Shopping is a necessary part of EVERY build. Within every good prop person is a shopper just waiting to discover an incredible bargain! Best of all, it’s using someone else’s money!!!   Sometimes it might be just the purchase of materials to modify stock items but it might be buying specific items that are particular to the production and require no or very little modification. On the other hand the shopper/buyer might spend days tracking down a requested item with a particular look or that has a specific function. 

Utilization of the Internet for finding specialty shopping sites online has dramatically changed the way the prop shop functions and increased the ease of finding things.  The Internet makes shopping convenient and opens the entire world as the market for procuring items.  With easy “search” links the ability to find even the most absurd request becomes increasingly possible.


Shopping on the Internet requires a few simple security rules to safeguard the credit card and other personal information necessary to safely shop.   Wed sites online may be the portal for a large company that also has retail sites.  Shopping online at trusted sites with return policies and a proven shipping department makes the process simple and safe. Check to confirm that the companies’ return policy for buying online is the same as buying in the store.  Some companies allow returns to the store even when the items were bought on line saving shipping and handling fees. Newer online companies, while unknown and perhaps lacking a retail store, can be equally safe but it’s best to review their buying policies and be sure a full refund is possible if the merchandise is unacceptable.

When placing an order, be sure to review all the information checking for amount, color, size, shipping information, billing information, etc.  Most sites will confirm the entire order before asking for a final buy button to be pushed completing the sale.  Print off the receipt and any information about anticipated delivery dates or seller contact information.  Most on line sites operate using order codes allowing an update on shipping or where the order is in process by typing in the code and going to the website.  Once the item has been shipped many companies will send an e-mail giving a tracking number to follow the shipment.  This is especially helpful if working against a deadline and the package doesn’t arrive in a timely fashion. 

ebay is just one “selling” site allowing computer shopping by individuals as well as companies.  To learn more about ebay and buying online go to:

Before entering credit card information be sure the site is a registered secure site.  Often times these sites have a lock image in the corner as well as language confirming the site has appropriate protocols to keep credit card information safe from hackers or others who may want to access delivery or billing information. Most credit card companies offer fraud alerts and protective coverage in case credit card information gets stolen but it is always the responsibility of the credit card holder to monitor activity on the card by scanning statements for unauthorized purchases and alerting the company when something is wrong.  Policies vary as to how much liability the card holder is responsible for so check out the fine print in those agreements to know the card exposure. 


Click here to view sub-topics:


Build                Borrow                Pull   

Click here to view sub-topics:


Build                Borrow                Pull   

Buying Props

A prop shopper quickly becomes familiar with the local resources available in the city.  The Yellow Pages offer quick access to many businesses and individuals offering services or materials used in the prop shop.  Good telephone communication skills are critical for determining what is available locally.  As purchasing relationships develop and the shopper's knowledge of where to buy, and what is available grows the ease of shopping for many supplies becomes easier.  Knowing where to find things in the community is critical to successful shopping and strong “people skills” are necessary to maintain relationships with the shops and companies that the theatre frequents for supplies.  Getting discounts or special pricing as a nonprofit organization can save hundreds of dollars over the season build and repeat customers are more likely to get these accommodations.  Business are also often willing to "hold" an item while a designer is consulted based on previous positive business experiences.

The shopper must develop the "designer" eye for often decisions must be made in the field about appropriate choices on items.  Working from the designer drawings, collages, or verbal descriptions the shopper locates the various items needed for the show as well as the materials needed for the shop.  The shopper is also the one taking and picking up tools needing repair or running over to the off-site storage area to search for props needing to be pulled.

The modern prop shopper has many more technological tools available as well. With the ease and portability of digital cameras today, it's easy to snap a photo and e-mail it off for confirmation to the designer.  This does entail a return to the store for purchasing following affirmation to buy but that is usually better than purchasing and then needing to return an item.  Circumventing even that method of communication, an added feature of many cell phones is a small digital camera allowing items to be photographed and sent to the designer or back to the properties director when a question arises.  As technology develops the ease of sending photographs and information via the phone will allow this to be a faster, smarter, and more useful method of shopping.

Given the responsibility of purchasing, it's important for the shopper to be organized with receipts and petty cash.  Purchasing authority with a company credit card comes with the appropriate use and management for all purchases charged against that account.  The shopper is accountable for the purchases made and for tracking the receipts to be entered in the budget in communication with the properties director.

Before the Internet, a Shopper/buyer was known for the depth of the card file filled with resources, knowing where to find any item or having a person in the community known to the Shopper/buyer who can connect to the needed item.  No longer is this a necessity although a good Shopper/buyer still maintains a long list of local resources.

Rolidex card file of sources

Milwaukee Repertory Theatre

  Click to move to next “chapter”:  Production TECH PROCESS