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).
ORGANIZING THE PROPS
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.
MAKING A PROP LIST
ACTIVITY: MAKING A PROP LIST
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:
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
Two books - center of table
blanket - on rocking chair
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
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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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