A hand prop is anything carried or handled by an actor.  It often helps define an actor’s specific character such as a cane, cigar, liquor flask, lipstick, feather duster, floral bouquet, or sword.  A hand prop might also help fulfill the action described in the play such as a gun used to threaten another character, a fountain pen for signing a contract, a letter opened and read, or a piece of fruit eaten and enjoyed.

Making a hand prop list can be done specific to character or listed just as they appear within the play.  The script might supply the information initially but hand props are the one area that seems to change the most depending on the rehearsal process.

The "adds" of hand props arrive as the play is being blocked and worked thru in the initial staging process.  Actors will often make specific requests for a hand prop that they need to help them in “fleshing out” their character.  This is also the area that gets the most “cuts” in the final weeks of rehearsal and “tech”. 

What was perceived as being a necessity becomes unneeded and problematic as the actor becomes more comfortable in his character and all of the layers of being in the stage setting and in costume assist in completing the support needed that the hand prop had fulfilled in the rehearsal process.  This is just part of the process of building hand props.  Acknowledging this allows the appropriate level of response to a request from rehearsal and underscores the importance of using a rehearsal prop.

Hand props are highly personal to actors and actors can often get quite attached to an item utilized as a rehearsal prop.  Stage managers often substitute items from a general storage closet of rehearsal props to stand-in for the actual prop and the change to the actual item can be disruptive for some actors.  It is best when actors who have to do specific action with a hand prop have the actual prop to work with in rehearsal from an early time.  Failing that, it may mean something as simple as communicating the size of the paper a letter will be written on so the actor can understand how to unfold it or providing a prop rehearsal gun of similar size and weight as the actual prop gun so the actor is comfortable handling it safely.

When making the preliminary prop list it is important to read what the characters are doing to dig out the props hidden in the text.  Sometimes the props are called out in specific while other times they are merely implied.  It is helpful in initial discussions to list all the props and allow the director to respond to the anticipated use or if the prop is unnecessary, it being cut from the prop list.


In the example below from Seven Guitars by August Wilson, Act I, Scene 4 some of the props are called out in the character dialogue while other props are simply implied.  Read for both items and action.



          LOUISE            Ohh.  Just the man I want to see.  Give me one of them Old Golds. Hedley give me one of these old Chesterfields.  Here I'll trade you the pack. 

RED CARTER    Naw.  I ain't gonna do that.  I don't want no Chesterfield!  I don't see how people smoke them things.

 From these two lines the hand props would include a pack of Old Gold cigarettes, a pack of Chesterfield cigarettes and possibly matches or a lighter to light the cigarettes (making them a consumable) and maybe requiring an ashtray.

When making the listing, it is handy to group items together going to support a single action or character even if it may not be needed in that particular scene or mentioned in the script.  For example, if you have a character who asks for a cup of tea the props required to support that single request might be as simple as a mug of tea or it might be a full tea service on a cart complete with silver trays, serving teapot, cups, saucers, sugar bowl with silver tongs and cubed sugar, a small cream pitcher, tea spoons, waste bowl, and tea caddy.  While the character only mentions a cup of tea it may be appropriate to support that request in a more complete and visual way.  Additionally, it is helpful to ask other questions: What fits the action?  What fits the length of dialogue?  Do they have time to make the tea?  Should the tea already be made in the teapot?  Is it appropriate for the characters to own and use a tea service? or, is this just a request for a mug of tea?  These questions may be what the director may need to answer or taken to stage management and solved as the play is rehearsed.

Props such as furniture are called “set props”.  Props used to set the scene or decorate the stage are called “stage dressing”.


Hand Props

“HAND” prop built at ACT prop shop in Seattle, WA.

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WHAT IS A PROP?             

Set Props              Stage Dressing

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Set Props               Stage Dressing


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