Set Props

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WHAT IS A PROP?     

Hand Props                       Stage Dressing

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       The set props are the large movable items not built into the set.  Generally this is the furniture or “sittables” and would include things like chairs, tables, rugs, appliances, barrels, trunks, or large rocks.  But it can also include large items like tents, a canoe, a car or even a wrestling ring.  This information is often communicated to the prop shop directly from the scenic designer and their size and location is notated on the floor plan showing the relationship within the stage setting. The initial description of the setting is often communicated from the playwright at the top of the scene.  


It may be a sentence as simple as this one from Proof by David Auburn:


                        SETTING:

               A back porch of a house in Chicago

 

This description gives little information about the props and the details are placed throughout the script itself in the action of the characters needing places to sit or picking up objects.  The properties director would need to read carefully to get an understanding of what set props might be required.  


On the other hand, some playwrights give visual description with specific prop information such as in Seven Guitars by August Wilson.

Arms and the Man

Scenery and Props designed by Bruce Brockman        University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee

 Both of these script examples are for plays set in the back of a house in the city but the level of information provided on props varies considerably.  The scene designer may use this description as the basis for the design...or may choose to completely ignore it but at least it's a place to start in understanding what may be required to set the scene.  Once the design has been finalized, this information is often communicated to the prop shop directly from the scenic designer and size and location is notated on the floor plan showing the relationship within the stage setting.  

 

 THE SETTING:

The action of the play takes place in the backyard of a house in Pittsburgh in 1948.  It is a brick house with a single window fronting the yard.  Access to the room is gained by stairs leading to a small porch on the side of the house.  This is VERA'S apartment.  LOUISE and HEDLEY live on the second floor in separate quarters which are accessed by steps leading to a landing and a flight of stairs alongside the building.  The stairs are wooden and are in need of repair.  The yard is closely flanked on both sides by the neighboring buildings.  A ten-foot high fence stage right blocks our view into the yard a stage right and a four-foot high fence is at stage left.  The yard is a dirt yard with a small garden area marked off by bricks in the downstage right corner where VERA has made a garden of vegetables and flowers.  A cellar door leads into the basement where HEDLEY stores his gear.  Off to the side and in the back of the yard is a contraption made of bricks, wood, and corrugated sheet metal which is where Hedley kills chickens.  It couples as a grill for cooking and when it is not being used, it breaks down with a minimum of parts left standing.  During several of his scenes HEDLEY builds or dismantles his contraption and stores its pieces in the cellar.  These is an entrance to the yard through a latched gate to the left of the building.  There is occasionally a card table set up in the yard with an eclectic mix of chairs.  Several light bulbs, rigged by way of extension cords, run from VERA's apartment to light the table so they can sit and play cards on the hot summer nights of 1948.


 

These items tend to be fairly well defined early on and may also take up the bulk of the budget and the energy of the build.  Furniture pieces set time period and character quickly and the prop shop must find the specific items requested by the designer for a particular look. The challenge lies in also finding the piece with the right look that will also function well for the action as defined in rehearsal by the director.  In addition, the pieces often have to be shifted and moved to show a passage of time or to allow for a scene change between places.  Prop furniture takes a high level of abuse and often the actions blocked on the furniture puts more stress on a piece than it would normally receive in a lifetime or normal use in a home environment.  Appropriate reinforcement and finishes must be considered as items are selected or built.

Working from what is available in stock, designers may chose to have items built or altered specifically to fit the show.  Utilizing photos or sketches the designer communicates the “look” desired.

Props used to set the scene or decorate the stage are called stage dressing”.   Props the actors handle or carry are called “hand props”.

  Click here to view sub-topics:

WHAT IS A PROP?          

  Hand Props                       Stage Dressing

 

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