The Society of Properties Artisan Managers Offers Some Advice

by Michael Eddy

Last month, the members of The Society of Properties Artisan Managers (S*P*A*M) were asked for what advice they would give a new Props Master/Manager or a new Properties Artisan. The membership sent in almost 100 pieces of advice and S*P*A*M has posted the first list, for Properties Artisans. Be sure to let us, and S*P*A*M, know if they missed anything.

If I Only Knew… Artisan Edition
This list was created by the Members of the Society of Properties Artisan Managers (S*P*A*M). The numbers are just because the compiler of the list likes numbers; they are not values or rankings.

1. Don't make 10 of something, make 1/2 of one, get feedback, then finish the first one, get more feedback, then make the last 9.

2. Ask how it’s being used before starting the build.

3. Always build for the smallest venue if the prop is going into stock.

4. Less soul, more glue.

5. Just because hot glue is the easiest choice, that doesn't make it the best choice.

6. Be Nice.

7. Nothing in theatre is precious. Be prepared to alter anything.

8. Efficiency is important but not to the point that you do poor work.

9. Breaks are important, even if you only take them while glue or paint is drying.

10. Don't try to manage too many projects at once. Especially in a small workspace.

11. Don’t get mad at yourself if it’s not perfect and it’s the first time you’ve ever tried to make it. Of course, it won’t be perfect, you’ve never made it before; it takes practice.

12. Always say yes to a job, you never know where it will lead and what you’ll learn.

13. Never assume anything.

14. A little glossy wood tone fixes many things.

15. Cyanoacrylate superglue is magical.

16. Use the good-quality casters.

17. Things will change, get cut, get added. You will build all the things, and some of your time will have been wasted. Work to minimize this but accept that it will happen or you will have no peace.

18. Ask for specific help when you need it.

19. Leave a place better than you found it: that's a shared space, a short contract's shop, an organized shop, a box of ratchet straps that aren't even yours but are tangled. CLEAN UP AFTER YOURSELF!

20. There's a right tool for the job. If you're not sure, stop and ask someone (or several) else. They'll point you in the right direction.

21. If the props start talking back, it's time to retire.

22. The best skill you can have is the ability to learn quickly.

23. You can always be faster or slower. Time, experience, and the demands of the show will determine which it will be. Learn to be okay with that.

24. Remind yourself you serve the story, not your personal artistic vision.

25. Work on building a vocabulary to talk with directors and designers to help them flesh out their visions, so that you can more accurately clarify, provide, make, procure what is needed. (This can suck at times, but the better you can do this, the less strife there will be.)

26. Keep your curiosity engaged. Learning odd new skills tangentially often improves other skills.

27. What you build will be handled, dropped, jumped on, thrown, get wet, burned, and misused for an entire run. Keep that in mind when building.

28. Asking for help doesn’t mean you aren’t doing your job; it means you are doing your job.

29. Build everything possible as if it’s going to be seen up close because when they completely re-block the show in tech, it will be.

30. If you can, build for stock. A great prop can last for generations.

31. There's only room for one ego in the process, and it’s not yours.

32. Nothing is precious. Don't take notes/cuts personally. If the paycheck doesn't bounce, you're going to be fine. If we only got paid based on what items actually made it to opening night, no one would be doing this crazy job.

Further information from Society of Properties Artisan Managers (S*P*A*M): http://propmasters.org/