Ben Hohman, Properties Director, Utah Shakespeare Festival
Nikki Kulas, Prop Master, First Stage
Jen McClure, Properties Supervisor for the Yale Repertory Theatre and Yale School of Drama
The S*P*A*Minar will be moderated by: Karin Rabe Vance, Freelance Properties Manager
Stay tuned this week for spotlights on each of our panelists!
We are once again requesting pay-what-you-can donations to support this S*P*A*Minar programming. All money collected will be used to offset webinar operation costs with additional funds going to our annual grant program for early career prop people. Suggested donation amount is $3.
The umbrella gun scene in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is one of the most visually memorable in the play. George, tired of his wife Martha’s insults in front of their guests, exits offstage. He sneaks back wielding a shotgun aimed at her head. The guests see him and scream as he pulls the trigger. Instead of the loud report of a bullet, though, a brightly-colored umbrella emerges from the barrel. Hilarious, right?
The original production was written to use a trick umbrella they already had in stock, but every production since has given the props master a headache as they try to figure out the gag. I initially checked with other theaters who had done this show, but theirs had either broken or been disassembled. The rental options out there were either too expensive or looked unrealistic. I decided I needed to build my own.
I needed a pretty thick barrel to fit an umbrella inside. It would look out-of-proportion if I just stuck it on a regular shotgun body. I scaled up the stock and fore-end to cut and shape out of oak.
I bought a chainsaw grinding disc for this project because I had always wanted to try one. It was amazing; it acted like a wood eraser. I just pointed it to the wood I didn’t need and it made it disappear. I will never attempt wood carving without one of these again.
The receiver would need to hold all the parts of the shotgun together and hide all the mechanisms inside of it I cut out several pieces of flat steel stock to weld a hollow container.
With just a welder, angle grinder, and belt sander, I was able to fabricate a decent looking receiver.
I took an existing umbrella from stock which had its own spring mechanism to make it pop open. I cut off the handle but left the hollow shaft in place. I welded a steel rod to the shotgun that the umbrella could sleeve onto and travel back and forth. To minimize binding, I put a bit of UHMW rod on the end of the umbrella that was slightly smaller than the inner diameter of the copper tube I was using for the barrel. I used copper tube because it was the most rigid tube I could find with the thinnest walls.
I drew up a full scale trigger mechanism in cardstock to figure out what would fit within what I had built. It was just two pieces: a trigger that rotated on a pin, and a long lever with a latch on the end that held the umbrella against a spring until the trigger was pulled. I traced the pieces to steel and cut them out. I slipped a small piece of spring into the fore-end to return the trigger after it is pulled. I slid a long spring over the metal rod in the barrel to actually propel the umbrella after the trigger is pulled.
I painted the barrel to match the receiver and stained the wood pieces darker before sealing them. I coated all the static pieces of interior and exterior steel with shellac to prevent rust. Any pieces of steel which moved against another part was coated with dry lube. I built the gun for easy disassembly in case any future users needed to fix or replace a part.
I have a video which shows all the parts as they are assembled. You can see the various inner mechanisms in more detail if you are interested in how it all works, and if you wanted to see it actually fire.
It’s the middle of a hurricane here in North Carolina, as well as Opening Night for my first show of the season, but I still found some great stories and videos on props that you can check out:
Broadway’s Biggest Debut: King Kong – Ugh, this puppet is so amazing. It is controlled by 14 puppeteers and it contains a ton of animatronics as well. Be sure to see some of the videos of Kong in motion.
TAIT Take Over – Karla Ramsey – Scenic artists at TAIT Towers create the proscenium arch for the Elton John concert. It is a combination of foam carving and clay sculpting, with everything molded and cast for the final piece. A few of my friends and colleagues spent the summer up here working on this, and the results are spectacular.
Cosplay Shines At DragonCon – Make Magazine has a great round-up of cosplay photographs from the recent DragonCon in Atlanta, GA. Yes, there is a whole convention just for dragons.
Submit Your Role Call-ers! – American Theatre Magazine has a regular segment where they highlight theatre workers that more people should know about. This December, they will be profiling twenty folks that should be known outside their discipline. You can nominate people you think they should highlight; let’s see some props people up in there!
Props: Fur, Foam & Focus – Zoë Morsette talks with Stage Directions magazine about her career and some of the favorite props she built. She discusses some great specifics about materials, techniques, and tools used on some recognizable props. She also gives helpful advice for the early career prop professional.
Floating Worlds: The Santa Fe Opera Scene Shop – This article brings us some beautiful photographs and in-depth interviews with Scott Schreck and Mike Ortiz, the technical director and associate technical director of the Santa Fe Opera. Find out how they build scenery for operas that travel all over the world.
Our Favorite Movie Props at Comic-Con 2018! – The Prop Store is getting ready for a big auction of rare and iconic movie props. They recently brought a bunch of them to San Diego Comic Con. This fifteen-minute video looks at their collection during this brief opportunity to see all these famous props in one location.
Faberge Caravan – The Prop Solve is back after a brief hiatus, but she returns with a fantastic post showing a Faberge egg she made in the style of a 1970s caravan trailer. There are lots of great tips and photos showing how she modeled tiny benches and appliances to fit the curves of an egg-shaped vehicle.
Disney Dream Job: Walt Disney Imagineer Prop Master – In this video segment, 11-year-old Adam spends a day learning about how to become a Walt Disney Theme Park Prop Master. He visits with the people who design the attractions, tours the shops where the props are fabricated, and browses the warehouse where pieces are stored. It’s not only a great look behind-the-scenes at the park, but it’s also refreshing to see a young kid like Adam who is so passionate about props.
Light Up Leather Arm Braces – Make Magazine has this great project that marries the old-school techniques of working with leather with the state-of-the-art techniques of blinking lights.
10 Famous Props And The Actors Who Stole Them – I question the authenticity of some of these stories; the iconic props for major franchises are tracked and cataloged so carefully, that I really doubt Chris Hemsworth just ‘walked off’ the set with a Thor hammer. These antics are usually allowed to happen to generate further publicity for a film. That being said, I definitely believe that Hugh Bonneville walked off with a letter from the set of Downton Abbey.
Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies