which has over 18,000 of these images for your viewing pleasure.
Finally, if you’re really bored, check out this board foot calculator you can use on your next carpentry project.
It’s USITT time! For those of you at the conference, be sure to take time for “Arms and the Props Man,” a special presentation by the USITT Scene Design Commission. It’s toward the back, right before the Innovation Stage. You can see some incredible props in person (including a few of mine). Also be sure to visit the Society of Properties Artisan Managers booth at #1538. And, if you want, head on over to Focal Press at booth #1405 to check out my book. If you already have my book, just tell them how much you love it and you want me to write another one.
For those of us not at USITT, we need some fun prop things to read, so here we go:
Mad Men is counting down to its series finale, and the Museum of the Moving Image has an exhibit highlighting the show. The slideshow features some of the props and set pieces on display, as well as many of the costumes. This show was incredible from a props perspective, and these photographs show off all the incredible detail that went into it.
WM Armory shows us how to cold cast with metal powders to make your plastic castings look like real metal. It’s a fairly simple process, and once you know the specifics of how it is done, you have a very effective way to make your props pop.
Finally, here is the entire 1982 JC Penney Christmas Catalog. Old catalogs are a boon for doing period research. Flickr is a great site to find them, since some people like to scan and post every page.
This past week was the 53rd USITT conference in Milwaukee. This year’s conference featured a lot of things for props people. I couldn’t get to them all, but I saw a lot of them. I took notes which I may go through later, but since I’m writing this on the flight home (and have to work first thing in the morning), I’ll just give the highlights.
First off, there was the Expo floor, filled with companies, organizations and universities peddling their wares. Wonderflex World had plenty of samples of their products, including a sneak peek of a new product coming out soon that is pretty exciting.
Smooth-On had their usual cool booth with all the rubber monsters and foam cinder blocks you can make with their products. There’s a possibility I may start getting samples of their new products to test out for this blog. That would be neat.
StageBitz had demos of their props management and inventory software. I first tested them out about two years ago, and it’s almost completely different now (in a good way). You can do a 3-week free trial of their software from their website, which is really the only way to start discovering how easy and seamless this can make propping a show, from letting the designer share images and research with you, to letting you send the designer pictures of items in your stock, to keeping up with changes in rehearsal, creating to-do lists to send to your artisans and shoppers, maintaining a budget, to finally adding all the props to your stock when the show closes.
RC4 Wireless Dimming had tiny wireless dimmers. It sounds simple, but it’s amazing how these little devices act so seamlessly to let you control any sort of battery-powered light or motor from your theatre’s lighting console. I also attended a session called “Wireless Light and Motion for Propmasters”, where a couple theatres were showing off various ways they used the RC4 units.
One of the last sessions of the conference was on sustainability in design and production led by Donyale Werle. It included the exciting unveiling of the College Green Captain Toolkit, based off of the already-successful program which every Broadway show participates in (I’ll post a link when it appears, or you can contact the Broadway Green Alliance for more information). Jacob Coakley from Stage Directions Magazine live-blogged much of the session.
“Grave Matters” was a session with a lot of good tips and tricks for making gore and corpses. One of the speakers, Gary Benson, has his presentation online , including step-by-step photographs of how he made some skulls.
“You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out” was a bit disappointing since 3 of the 4 presenters could not be there. However, you can check out the handouts on firearm safety that they had. You will also find a link for a survey they are running to discover how various theatres deal with guns on stage (and off). I’m not sure how long that link will last, so you should download those files rather than bookmarking them.
I got to check out the Young Designer’s Forum, which had some great work. I was also able to meet two of my future coworkers this summer at the Santa Fe Opera.
The Milwaukee Rep props shop hosted a SPAM get-together at their space, though it was nice to see plenty of non-SPAM props masters and prop makers there as well. I wrote about their shop for Stage Directions this month, but to actually see their work space and storage facilities in person was a great treat.
Oh yeah, I also sold out of my book by the end of my signing. The response has been overwhelming so far. I am ecstatic that so many people are excited about this book, and I can’t wait to hear back from those of you who use it or teach from it.
Did I forget anything about the conference? Was there something I missed? Let me know in the comments what you saw at USITT that excited you.
By the time you read this, I should be in Milwaukee for the 53rd annual conference of the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT). This is the largest US conference dedicated solely to design, production and technology in theatre and other live entertainment. If you follow me on Twitter, I’ll be twitting about events during the conference. I thought I’d take a moment to share some events and sessions that may be of interest to props people who will be there.
First up, as if I haven’t written about it enough already, is my book signing. Stage Directions Magazine is hosting the signing on Friday, March 22nd, at 12:30 pm, at Booth 100, located in the far corner of the exhibition (to the left of the entrance, on the side of the hall with Cover the Walls).
In the same vein, be sure to check out the book signing for The Properties Director’s Handbook by Sandra Strawn. It will be held at the USITT Booth/Market Place on Friday, at 4:30 pm. The book is a great complement to my own; Sandy was also the technical editor on my book.
The Society of Properties Artisan Managers (S*P*A*M) has a booth at the Expo; I will be behind the counter on Saturday morning from 9:30-11am. Come check it out at table 670, in front of the USITT Booth & Marketplace, and right across from IATSE Local One’s booth.
If you go to the New Product Showcase (often called “Swag and Brag”, held Thursday night from 7-9pm), keep your eyes and ears open for Stagebitz. They will be giving away copies of my book, as well as copies of The Properties Directors Handbook. Check out their booth as well, #1260 in the far corner diagonally opposite from Stage Directions’.
A few panels devoted to props have caught my eye this year:
On Wednesday morning at 8am (yikes!) is “3D printing for the Stage”. One of the presenters, Owen Collins, was featured in my own article on 3D printing, “Printing a Set“.
Wednesday at 1pm is a session on stage firearm safety called “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out!” Despite the accidents that have happened in the past, I still hear horror stories of dangerous practices with firearms on stage, so this should be a very useful session for any prop master dealing with weapons.
At 6pm on Wednesday is “Wireless Light and Motion for Props Masters”. The presenters include the guys at RC4 Wireless, who make small wireless dimmers and radio control devices intended for theatre.
Thursday morning at 9:30am is “Reimagining Theatre with Green Ideals”. While it’s not specifically geared toward props, it does involve set design and production, so props people may get something out of it.
On Friday at 2:30pm is perhaps one of the most promising sessions on props: “Grave Matters.” With discussions about stage gore, severed limbs and dead bodies, it should be a bloody good time. With my former instructor Tom Fiocchi as one of the presenters, it should be fairly high-energy as well.
Saturday has another 8am session (bleh) called “Preparing Props People”. While it is focused on what educators should be teaching future props masters, students and early career props people may find it useful to see if their own education is complete enough.
At 2pm on Saturday, Donyale Werle will be discussing the art of green scenery. Donyale won the Tony last year for Peter and the Starcatcher, as well as a Lucille Lortel Award for the off-Broadway production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (which I was assistant props master on). Her talks on using recycled materials for sets and props are always enlightening.
Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies