THE PROPERTIES DIRECTORS HANDBOOK  

 PROPS for the THEATRE

 


MATERIALS ESTIMATE- BUILD OF FURNITURE PIECE

by Props Carpenter to Props Director


Item               Description                                     Cost

Lumber                     Plywood- poplar 5/4 stock              $ 129.00

                                Interior bracing- pine 1x12             $  22.00

Hardware                  Hinges- Strap, brass 18”                $   7.50

                                Swivel casters - 4                          $  38.50

Finish                       Stain - Mahogany                           $  12.00

                               Satin varnish                                $   18.50                          

Misc. Supplies           Sandpaper, shop rags                     $    7.00         

                                                                                                                                   TOTAL                                                                         $  234.50

 


Finishing supplies such as paint, trim, molding, hardware, etc not available in stock should have quantity estimated and priced.  Items that will be modified from stock should account for whatever needs to be purchased to complete the modification.  Items having to be found and purchased should be researched on-line or in stores for availability and pricing.  Allowances for shipping expenses should be included in the budget.  Rental payments, when purchasing is not an option, might also be a factor in the budget estimate.  When a show is set in a particular style or period an allowance should be built into the budget acknowledging the difficulty of reproducing or purchasing items to fit that style.  Additionally, in each budget a contingency of at least 20% is often added to account for the additions, changes, and cuts that occur during the process of production. 


Prior to rehearsal the prop list is only a rough guideline and it will usually change throughout the rehearsal process, sometimes impacting a budget severely.  As a properties director becomes familiar with designers and directors this contingency figure may need to increase or might be decreased based on those prior production experiences.  Some directors and designers are less able to think through all of the script needs until all the production parts are assembled and onstage.  All too often, props is the area called upon to "fix" whatever difficulty is created whether it's adding foliage to cover a bad seam where scenery comes together, adding more dressing to disguise a sight line, or finding a different pieces of furniture due to an unforeseen shift problem.  Contingency figures also help cover when materials costs fluctuate.  For example, plywood often increases in price and availability during a severe hurricane season.  

Reviewing the prop list, it is easy to run down the list assigning a "cost" to each prop based on a preliminary judgement of how it will be completed.   Once costs are projected for each prop a preliminary prop materials budget can be completed and submitted to the production manager.  It is important to remind the production and design team that props is a constantly evolving area. Changes during the staging and rehearsal process usually require continual re-evaluation of budget and priorities. Compromise and negotiation of fiscal priorities will be on-going as the build moves closer to technical rehearsals.  The collaborative process with the designer is all important in making decisions that utilize the best choices in spending the money wisely over the entire build and enabling the props to have an equity in completion.  Props added at the last minute must be considerate of the money available to buy the item or the materials needed to build the item, as well as the labor available to complete the addition.

A second budget should accompany the materials budget estimating the personnel labor:  the hours available and/or needed for the build. One labor hour is one person working for one hour.  Creating a labor estimate and show labor budget requires a broad understanding of the processes required to fulfill the production of properties.  An analysis of the prop list and all the possible ways it can be “solved” almost makes this a “best guess” scenario.  While scenery may be able to budget labor based on the normal and usual process of building stock units of platforms or walls, it is a rare thing in props to duplicate a process is a similar fashion.  Over time, it is possible to make a “guesstimate” about what might be a reasonable expectation for labor to accomplish some specific task such as to reupholster a chair or to build a table.  Each build and each designer demand a level of specificity making prior labor timelines moot in most cases...so it’s “best guess.”

Just as a materials budget can be estimated it is also possible to request  the prop artisans to make a detailed labor estimate on a project.  Labor estimates serve two purposes.  They allow the artisan to break the project down into the processes and products needed to accomplish the work honing a specific plan of approach.  Secondly examination of that process allows discovery of other options that might be available to save time or money not considered at first glance.   While a useful tool, this is often only done in the case where a number of large projects need to be juggled for priority in the build or where the properties director needs to negotiate with the designer regarding other options or alternative solutions.  Having a labor estimate will help in the process of defining whether the “work load” is possible during any given build.  It also assists the properties director in creating a calendar and deadline schedule.  


The labor estimate might look like this:


  LABOR ESTIMATE

       from Soft goods artisan to Properties Director


Project Process Hours


Chair Upholstery Finding, purchase of fabric         2 hours

Fabric Preparation- wash/ overdye                      4 hours (Processing time)

Chair stripping, re-pad, restructuring                   3 hours

Chair structural or finish repairs, modifications     13 hours  (Dry time)                                                                                   

Patterning and lay-out                                        3 hours

Muslin recover                                                    2 1/2 hours

Final fabric cover                                                1 1/2 hours

Trim                                                                  2 hours


                                                       TOTAL       31 hours

     (Other projects can be worked on intermittently during dye processing and glue/ stain   dry times)


Other considerations in the labor budget might include the need for costing additional outside labor to be hired in on a project that is larger than  the full-time staff can accomplish or on a project that requires specialized skills.  Just as in the materials budget, a contingency should be allotted to give some leeway in the estimate to allow for sick days, difficulties with a project, or changes that might come from rehearsal forcing a change in the design and build of a prop.

 

The preliminary materials and labor budgets are shared with the production manager and designer for any negotiation in design changes required to bring the show in on budget and completed by opening.   At this point  the negotiation between departments might occur, with another department either offering to pay for part of a project materials expense if the work is completed by the prop shop, by sharing labor resources inter-departmentally, or agreeing to take on the entire project as part of the other departments load.  

 

 


The level of bookkeeping and reporting often is reflective of the size of the organization and the level of accountability to the various administrative units over the production areas.  What some theatres see as an administrative budget others would prefer to simply assign funds and allow the prop shop to manage their money for the season reporting in as necessary or by some set schedule.  Generally, the show budgets are reported to the production manager while the other budgets reflecting entire seasonal expenditures are reported to either the production manager or the managing director. 


Accurate reporting is critical and reliable estimating and response to financial planning for upcoming years will be appreciated by those who manage and allot the company finances.  When sound financial management is demonstrated in the prop shop, administration can trust the estimates and decisions made knowing the money is well spent to the benefit of the show and the theatre itself.

 

 
 

Following initial design meetings with the scenic designer and the director to talk through the preliminary hand prop list and study the elevations or scale model for all the set props and dressing, the properties director assembles a preliminary show budget. This step estimates the materials cost for items having to be built / modified and purchased. Each item on the prop list should have a “cost” associated with it given the preliminary supposition of how it might be completed.  Any properties director knows this preliminary budget is, at best, a wildly optimistic (or pessimistic) best-guess.  The juggle done in the prop shop on how any one show gets built can be completed in a multitude of ways depending on what stroke of fortune allows the right fabric to be found for pennies on the dollar, what furniture can be borrowed or found in stock, and how true to the original prop list rehearsal remains.  Making a preliminary show budget is often times an exercise in futility but, frankly, it should be done as a means to begin defining the show and what it will take to build it as designed.  Without one, all too often what was once considered scenery can magically become props based on a scenery cost over-run in the preliminary design process.  


With a budget based on what props are known at the time and a healthy contingency fund to cover the "what ifs...", it is possible to give the production manager an assessment of the expected build and be able to negotiate the build load based on anticipated expenses and build times.


Often the properties director will request information from the                 properties artisans who will be completing the work on a specific project or prop.  Chairs needing upholstery should be measured and yardage figured.  Furniture to be built must have board feet estimated.  Any prop to be built or modified can, on some basic level, be broken down into a materials budget.  Completing a written estimate helps keep the projections organized.  A materials break-down might look something like this:

Click to move to next “chapter”:  The Rehearsal and Production Process

  Click here to view sub-topics:

Kinds of Budgets        Spreadsheet

Click here to view sub-topics:

    Kinds of Budgets                        Spreadsheet

BUDGETING

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