When possible, shops should have some method of defining and isolating work areas allowing for the safe and appropriate use of materials and work processes but given the reality of most spaces this is accomplished with limited success.  Sawdust, paint spray, upholstery lint, wet glues and finishes, damp dyed fabric, noisy sawing, castings releasing gases, and the jumble of stock supplies all must thrive in the single space prop shop.  Work may be compromised and the functionality of the prop shop limited simply by the need to constantly prioritize projects depending on how much space they require, how much of a mess (dust, fume, over-spray, lint, trash, gas, etc.) will be created, drying time, etc.  As projects flow through the shop, work spaces must be adaptable for a variety of projects with the prop artisans determining what projects need priority in the build and what other projects compliment the same use of tools, products, or process.  

    Just as in the multiple space prop shop, the one-room shop probably has a division of the space into working areas that replicate the clean, dirty, and crafts rooms.  Some overlap and duel usage occurs naturally as the build progresses through the shop but many one room prop shops have artisans with multiple skills allowing the shop to change as the project they are working on moves from start to finish.   The same concerns for isolation for dust, contamination, fume, etc. should be addressed and temporary barriers, mobile work tables, tools on rolling stands, and flexible systems for ventilation and dust collection can go a long ways to making the shop function quite well for properties production. Simple solutions such as storing supplies in plastic containers with secure lids, providing dust covers over prop storage shelves and dust sensitive equipment such as sewing machines or computers, or even rigging a physical barrier to temporarily divide the shop as needed gives the shop functionality.  


    Keeping an organized shop is critical in the one-room prop shop in order to keep a safe work area and managing tools and supplies. When speciality artisans work in designated multiple room
prop shops they are able to individualize their areas to their work style and manage the area worked in to suit their own process.  Not so in a one-room shop where the artisans often take projects from beginning to end and the spaces and tools are shared.  Attention to safety and the requirements of specific processes must be part of each artisan's work plan.

    For example,  prior to doing metal work the shop should have a through cleaning to remove wood dust and potential fire hazards. At the end of the metal working project, the area should be cleaned again to remove any scrap metal and oily materials that might stain fabric or other projects.  Many crafts and soft-goods projects can successfully be worked side by side utilizing similar tools and projects but the spaces must be kept organized and materials and tools stored at the end of work call so each artisan can continue work the following day without having to search for tools or clear an area to work o a project.


    In the case where the prop space is really small, the prop artisans may share workspace with other areas that have designated shops. For example, furniture construction or metal reinforcement of props may occur in the scene shop allowing for similar material use and the mess of cutting, sanding, and grinding in a space set up to accommodate that activity.  The prop staff may find clean space in the scenic paint studio to paint, stain, and seal furniture or props side by side with the artisans completing the scenery which has the added benefit of allowing a collaboration on style and color palette in addition to having an environment safe from the dust and residue of construction work.  The costume shop may allow the props artisan to complete a drapery project requiring a clean workspace with the use of a large cutting table and industrial sewing machine.  Many smaller companies have a shared area for the costume and prop shop to do fabric washing and dye work.  Expensive speciality equipment such as a wide frame color plotter may be shared by numerous areas including marketing, design, and production allowing the prop shop to produce posters and large graphics.  

    As with all shared resources, this requires the willing collaboration of the other departments and the allowance of their own activities to continue while accommodating the prop shop needs. Many theatres operate on increasingly limited budgets and when it is possible to share equipment or space, the overall benefit is increased collaboration and smart use of resources allowing the budget to be spent on show specific purchases.  


    Some regional theatre and university prop shops are small multi-functional spaces requiring a juggling of processes and set-ups to allow for the widest variety of work to be accomplished.  Managing the flow of materials and work processes within a single space that must manage the “dirty” side of prop work from woodworking and foam carving to “clean” activities such as upholstery and floral work adds complexity to an already complicated job.  In these one-room shops the table saw lives with the sewing machine, the paint sink doubles as the area where props are washed and cleaned, and the shop graphics computer area is often the properties director's desk. 


ACT Prop shop, Seattle, WA


  Click here to view sub-topics:

           The Prop Shop         The Multiple Space Shop        

    “Dirty” room                        “Clean room”                    Crafts room

Click here to view sub-topics:

           The Prop Shop    The Multiple Space Shop    “Dirty” room   “Clean room”     Crafts room

Click to go to PHOTOS page to review all PROP SHOP ALBUMS

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