The Props Dept.
One of the great things about being a Props person is the puzzels. How to get from point A to point X and sliding on all the learning curves as you get there. Here are some of the fun props that I have made recently.
In our 2017 production of Julius Caesar our director asked us for a gold tub. After speaking with David Rockwell our set designer I suggested we use gold tile as a nod to Roman mosaic. It also had a huge gaudy factor representing exsess. As our Caesar raised up from the trap each night smoking a cigar and tweeting the audience always gave it a great laugh.
"The fire should appear out of nowhere look as real as possible and at the end of the scene we should see dark coals."
I took clear chunks of glass and spray painted them black and grey just on the top keeping the bottom still clear. They were placed on a screen with the light below them giving them intensity and color. With the light lowered the glass went back to the black and grey matt finish. On the tips of the logs I glued red mylar to pick up the light and made the ends of the logs look like burning embers.
As You Like It
Props & Fine Art
I was honored to be a part of the first exhibition to feature props as fine art in theater television and film. Pictured from the opening night of the exhibition is Ross MacDonald, Elizabeth Kline, Eric Hart and Carl Sprague. The Sun was featured as you come into the gallery and on CBS Sunday Morning. I asked that it be included in the exhibit because it was made by Prop Master Corinne Gologursky back when she was an intern, her work is even more amazing now.
All my professional life I have been fighting to get Props people recognised for the demanding work we do. Great props people are hard to come buy and if you do get one you need to make sure you keep them associated with you. I did get interviewed for the book but the chances of being mentioned in the book was small. I was brought to tears when Lin tweeted the first look of the Hamilton book mentioning Andy Blankenbuehler and the Props Department.
Edible arrest warrant
Measure for Measure
There was a request that the arrest warrant at the end of Measure for Measure could be pulled out of the executioner's hand and eaten. I found Black cookie icing at Michaels Crafts and watered it down. Taking a thin paint brush I wrote each one on potato starch wafer paper. I took a cork and carved a couple shapes in it to look like a seal or stamp. The actor loved it and said it tasted like a sweet potato chip.
Mother Of The Maid Public Theater
A $7 corn broom with some simple modifications can easily look like a old hand made broom.
I switched the handle out for a branch using a dowel screw. After pulling out the stitching on the face of the broom. I used a zip tie and pulled all of the fibers in as tightly as possible. I then soak the fibers in hot water for an hour and a half and clamped the broom to the side of a work table to press the fibers out and down as if it had been used for years. It's about a 3 hour project and great gift for your Witch friends.
Midsummer Night's Dream
This beautiful bower was made to come up from under the stage on a scissor lift. A couple of days before tech when the company came with the lift it only gave us 6' and not the 8' that was in the drawing. Our shop foreperson Rebecca brilliantly made the front curves of the arch thumb screw out. this let us drop the arch down 2' so that it fit easily under the deck.
100,000 Books, Gently Down The Stream
Derek McLane's Gently Down The Stream featuring Harvey Fierstein had massive amounts of shelving and books that represented the untold stories of those we lost due to bigoted violence and the AIDS crisis.
Due to costs and weight I suggested that we make fake books left over from scrap foam and just print different covers with variance in spine. We could use real books up to the 6' mark, basically to the tops of the doors. After a few tests we set into production and it turned out to be massively impressive.
photo by Joan Marcus
30' Bat Wings
Tempest Shakespeare in the Park
For The Tempest I was lucky enough to be able to make HUGE bat wings for the Harpy that appeared at the Kings feast. Here you can see we started with a model made 1'' to 1' scale. The main frame was PVC pipe with fiberglass rods used as 'fingers'. *Hint the cheapest way to get strong small fiberglass rods...go to Amazon and order replacement tent poles. They ship cheap and you can glue & stitch them in place.
Because of the size I told our director that we needed to have two people on each wing one behind Todd Almand on each side and the others holding up the wing ends with rods that they could manipulate to make the wings flap.
Trick flipper table
Lear DeBessonet the head of the Public Works program came to me pretty crestfallen. I asked what was wrong and she said that the budget was so tight that every department kept saying no to things just to cut corners. I told her that Props would do what we could in order to make magic happen. The 30' wings was one thing that we did and the other was this feast that appeared out of nowhere. Look closely at the video at first there is no food on the table. the dancers pass and the food appears, they pass again and the actors also have full drinks in hand. Sometimes the Miracle Worker is a play...sometimes it's a job description.
The table skirt only needed to be 5'' in order to block the view from the seats in the front. The highest item could be almost 11''. Those items needed to be in the center of the pivot in order to clear the side rails. Simple ball catches at all 4 corners stopped the table from rotating any further than it should have.
photo by Joan Marcus
Tempest - Public Works
So I wanted to infuse both Air (Ariel) and Earth (Calaban) in Prospero's staff so of course the natural choice was a wooden staff with an Armillary sphere grafed to the top. I took embroidery hoops and made them into an armillary sphere by glueing and using small wood screws. I then covered those with wire and covered the wire in medical grade plaster bandages. Making it look as if the ball at the top was magically grafted into a working representation of the heavens. The final look has small bits of moss on it and was visually beautiful. I gifted it away and it is now in the office of Dr.Neil DeGrasse Tyson just across the street at the Hayden Planetarium.
King Lear Torches
The torch on the left was a proof of concept that we did in our shop. After showing the sample to John Lee Beaty and Dan Sullivan for aprovel we went to Electricks to check on the largest scale we could make these. They were constructed out of 5" PVC, IKEA decor branches, hemp rope, cable ties and Titebond waterproof carpenters glue. The torches were fitting by the electrics team with LED's and there were two different foggers that made all the torches smoke. One thing about the branches, they kept the smoke contained and as the smoke passed over the top of the light it looked like flames.
fake food for Mother of the Maid
There was a huge banquet scene in Mother Of the Maid and it took place in the late 1300's. So there was no place to buy food like that. Also because of the length of the run it was not economical to get real food. But when I was a kid we use to make ornaments out of salt dough. They lasted for years because they were hard as rocks. After seeing an example of a eggroll in Tammy Honestys fake food book I just upped the proportions and baked the salt dough at a higher temp for a shorter time. They turned out pretty great.
Othello Hand held torches
Othello, Shakespeare in the Park
I know it seems like I have an unhealthy obsession with fire. I don't know if it's that or that I just want to make the best illusion I can. I use to love the silk flames and at one time those were the best to use.
These torches had to be turned on and off by hand be brought in and put on a wall in a torch holder. We were using puffs of smoke by activating an e-cigarette with a mini battery operated fish tank pump. The problem was that the e-cig heating coil would burn out. To get to the batteries and guts of the lamp we made sure that the basket of sea glass on edge could be lifted out and all the internal workings were on a sleeve that could slip in and out of the torch handle. There were LED's under the sea glass that fired randomly and all of the sea glass was standing on edge so it looked like flames. The result is in the video, the torch was a wall flower vase made out of metal and the tines are simple drawer pulls with magic sculpt.