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Props You Can Make at Home

Header image which summarizes the information as blog post.

How do you build props when you have no shop, few tools, and basic materials?

In this month’s S*P*A*Minar, I will show you some tips and techniques to build props cheaply and safely right in your home, with materials you can buy locally.

When: Sunday, April 18th at 8pm EST
Where: From the comfort of your home!

With this S*P*A*Minar, we’re also doing our first-ever giveaway! One lucky attendee* will win a copy of my new book: .

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. The suggested donation amount is $3.

Registration will remain open until 6PM EST on April 18th and a link to the Zoom S*P*A*Minar session will be sent out to all registered attendees 1 hour before the start of the webinar.

All S*P*A*Minars will be recorded, and a video will be shared on the the week following the event. You can watch all there for free.

*Attendee must be present at the S*P*A*Minar to win.

Ask a Prop Manager Anything

Ask a Prop Manager Anything S*P*A*Minar!

If you’ve ever had a question you wanted to ask a Prop Manager, here’s your chance! It’s our first ever prop manager AMA!

Join us Sunday, February 21st, 2021, 8pm EST.

Panelists will be

  • Lori Harrison, Prop Master, San Francisco Opera
  • 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.

Registration will remain open until 6PM EST on February 21st and a link to the Zoom S*P*A*Minar session will be sent out to all registered attendees 1 hour before the start of the webinar.

All S*P*A*Minars will be recorded and video will be shared on the . You can check out as well!

Why do theater people say “Break a Leg”?

Anyone who has spent any time in the theater has heard the phrase “Break a leg!” It is the traditional means of wishing good luck for a performer.

There is a certain image (as seen below) making the rounds again, which makes a bold claim about the origin of this phrase. The first time I saw it, I made a note to do some research; it makes a claim that I have not seen anywhere else. For a few days, I disappeared down a rabbit hole of theatrical superstitions and practices on Vaudeville, but I never posted it. Now that I have been seeing this image again, I realized I wanted to set the record straight.

Plaque with false information about the origin of the phrase "Break a Leg"
False information about the origin of the phrase “Break a Leg”

Continue reading Why do theater people say “Break a Leg”?

New Webinar: Bloody Hell!

Bloody Hell! It’s time for another S*P*A*Minar: our monthly webinar series on all things props.

Just in time for Halloween, Jen McClure, S*P*A*M member and Properties Supervisor for the Yale Repertory Theatre and Yale School of Drama, will talk about stage blood effects!

Stage blood recipes and pre-made gore make-up products abound, but once you have your fake blood liquid, then what? In this S*P*A*Minar, Jen will show you ways to store and dispense your stage blood to execute a wide variety of blood effects for live performance. Trigger warning: this class will contain simulated blood and injury effects.

Starting with this S*P*A*Minar we are requesting pay-what-you-can donations to support this 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.

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Registration will remain open until 6PM EST on October 18th and a link to the Zoom S*P*A*Minar session will be sent out to all registered attendees 1 hour before the start of the webinar.

All S*P*A*Minars will be recorded and the week following the event.

The Property Man in 1888

The following comes from an 1888 magazine article:

The Property-Man

The days of the property-man are passed in deceiving the public. The average theatre-goer does not always realize that he is indebted to the Master of Properties (as he is sometimes called), for many of the most striking effects on the stage. A call for the scene painter might, in justice, be equally responded to by the property-man. Being essentially a Jack-of-all-trades, he has served an apprenticeship at several vocations before drifting behind the scenes of a theatre. He is something of a carpenter, a good deal of a student, and above all an artist.

Upon the property-man rests in great part the responsibility of properly mounting a play, and from the time when the property plot is given to him he must rely on his own artistic judgment. The plot in question is a list of articles, known as properties, or “props,” which he is required to furnish. It comprises everything from a fine-tooth comb to a church organ, and he must be equal to the emergency of manufacturing any article on the schedule. To use a technical term, there is nothing in heaven or on earth that a property-man may not be required to “fake.”

A well-stocked property-man in one of our metropolitan theatres resembles nothing so much as an old-fashioned curiosity shop. As a rule, it is a long room, occupying the entire top floor of the building, with a low ceiling. In the centre of it is placed a work bench, while near by stands a baking oven. The floor is literally covered with bulky “properties,” such as a pianos, lounges, boats, pillars, trunks, ancient and modern furniture, grass mats, cradles, pulpits, coffins, etc. On the walls hang pictures, mirrors, guns, helmets, swords, shields, knapsacks, drums and cutlasses. From the ceiling dangle hats, cloaks, draperies, skipping ropes and lanterns. On every available table are placed skulls, knives, belts, speaking-tubes, baskets, plates, false teeth, vases, Indian clubs and dumb-bells. Numberless other “props” are scattered haphazard everywhere.

Papier maché is the prime factor used in the manufacture of stage properties. For instance, in making an ornamental vase, the property man first makes a clay model from which he forms a plaster cast. Into this he pastes thin layers of?papier maché, and then places the vase in the oven already mentioned. When quite hard it is removed and painted, according to taste, to represent the real china article. A coat of varnish finishes the work. As a rule, furniture on the stage is nothing more than paste-board. A cannon, apparently weighing 300 tons, is made of paper, and can easily be carried by a small boy; and in many a banquet scene hungry comedians must smack their lips over a?papier maché turkey.

Tin is also of great value to the Master of Properties in making theatrical armor, swords, daggers, etc. Spectacular pieces tax the ingenuity of the property-man, as he must be past-master of every trick in his trade to produce proper effects for these glittering productions.

“The Property- Man”, Hyde-Fiske. The Epoch, vol 4, no. 99. New York, December 28, 1888. pp 382-383. Google Books, accessed 10/1/20.

Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies