Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Great Prop Resource

In my collection of theatrical books I stumbled across a classic. I have used this numerous times in creating props and "vintage" advertising for set dressing. It is a reproduction of the old Sears catalogue. I think I picked mine up at a grage sale for a couple of bucks, but whatever the price it has paid for itself in time saved on research.

The clear balck and white, woodcut style, illustrations lay out over 1000 pages of merchandise as it appeared in the original 1902 Sears Robuck mail order catalogue. From farm implements to fashion, the Sears catalogue was the Ebay of its day, they had everything and would ship it almost anywhere.

It is a great resource for a propmaster with a well developed "propeye" to get a feel for the visual outline of long forgotten items. It has been reproduced numerous times, here is a link to an 1897 version available from Amazon. It might also be available for loan from your public library.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Cool raygun prop!

Here is a link that teaches you how to use a commercial toy to create a truly cool scifi steamray weapon! Check it out! Did you build a great prop for your Halloween costume? Send us some pics, a list of ingredients, a few steps in the how to department and if we like it, we'll post it! Send it to Markrmorris2@sbcglobal.net !

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Here’s a fun little prop that expresses a concept I like to call “propeye”, which is the ability to see props in ordinary household items. We just completed a production of The Wiz. In this urban retelling of The Wizard of Oz the tinman is a carnival midway barker left to rust when his amusement park shuts down. He finds himself underneath the considerable girth of his late “wife” teeny. In the film teeny is a cross between a robotic aunt jemima and a bowling ball and coming up with a concept to make her was no easy task.

To make Teeny you will need the following: A large rubber exercise ball like the one shown here, one small baby doll, and a small child’s dress with a full skirt and short sleeves (thrift store, buy cheap, buy ugly color won’t matter but get something with lace or beads for texture).

You will also need: Duck Tape, spray paint (cheap gold, silver, brown, and flat black), and a can of 3m super 77 spray glue. (see the prop box tutorial for more on this amazing product)

First I placed Teeny (the doll) in the dress. I rubber banded and safety pinned her at the arms and neck. Second I sat Teeny on the doll and taped her legs down wrapping all the way around the ball, being careful to keep the tape tight. Also make certain you do not cover the air plug and place it on the opposite side of the ball from Teeny’s head. (for the reinflation, we call it reverse liposuction)

Now using the super 77 and a drop cloth or outdoor space (trust me a film of this glue on your wife’s tile will not improve your love life). Spray the ball and the dress wherever they come in contact then fold the dress back and let the adhesive set up for about a minute before pressing the skirt neatly in place.

For the finishing touch apply the four color paint job as described in the Tinman tutorial here: And welcome Teeny into the funfilled world of live theatre!

I know this a very special use item but I hope it will assist you in learning the art of “propeye”. If you need creative ideas for props email me @ Markrmorris2@sbcglobal.net

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Ten minute toadstools!

Ten minute toadstools

When producing Alice in Wonderland we came up with a clever little design for giant mushrooms or toadstools. We later reused them for The Wizard of Oz and I included them in a design for Charlie and the chocolate factory. They are made from readily available materials and are very quick and easy to put together.

First gather your materials. You will need:
1. Sonotube or equivalent cardboard concrete form in a 6 inch size.
1. Circle of chicken wire about 18 inches across
1. Circle of 1” upholstery foam approx. 20-22 inches across.
1. Strip of 1” upholstery foam about 8-10 inches wide and long enough to wrap around the bottom of the tube.
Enough muslin or bedsheet material to cover the toadstool
White and bright colored latex paint
Staplegun and staples

1. Cut the tube to desired height. This can easily be done on a large miter or chop saw. It can also be done , very carefully on a table saw, or using a circular saw. The one in the picture is about 18 inches.

2. Wrap the strip of foam around the base of the tube and staple in place. This will give your ‘shroom a tapered look, thicker at the bottom.

3. Shape the chicken wire to roughly form the top of the toadstool and lay it across the top of the tube.

4. Cover the chicken wire with the foam circle. You can now staple through the foam in three or four places to attach the foam and wire to the tube. Be careful not to crush the wire along the outer edge of your mushroom.

5. Cut a round piece of muslin large enough to cover the top of the toadstool and wrap underneath to the tube. Start on one side tucking it up under the wire, staple it to the tube. Pull the muslin over the top of the mushroom and fasten on the opposite side of the tube. Now working your way around, tuck and staple the fabric to the tube.

6. Cover the tube with the remaining muslin and paint to taste. Voila your caterpillar or munchkins will be right at home! They also make cute decorations around the theatre!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Choose your weapon!

If you stick around theatre long enough you will eventually be involved in a show that necessitates the use of weapons! Usually it will be pretty tame stuff like a pistol or a sword.

In the event that you are asked to care for such an item here are some things that you should consider.
1. Does it need to be a practical weapon? (ie a gun that fires, even blanks, or a sword with an edge) If the answer is even remotely no then don't do it! The risks far outweigh the potential benefit to the "reality" of your production.

2. If it must be practical, what safety measures should you take? Here is the gun safety check list required by actor's equity union to be posted if firearms are in use. It is printable and I strongly advise making a couple of copies.

3. Who will be responsible for the locking and unlocking of gun and knife boxes, etc? In addition to the safety rules you will need a check in and out system that must be strictly enforced.

4. Check to make sure that you are in compliance with local laws before assuming. In many municipalities fireworks, pyrotechnics and the like are highly restricted and may require a licensed professional.

5. Make sure you have a qualified trainer on hand to train both actors and stage hands about the use and handling of weapons.

If used correctly they can add a lot to a performance. Make sure to set up adequate safety to control the use of weapons.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Prop list 101

So, the director just handed me a script and said "Make a prop list", now what? Well first off let's define props shall we? A prop in my book is anything used on stage that is easily picked up and carried.

There are several subcategories: personal props are things that "belong" to one actor (a checkbook or pocket watch), set props usually have a home on the set are used by actors and returned to their home (telephone), set decoration props are things such as hanging pictures which fall in a grey area between sets and props but may be managed by the props master.

Now that we know what a prop is, how do we go about compiling the list? First of all check to see if the acting edition you are using contains a prop list, these are usually found in an appendix at the back of the printed script and can be very useful. (note image above: first page of properties list for Witness for the prosecution)

If not, never fear it really isn't as daunting as it seems. Simply begin at the beginning and look for anything that any actor uses or directly refers to in the script. Write all of these down, you will make changes later. Once you have this general list go back to the director and ask him or her to peruse your list and tell you which items will and will not be used.

Almost invariably there will be things on this list that the director will not use. Also there may be additions of items not found in the list or in the script . These things usually have to do with specific things the director is trying to get across in interpretation or will be used in bits of business specific to this production.

If you have access to a computer it might be good idea to compile your list using a word processor. Or, if you have the time to import your script into Celtx you can combine the two into a searchable database including images! With a didgital copy in your computer you have easy access to printing additional copies, a copy will be saved in a safe place and you can use it to email requests for items etc.

Once you have a list it is time to start pulling props. Most theatre companies will have a prop closet or trunk that they have stored various items in. Start here, pulling anything you think might work, checking off items as they are found.
Next move on to the borrowing phase. Ask around among cast and crew for items you need. If you have connections with other theatres or schools in your community ask if they might have any of the items you need and be willing to loan them to you.

Once you have exhausted your stock and borrowed what is readily available you probably will have made a pretty good dent. Next comes building or buying what you still need. We have already posted a wonderful article on this subject, for more click here.

Once all of your props have been assembled you can complete your list. You might want to create a chart showing which prop gets used when and by whom!

If you have the ability to use a digital camera you can include images which are very helpful in a hurry as not everyone will understand what galoshes are.

Make sure that each actor understands their responsibility to get their props from and return their props to the prop table. This cuts down on the wear and tear on your crew. Now you know, so grab that script and start the list!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Make a sheperds staff with items you have on hand

5 Minute Shepherd’s staff.

So you were asked to do props for the Christmas play? Well chances are you will need a couple of these bad boys. This is at least one project you won’t have to figure out on your own.

1. assemble materials: You will need a piece of PVC pipe or broomstick, some paper, a roll of masking tape, and a can of brown spray paint or other brown paint.

2. Crumple you paper and twist it into the shape of a hook for the top of your shepherd’s staff.

3. Wrap the paper hook in masking tape and tape it to the top of your PVC or broom stick. Be sure to wrap it good as this is where the hook gets its strength.

4. Paint and allow to dry.

5. Go herd some sheep!