J. Michael Gillette. Theatrical Design and Production, 4th edition. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company. 1999. Chapter 11: Stage Properties

1. What is the difference between a set prop,

A large movable object, often a piece of furniture, which is used by an actor -- a sofa, table, chair, floor lamp... In a union house, the floor lamp would be placed on the set by the prop crew but would be plugged in by a member of the electric or light crew.

    a hand prop,

A small object which is used by an actor -- a book, wine bottle, glass...

    and set dressing?

Any object which is mounted on the set but is not used by an actor -- the draperies over the window, the painting on the wall, the books in the bookcase... Set dressing gives the room character.

The property crew is also responsible for mechanically produced sound effects such as a door slam or thunder from a thunder sheet.

2. Which designer is responsible for the design or selection of the properties?

The Scene Designer.

3. Outline how a prop list is developed.

The prop master, using the script as his primary source, develops a list of all props used by the actor in the action of the play. Typically this list is organized by Act and Scene and lists not only the prop, but also which actor (or actors) use the prop. Later the prop list will be reorganized to indicate which items are placed on stage and which are located off-stage on a prop table waiting to be picked up by an actor before his entrance. The prop master will compare his prop list with the list published in the script and the list developed by the director. As a final check, the prop master may also ask the actors "what props do you need for the show?"

4. What is the difference between a rehearsal prop and a show prop?

A rehearsal prop is a substitute used by the actors during the early weeks of rehearsal-- a plastic cup from the prop room instead of the borrowed silver tea set which will be used during the actual performances.

5. List five techniques of acquiring show props.

  1. Pull from the theatre's prop room;
  2. Borrow from
    • an individual in the community,
    • a business (especially a furniture store or antique shop), or
    • another theatre company;
  3. Rent from a commercial prop studio;
  4. Buy, usually from a second-hand store; or
  5. Build in the Property Shop.

6. What is the prop table? How many are needed?

A large (3'x8') table on which hand props are located. Normally, a minimum of two tables will be needed.

7. Where should they be located?

One stage left and one stage right. If the play requires a box set, normally a prop table will be placed at each entrance. Three doors -- three tables.

8. How and why should the prop table be "mapped?"

Using masking tape, the prop master will divide (or "map") the table into a number of blocks -- one block per prop. Each prop is assigned a unique position on the table. The actor picks up the prop from the table, takes it on stage, and when the scene is over, places the prop back into its assigned square. At the beginning and end of each night, the prop master can glance at the table and quickly tell exactly what props, if any, are missing.

9. What should the prop master put in the wine bottle for the big dinner scene?

First, wine, or any alcoholic beverage, should NEVER be used on stage. The only thing worse than a drunk actor is a drunk stage hand. Generally the wine bottle will be filled with water colored with Coke®, tea, or food coloring.

10. Should the prop tables be cleared each night after rehearsal or performance?

Yes. The typical practice in most theatres is to secure, in a lockable cabinet, all hand props each night. This is especially important if valuable antiques or lethal weapons (such as a gun) are used.

11. How many yards of fabric will you need to buy to drape a 3'x6' window in a box set?

The bottom rail of a 3x6 window in a stock window flat is typically two feet above the stage floor. There are normally three parts to a floor length drape. Two legs (each 8' long) framing the window and a three foot wide valance at the top. You would need to purchase nineteen feet (8' + 3' + 8') or 6 1/3 yards of fabric.

12. What kind of fabric would you buy?

Depending on budget and period of the show, I would purchase either velour, velveteen, or perhaps corduroy. The fabric should have a heavy, rich look.

13. What are the standard warning given by the prop master?

  1. Don't play with the props.
  2. Don't sit on the furniture.
  3. Don't touch some one else's prop.
  4. If it's not yours, leave it alone.
  5. Put your prop back on the table when you're done.
  6. If it's not a prop, don't put it on the prop table
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