THE PROPERTIES DIRECTORS HANDBOOK  

 PROPS for the THEATRE

 
 

  All set dressing, hand props and furniture will need to be onstage for the first technical rehearsal. Set dressing can start as soon as scenery and the paint department have the architecture of the set in place and when further construction won't jeopardize the dressing. 

    In some theatres this is requested to be complete before lighting focus since stage dressing may impact specials.  It is critical that all props, including furniture, be onstage for light level set.  The colors, textures, and shadows created by the props can dramatically change the appearance of the stage space once the stage lights are illuminated. 

     Prop check-in with stage management and prop run crew should be scheduled prior to first tech to go over all the props and how they work and to discuss any special needs or instructions on use.  Some organizations have a shift rehearsal allowing the run crew personnel to practice pre-sets, set and prop cues for onstage internal/act changes, and fly cues before actors come onstage.  Practicing these types of shifts works only when ALL the crew is available and often actors assist in some changes by either carrying off their hand props or bringing on props.  In those cases the shifts must be rehearsed during the technical rehearsal time when everyone is available. In the best of all circumstances, most of the props should have already been in rehearsal or a close facsimile used allowing stage management and the actors to have an easy transition to the stage. 

Furniture props are set on stage in collaboration with stage management.  Minor adjustments during the rehearsal process often invalidate the original floor plan of where the furniture is set and taking measurements in the rehearsal hall to transfer the same relationships to the stage is helpful.  Following that preliminary placement is it common for the director and designer to alter placement to allow for sight lines or better flow around the space prior to the first technical rehearsal.

 

    The prop crew working with stage management to set furniture at stage dress.                        

        University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Click here to view sub-topics:

PRODUCTION TECH PROCESS    

Consumables        Technical rehearsal        Open/run        Strike

Click here to view sub-topics:

PRODUCTION TECH PROCESS    

Consumables        Technical rehearsal        Open/run        Strike

Load-in

Shelf dressing for Hayfever

 Set Design by Kurt Sharp

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  

Set dressing is often coordinated with the scenic designer present to react to and respond to final placement/ dressing decisions. While some things can be completed at the same time as a light level set is occurring or while scenery is working on backing flats or securing trim, adequate time should be allowed for the dressing of the stage and having safe lighting and working conditions is important. 


Scheduling a “set dress” time, especially on a realistic set with time-consuming picture placement, curtain hanging and draping, bookcases to be filled, rugs stapled down, furniture placed and dressed, is just as important a part of the pre-tech load-in as hanging the lighting instruments or putting in the scenery.  Adequate time must be scheduled.  That said the prop shop staff could go a long way toward being prepared to make the set dress efficient.  Items that can be “pre-dressed” and photographed for reference in the shop establishing a final “look”,  can be undressed into labeled boxes so once the piece is on stage it can be quickly dressed out from the box specific to that location.  Having boxes of “like” items such as books, kitchen utensils, “chochtka” décor, photographs in frames, etc. that can be placed as needed speeds up the dressing process.  When filling out an exterior scene having bags of mulch or moss and small plants preset in plaster for easy placing can fill in gaps quickly and complete the look when foliage falls short.  Pictures should be framed and all the necessary hardware attached so hanging is facilitated.  Many shops use a portable tool cart with an organized hardware kit including a variety of screws, hangers, nails, floral putty, felt guards, wire, etc to solve any installation or dressing needs. 

Stage managers often tape markings on the floor to create a way to track where the furniture is placed utilizing different colors for different scenes.  This process is called "spiking".  Once the furniture placement is finalized and prior to opening, the tape is trimmed to smaller tabs or even painted, so it becomes hopefully invisible to the audience yet still present enough for the shift crew to follow.  Furniture is spiked even in shows where the furniture is not shifted to allow the floor to be swept, mopped and furniture replaced accurately.  Spiking the furniture guarantees the placement for crucial lighting cues as well as guaranteeing that the spacing between furniture pieces, the stage edge, steps, walls, entrances or exits remains the same for the stage action. 

It is a smart practice to do the “hem” on curtains once the set has been installed or at the very least, once the actual window is built and accurate measurements can be taken to guarantee the length from rod to floor is final.  Drawings from the designer are often altered slightly by the scene shop and a difference of a few inches is disastrous when determining the finished length of drapery.  Having a stock of safety pins to turn up the curtains to their final length and out of the way for the on stage rehearsal is necessary unless adequate time is available to complete the sewing prior to first tech.



















Hand props are checked into the run crew for placement in secure cabinets until it is time to set them out on the run tables for the technical rehearsal.  A run table is the location where hand props arepre-set prior to the start of the show for actors to pick up or drop off items used in their particular scenes.  These are usually set up and maintained by stage management or the props run crew.  


Prop check-in usually occurs in the prop shop with representatives from stage management and the props run crew as needed.  Each prop is loaded into the rolling prop run cabinet or into carts to be moved to the stage and placed on secure run tables. For those theatre companies with the production studio located in another building or even across town, props must be boxed up, loaded into rolling "run" cabinets, or in some way safely transported to the theatre.  Props "check-in" is then conducted at the theatre as the props are unloaded and unpacked.
Backstage run table, Intiman Theatre, Seattle
 


    As props are checked in to stage management or the prop run crew, each prop is explained and any concerns about maintenance or handling addressed.  If, for example, the prop is a diary the actor reads from and also writes in nightly, the prop crew may utilize different colored bookmarks to assist the actor in finding the specific written passages or may have cut corners off from the page that is read from to make those specific pages easier to find. The pages that get written on each night may be only temporarily affixed and require additional pages to be added each night.  Showing this to the run crew and explaining the use guarantees consistency and understanding of how the prop is to be used as well as what nightly maintenance is required to keep the diary consistent for each performance. It might also be something as simple as proper storage of an item so it is more easily maintained such as rolling a flag or banner so it doesn't have fold lines.  Furniture pieces may have known "weaknesses" that the crew should be alerted to check each night to prevent breakage or damage.  This is especially important in a show where the furniture is abused or used in a way that might cause extraordinary strain on the furniture joints, legs, or arms.


Once the props are checked in and the set dressed, the prop shop is ready for technical rehearsals and for the actors to inhabit the space.

 

  Click to see next “chapter”: The Prop Shop

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