Tag Archives: work

Read my book online now!

Okay, you can’t read my whole book online. But I do have two whole chapters you can check out on The Prop Building Guidebook’s companion website.

What are these chapters, you may ask? Well, as you can imagine, prop making covers a vast amount of information, and choosing what to put in and what to leave out was one of my biggest challenges. We could have made the book longer, but that would have pushed the price up, which we didn’t want to do. We could have made the pictures smaller, but that would not be good either. In the end, we decided to take the last two chapters and put them up on the website for free. This way, the book can remain affordable, the pictures can remain a decent size, and you get a sneak peek at some of the book. These chapters have been edited and proofed just like everything else in the book, they just appear online rather than in print.

The two chapters are called “Formal Training” and “Maintaining a Portfolio”. The first digs through the tricky question of what kind of training or schooling you may wish to pursue to become a better prop maker. Vocational classes, colleges and universities, graduate schools and more are talked about here. I also look at the various types of jobs and work one can get. I present information useful whether you wish to be a prop maker for film, television, theatre or any of the related industries, and whether you wish to pursue a full-time job or work as a freelancer on different gigs. It can be a tricky field to navigate, so I try to present as much information as I’ve gleaned along the way.

The second chapter gives an introduction on creating and maintaining a portfolio of all the work you do. I discuss both online sites and paper portfolios; though paper portfolios have become far less prevalent these days, I’ve still used them in the last couple of years, both in applying for work and in hiring people. This chapter also discusses photography and how to take better pictures of your work. A bad picture of a good prop can make it look like a bad prop.

So check out the bonus chapters of The Prop Building Guidebook when you can. And don’t forget to pre-order your copy if you haven’t already!

Summer Jobs Already?

For those of you in school for theatre, it is not too early to start thinking about summer employment. Even though snow is still on the ground and it gets dark at 4 pm, this is the time of year that many summer festivals, theatres and operas begin recruiting for their production positions and internships. To my international readers, I am sorry this post only deals with US jobs and internships.

Whether looking for summer work or for immediate work, Backstage Jobs should be one of the sites you check daily. By now, most of the major and legitimate theatres have learned to post any and all technical and production-related jobs to this site. It is completely free to view every job posting. The site admin also does a bang-up job of keeping spam and unrelated postings from appearing.

Speaking of spam, the Society of Properties Artisan Managers maintains a list of which of their member theatres offer props internships. This is a comprehensive list of all internships, not just summer ones, so be sure to check the commitment dates for the theatres you are interested in.

Artsearch is another big mainstay of technical theatre job postings. Though you should avoid job posting sites which require you to pay to view listings, this is the one exception. If you are currently in school, your school will probably have login information you can use (this is often true if you are an alumni as well).

In addition to job listings online, you may wish to think about applying and interviewing for jobs during one of the two big conferences. Though these are held in March, now is the time that you should be registering for the conferences, booking your hotel and making your travel arrangements. The two major conferences for theatre technicians are USITT and SETC.

This year, USITT is held March 20-23 in Milwaukee. The conference is meant for technicians and designers for all aspects of live performance. Part of the conference includes a massive stage expo, where companies and employers have booths to show off what they do. This is where you can meet and greet with the people in charge of these companies; many of them use USITT to do some of their recruiting for summer internships and apprenticeships.

The SETC conference will be held March 6-10 in Louisville, KY. SETC is meant for all aspects of theatre, including acting and directing, so it is not focused on just the production side. While the exposition hall is much smaller than USITT’s, it does have a job fair you can sign up for. Companies have small tables where they list the job openings they have, and you sign up for times to interview. You then spend the rest of your time meeting with employers all over the convention center to interview for these jobs. You can interview for as many or as few jobs as you have time for. I actually got hired at the Santa Fe Opera for the first time at the SETC job fair.

These websites and conferences have jobs at all skill and pay levels; even the internships can vary widely in how much you are paid. While it may seem your acting friends are constantly taking low-to-no paid internships, as a technical theatre person, you should always be paid for your work. Plenty of paid opportunities exist at all skill levels if you look for them.

Memories of Shows Past, 1904

The following is the conclusion of a newspaper article about the property shop of E. L. Morse on Twenty-ninth Street in New York City. The article first appeared in The New York Times on May 8, 1904, and Mr. Morse’s property shop is long gone. I have previously posted the introduction, a bit on Morse’s career, a story of a fake fish he built,  all the skills a prop maker must possess, making things from papier mache, and dealing with people who don’t know what they want.

The old property master is thoroughly happy in his dusty den. He stays there from early morning till dusk. He likes the room so much that he brings his lunch with him to avoid going out for it. It is evident, after a moment’s talk with him, that his is not living and working at his trade every day merely for the shekels that may come to him.

Every object in the dingy place brings back the memory of some man or playhouse formerly dear to him. He hates to throw away anything that has been put on the stage and has come back to him. It is not so much that he made as it is that So-and-So wore or handled it.

The visitor to his shop some rainy afternoon will find a unique sort of gathering. Of the ten or a dozen men sitting around on old couches, chairs, or boxes, not one but is a stage carpenter, property maker, or in some way connected with the behind-the-scenes phase of the theatrical business.

They all know Morse, and they have come to chat with him. Most of them are as old and experienced as he is, and consequently they have a sort of reverence for him. They talk of theatrical affairs from fifty years ago up to the present day. They argue over whether a stage that was torn down thirty years ago had one trap door or two, whether it was 35 or 40 feet broad. Their hands linger fondly over scroll saws and other implements, and they never leave at nightfall without heaving a sigh that the hours have passed so quickly.

It is their greatest joy—this discussion of their trade and of the good old days. And there is nowhere they would rather go for their gossip than to the half-hidden shop labeled “E. L. Morse, Theatrical Properties.”

This article first appeared in the New York Times, May 8, 1904.

Morse can make anything if you know what you want, 1904

The following is a continuation of a newspaper article about the property shop of E. L. Morse on Twenty-ninth Street in New York City. The article first appeared in The New York Times on May 8, 1904, and Mr. Morse’s property shop is long gone. I have previously posted the introduction, a bit on Morse’s career, a story of a fake fish he built,  all the skills a prop maker must possess, and making things from papier mache.

Even the manufacture of an automobile does not frighten the veteran property master. He has one tied to his ceiling. To be sure it is not a real auto with a real chauffeur and real gasoline motive power, but it looks enough like it. It is entirely of wood, wheels and all. It is constructed so that a man can sit inside, invisible, working a treadle, and making the wheels go round. The chauffeur is not alive—only a dummy. His hand stays on the lever and his head is occasionally turned by a wire worked by the man on the inside.

“I don’t want the thing,” says the old maker. “The man who ordered it owes $50 on it, and the sooner he brings the cash and takes his auto away the better I’ll like it.”

“Speaking of people ordering things,” he continues, “you don’t know what a crazy man is until you see some fool vaudeville manager come here and try to get me to make things for him.

“He hasn’t the slightest idea of how anything’s made, and he couldn’t draw a straight line or cut the peeling off an apple. But he’s seen a picture in some Sunday paper and takes a notion he would like to have something like it for a show. He comes in and tries to tell me what he wants. All he can do is to wave his hands about and say: ‘Well, you know what I want.’ Of course I don’t know, and I generally end by letting the man know I think he’s crazy—which he is. Then he leaves, thinking I’m a hopeless fool because I can’t make what he wants. And he doesn’t even know what it is!”

This article first appeared in the New York Times, May 8, 1904.