Preliminary Prop List

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After reading the script, the next step is to create a preliminary prop list. 

The furniture/ set props may be described in the playwright’s scene notes or may have to come from an analysis of what the characters are doing and how they relate to the space and each other.  (If four characters are playing cards it can be assumed that four chairs and a table of some kind are required….as well as various hand props like a deck of cards and possibly gambling chips, beverage glasses, an ash tray, cigarettes, matches, score pad, or pencil.)  

The hand props are defined usually specific to character and may be noted as part of the character description or can be found related to the action within the scene such as the card playing scene noted above.  Those hand props that are not directly embedded in the script should be noted but often those peripheral hand props are the first ones cut since they were specific to the production that was “recorded” when the script was published and may not be necessary in the present production.

Stage dressing will come directly from the specific design so unless something is noted particular to the action (Ex: a painting of a character in the play that is referred to within the context of the play) adding stage dressing to the prop list at this early point in the process is unnecessary.  It can be handy for prompting discussion with the director and designer but usually these items are not retained consistently from production to production.


     Helpful information to include in a preliminary list would be:


Ø Act, scene and/or page number in script where prop is mentioned

Ø Prop item

Ø Description as mentioned in script

Ø Character who uses the prop

Ø Questions for designer/ director


The preliminary prop list should include adequate information to assist in discussions with the director and scenic designer or to prompt inquiry into what may be a crossover prop with another production area (IE: Is it an umbrella or a parasol?  Does the floor lamp have to be practical?  Do they turn the radio on making it light up on the dial and music heard from the “speaker”?) 

    Once the preliminary prop list is complete a meeting with the designer and director is necessary to talk through the options of the props listed.  Stage management usually attends the meeting to understand what considerations are discussed and to work out what needs to be facilitated in rehearsal.  Discussions revolve around all the details needed for the prop shop to begin the build. This is where initial decisions happen. For example: what do things look like, how are they anticipated to be used, what will need additional reinforcement, where does it come from, how is it shifted, what color is it, etc.  This information informs many of the additional decisions that will be made in the following weeks of the build.

   It is also important to note that this is just the starting point and everyone involved acknowledges that the list will evolve as things need to get added, cut, or changed based on the rehearsal process.  It is also at this point that the overlap between departments often occurs depending on the priorities of budget, personnel, and talent.  For example, what might have started out as a costume piece might slide over into props or vise versa depending on who has the time, money, or skill to complete the item.

    Working with stage management, a prop list is created combining the preliminary prop list and the information garnered from the production and design meetings.  This list will form the basis of the build allowing the initial choice of what might be pulled, bought, built, or rented/borrowed to be determined by the Properties Director. See making a prop list under “Getting Organized.”

1001 Scene Breakdown – Preliminary props list

  Description:  “Trunk show- bare stage with trunks to hold props/ set scene

  Beginning    Hospital   (p.1)

                Bed – various gadgets – real or suggested? actual bed or just                             

                     sheets, pillows- suggestions of bed pieces?  colors?  pre-set?                     

                Deep blue piece of silk – determine actual color- (sample?) size?

                 “Dusty tome” – book – size?  “look”?

                Flashlight – size?  From pocket?

    Scene 1    “Tent”   (p.2)

                     how created?  Any dressing?

    Scene 2    Shah bedchamber   (p.3)

                    how are we establishing?

                    “Blood” – how contain?  Maintenance issue and messy…..

                    Sword- rusted, covered in blood – cuts off head? worn?

    Scene 3    Throne room   (p.5)

                    Chair ?

                    Deep blue silk – same as beginning?

                    Box- contains “head” ? only lock of hair with flowers seen?

Should match previous scene- girl’s head (p.6)

   Scene 4    “Dank” room    (p.7)    No props listed

   Scene 5    Location unknown (p.9)   No props listed 

    Scene 6     Dank room   (p.10)    No props listed  

    Scene 7    Marriage   (p.11)

                    How supported? Description of ritual bathing, feasting, and dressing- supported?

    Scene 8    Bedchamber  (p.12)

                    Dusty tome- same as beginning ?

                    Cleaning rag

                    Sword– polished and clean – matches one in S.2 ?

    Scene 9    Syrian Palace – top of minaret   (p.13)

                    Chain- to “chain” Yahya- length, size of links?

                    Jug of water- carried by Juml  - “period” or modern?

                    Stick- to “scribble in dirt” - ?



Actors Theatre- Preliminary Prop List

Click here to see SKYLIGHT OPERA  preliminary props list / budget example.

Click here to see SEATTLE CHILDREN’S THEATRE preliminary prop listing.

Click here to see AMERICAN REPERTORY THEATRE preliminary prop list example.

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In any given prop list one area that can become a sinkhole of expense is the “consumable” budget.  A consumable is any prop that requires multiples to be made/ purchased because in the action of the play the prop is used in such a way that it can not be re-used.  It might be eaten, torn, broken, gotten wet, set on fire, etc.  It can be as simple as an envelope that is torn open each night or as involved as the clock thrown on the floor and smashed in Chekhov’s Three Sisters requiring the casting of enough clocks for the technical rehearsal and run the show.  It could also be the entire kitchen full of set dressing as in True West by Sam Shepard where the play culminates in a typewriter being beaten to pieces with of a golf club each night along with a large number of toasters.  Beyond exploring the problematic safety issue for the actors and audience as bits and pieces of appliances go flinging off, the production and design team need to address the expense of finding enough toasters, typewriters, and golf clubs for the run and potentially re-dressing the set each performance due to breakage or damage.

Food is a consumable that requires appropriate and safe handling beyond just the expense of purchasing the food items itself.  The odd piece of fruit or piece of bread can be easily solved but some plays require food to be cooked onstage or meals eaten by the actors as part of the staging of the scene.  Planning for this level of consumable must be accounted for at the preliminary stage in both budget and use, including pre-show preparation and post show clean up expenses.  Those items that are anticipated to be “consumable” should be notated in the preliminary prop list for discussion by all involved. 

Click here to see consumables prop list from Milwaukee Rep. Theatre.


Click to move to next “chapter”:  Budgeting