Milwaukee Repertory Hand Prop Storage

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Pulling Props

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    First, looking to see what is in the prop stock and can be pulled offers a fast and usually, inexpensive solution to finding the prop.  Many theatres maintain a large inventory of items that are used repeatedly in the productions and with slight modification can be made specific to each show.  Having a prop stock saves hundreds of dollars in hand prop procurement alone and offers a variety of choices.  Items such as kitchen pots or pans, china, glassware, period magazines, ashtrays, gardenware and decorative objects can be used repeatedly on stage for a variety of productions without alteration.

Selecting stock furniture and reupholstering it or making slight modifications to the “look” allows the designer to make the choice specific to the show and saves having to build or buy furniture items.

Even if all the pieces cannot be pulled, often the savings offered by using some stock furniture allows for a specialty piece to be invested in to compliment existing stock pieces and add to stock for future productions.  Paper props like newspapers, magazines, or letters built for one show, when saved in stock, are a quick pull when dressing is needed for the next show.

When pulling it is important to keep an open mind about what discoveries might occur as props are sorted and pulled.  Often times it is possible to discover something that might be easily modified or utilized as part of a built piece.  Fabric sewn as curtains for a previous show can be modified into a bedspread or dyed a different color to work in the present show.  A wooden box can be covered in fabric and leather straps to transform into a period trunk.  Almost anything can become a lamp.  A letter handwritten for one show can become a "proclamation" with the addition of a gold seal and some ribbon.  Look with fresh eyes and think about the possibilities of what can be done, how it can be altered, the what if? of pulling an item and using it in a different way.

Once the pull is completed, items are moved to the prop shop for whatever alterations or finishing are required.  This may include additional reinforcing to support the specific action of the production, a change in upholstery to fit into the color scheme, or a simple clean and polish to restore the original luster of the finish.  In more drastic cases a stock piece may be significantly altered to create a different silhouette, to lower the back or extend the length of a piece of furniture, or disassembled to use parts to create an entirely new piece.  This choice usually lies with the Properties Director working in collaboration with the artisans and the designer to prioritize what can be done on the budget allowed within the limitations of talent and time.

Any alteration or modification of stock items invariably requires some materials whether it’s wood, upholstery supplies, paint, trim, or craft supplies.  The artisan/s involved in completing the project must determine what is needed and communicate the quantity to the Properties Director.  Working with the shopper/buyer to determine pricing and availability within the budget limits, the material list is prioritized and becomes part of the “buy” list.

Having a computerized inventory of furniture stock has become increasingly handy.  Many designers are not “on-site” and being able to post photos and dimensions on a website for the designer to view stock pieces under consideration allows for quick communication of available pieces.  Using software allowing entry of pictures of each furniture piece along with information such as dimensions, upholstery, finish, physical condition, previous show use, time period, etc., allows for items to be easily “searched” in the database by the entry of any particular characteristic such as “bench” and “wooden” to find all the various wooden benches in stock. 

Keeping the inventory updated and accurate is critical.  As pieces are bought or stock items changed, updated photographs and information should be added to the computerized inventory.  This is often assigned as part of one of the artisan’s job responsibilities during strike

Having a similar inventory of hand props would be helpful but is impractical.  There are literally  thousands of hand props in most company’s storage and maintaining that filing would be a full-time job alone. 

Managing the hand prop stock and keeping it organized is an intensive and time consuming project without even attempting to track all the changes, adds, and breakage that come with producing a season.  Pulling hand props is most easily done by simply going to prop storage and selecting what will work best or collecting several options for the designer to chose from when they are available.

Glassware / kitchen hand prop storage.  Courtesy of Actors Theatre of Louisville prop shop. 

Furniture storage with computerized prop inventory hang tags.  Courtesy of Actors Theatre of Louisville prop shop.