Theatre Tips


This month's subject for Theatre Tips is "Management," as in Stage Management or Property Management, all those strategies which are helpful in keeping a complex and multifaceted event organized and on schedule. Any contributions by readers are welcome (see below).


Props (stage properties) are defined as those objects that appear on stage during a show, either as things carried on and off and handled by actors (e.g., a book, cigarettes, a money clip), or those objects which are on stage as "set dressing" (e.g., a picture on the wall, a reading lamp, knick knacks on shelves). Making sure the props are organized, and are all in the right place during a show, can be an enormous task. Some plays contain myriads of props.


One simple stylistic way of handling props is to simply make the design decision to use pantomime, instead of real props. This is particularly effective if the entire style of the production is minimal, with all aspects, from sets to costumes, being indicated symbollically rather than realistically. Pantomime can be an effective tool, but only if the actors can adeptly mime those objects they need to touch in a play in such a way that the audience instantly recognizes what they are doing (and what the object is which they are handling). In situations where there are many props, or such unusual props that it would be difficult to obtain them, pantomime provides an easy, low-budget solution.

The Double-Check Method:

If, however, the production design is realistic, and many actual props must be handled, then a method must be used to make sure that every prop is in the right place for each scene. This is called the double-check method.

Both the property manager (and there certainly needs to be someone assigned to only that task when the number of props is excessive) and some other member of the running crew (usually an assistant stage manager) should have a detailed list of where each prop is during each scene in the show. Before each show, the property manager takes the prop list and checks to make certain that each prop is in its assigned place, either on stage or back stage.

If, for instance, props are to be picked up off stage and carried on by various actors, a "Prop table" must be set backstage with all the various props on it. A quick way of organizing this table is to cover it with paper and to draw a silhouette around each prop which is placed on it (never stack props on top of each other). When a prop is missing, anyone can immediately see that its silhouette on the prop table is empty.

First the property manager checks all the prop tables backstage (there may be tables in several locations backstage depending on where the stage entrances are). The prop manager then checks the props which begin the show on stage to make sure that each one is in its correct starting place. Often, one prop or more will have been left somewhere else during the previous rehearsal or performance. The prop manager must then find it and return it to its starting position as indicated on the prop list.

Next, and this is the crucial step to avoid errors, the prop manager informs the assistant stage manager, or other stage hand assigned to do the double check, that everything is in order. The double checker proceeds to take their duplicate prop list and re-check that every prop is correctly placed. Whereas it is easy for one person to miss something during a setup involving dozens of props (or even a few), the odds that both people doing a thorough check will both overlook the exact same missing prop are astronomically low. Though each may make an error, the chances of them both making the exact same error are pretty slim, and thus the double check system ensures that each prop will be ready for the show.

During each scene change a similar system must be used. The prop manager should have a choreographed scene change which describes which props are to be brought on stage, and which are taken off. The double checker then checks to see that the crucial ones for that scene are indeed in place. Only when that check is complete (and this must usually be done in a matter of seconds) will the signal be given to open the curtain.



At the back of the prompt script, use a separate piece of paper and label it "Prop List".

On the left side, put the subtitle Pre-set. List, under that subtitle, every single prop in the show, and where it is placed at the start of the show: e.g.,

On Stage:
Dining table, center
- - on: four place settings, salt and pepper shakers
Four strait chairs, circling table
Rocking chair, up left
- - on: red pillow

Stage Left Prop Table
Charlie's engagement ring
Emily's pocket book
- - in: handkerchief

When this list is complete, start a second list for the first scene change:

ACT I/ACT II change
Bring on:

Two books - center of table
blanket - on rocking chair

Take off: Four sets of dishes, cups, salt & pepper shaker.

In particularly complicated scene changes, it may be necessary to work out the choreography of the change, assigning different props to different stage hands, and choreographing several movements on and off by each stage hand, detailing which props are handled on each trip on and off the set. A stage manager should oversee the change, double checking that each prop necessary has made it to its correct place on stage before the curtain on the next scene is allowed to go up.

Help us with your ideas:
To comment on this idea, or offer management suggestions of your own for producing plays for schools, community theatres or any low budget productions, write us at Your thoughts will be posted to this site.

Note: This tip and many more ideas for productions for theatre for young people may be found in the book Producing the School Play. For more information, go to

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