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Hand Props                    Set Props

Stage Dressing





Ring Round the Moon

Designed by Rick Graham        University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee

    Stage dressing encompasses all the decorative items used to enhance the visual setting.  These items are rarely moved or even touched by the actors and are mostly used to help the designer establish place or time period as well as character detail.  Examples would include curtains on the window, books in a bookcase, hanging chandeliers, a moose head hanging on the wall, magazines and floral arrangements spread on a coffee table, or pictures arranged on a wall.  While dressing may be mentioned in the script it is rarely complete and usually ignored as the designer determines the details to fit with the particular design being created for the specific production.

    Stage dressing information usually comes from the designer and may be communicated to the prop shop in various ways.  Often the designer relays the look desired by simply describing what is needed and relying on the prop shop to fulfill expectations from that verbal description.  This works best in relationships where the prop shop and designer have worked together enough to have a strong understanding of what the designer means and usually envisions.  Understanding and getting “into the head” of the designer to SEE what the designer is seeing as the vision for the play makes the verbal design process easier.  It is sometimes easiest to talk about set dressing by utilizing the scaled model of the stage setting or from the front elevations.  Some designers include highly detailed stage dressing in their models.  Others take front elevations and overlay prop detail onto the drawing showing size or placement of pictures, sketching in draperies, or showing other dressing detail.  Working with the elevations or the model even while talking with the designer assists in clarifying what the designer is imagining.

Stage dressing and period hand props.

Seven Guitars    designed by Bruce Brockman

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

    The smaller, detailed stage dressing is often just a conversation between the designer and the properties director talking about what might be placed around the stage.  For example, if the play takes place in a modern apartment with a bookcase, coffee table, credenza, TV and stereo cabinet, sofa, and other decor, the designer may call out for several specific items of decoration but will assume the prop shop would fill the bookcase with appropriate books and collectable items, dress the coffee table with magazines fitting the characters and season of the play, cover the credenza with a small decorative runner topped by a vase of flowers or piece of sculpture, file CD’s and record covers in the stereo cabinet beside a remote control for the TV, pull throw pillows and a soft blanket for the back of the sofa, and otherwise make the setting appear like someone actually lives in the space.  The actual selection and set dressing of those props is left up to the discretion of the props department although most designers will “tweak” the final dressing to suit their personal vision.

    For decor such as curtains or furniture pieces, designers often utilize photos or drawings to show fullness, drape, trim elements, pattern, color, etc.  From this collage of images the prop shop works in collaboration with the designer for the purchasing of specific fabric, trim, or items to re-create the look. 

Prop shop collage of furniture choices for designer selection.

Courtesy of ATL properties director Mark Walston.


    Stage dressing can also include large items such as trees, grass, bushes,or other landscape items falling almost over into set props.  These items might be considered scenery in some theatres.  As in all things, negotiation and collaboration are essential in determining who is responsible for building the various parts of the production depending on budget, talent, and time.

Set model for The Gin Game, designed by Paul Owen, Actors Theatre of Louisville, showing furniture style and placement, suggestion of set decoration and foliage requirements as well as color and texture choices.

Set props are the large moveable items not built into the set-usually furniture.

Hand props are anything carried or handled by an actor to define character and support the action.

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Set Props            Hand Props


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