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Answer Box

  • Don’t Touch the Props: Thinking about backstage safety in a post COVID-19 world

    Jay Duckworth | Answer Box | May 22, 2020Though it’s been said—many times—seriously, don’t touch the props. We will be getting back to work; I don’t know when, but theater is resilient, and we’ll be back. I hesitate to use the word return; a lot of things will be different. There should be and will be some new safety protocols and considerations for […] Read More...
  • Teaching Props Online

    Jay Duckworth | Answer BoxCurrent Issue | April 29, 2020The situation that we are in right now with COVID-19 sucks. I usually can spin most anything into a positive. Like the time I got shot in the arm but luckily, I had on my brother’s jacket, but that’s another story. Like the famous quote, “If you’re going through Hell just keep on going.” Right […] Read More...
  • Propping Angels in America, a “period” piece

    Jay Lasnik | Answer BoxProps | March 25, 2020This month’s Answer Box comes from Jay Lasnik, Props Master at Penn State University. Here Lasnik talks about building a “period” phone booth from the 1980s for a recent production of Angels in America at Penn State, as well as “Hunting & Gathering” props for this production. The Creative Team for this production included: Scenic […] Read More...
  • Hell’s Best Friend: Building the Devil’s Dog

    Jay Duckworth | Answer Box | January 7, 2020At the Public Theater, we’re doing an update of Tony Kushner’s A Bright Room Called Day. It’s being directed by our artistic director Oskar Eustis. The design team is a who’s who of gifted designers and our scenic designer David Rockwell is an absolute treat to work with. There are some great challenges to the […] Read More...
  • Turning the Table: How to make a flipping table

    Jay Duckworth | Answer Box | November 13, 2019Drumsticks of shamans were the first representations of magic wands. Then later, in ancient Egypt, the royal cubit was a standardized stick that was distributed to workers, those too were seen as magic wands because those who carried and worked with these sticks were able to build the structures of the Gods. The first documented magic trick is from ancient Egypt, where Dedi, a fictional ancient Egyptian magician, decapitated a bird and then reattached the bird’s head and brought it back to life. There is also a depiction of the cup and balls trick where a ball was put under one of three cups. The trick was to follow where the ball was supposed to be, an ancient version of Follow the Lady aka Three-card Monte. As technicians in theater, there are often times where we have to create an illusion. In William Shakespeare’s The Tempest there is a banquet table in Act 3, Scene III where food appears out of nowhere. There is a neat trick for this, and I’d love to share it with you.  Read More...
  • A Volley of Arrows Using High, Low and No Tech Solutions

    Brent Stainer and Camille Taliaferro-Barber | Answer Box | August 21, 2019When Archbishop Murphy High School, in Everett, WA, produced The Maid’s Trial; Joan of Arc, the script called for two volleys of arrows to strike the stage, creating the illusion that the characters were being attacked from a long distance. In the first volley, arrows strike across the set and the character of Joan is struck in the shoulder. The second volley strikes around the stage and onto shields held up to protect the injured Joan. The effect needed to look realistic to reflect the heavy tone of the play, so comical or whimsical effects would not do. The primary concern of course was safety, so actual free-flight arrows would not be considered. The solutions to the multiple challenges were found using three approaches – high tech, low tech, and no tech.  Read More...
  • Creating the Chandeliers

    From Alison Mantilla | Answer Box | April 10, 2019Alison Mantilla is a freelance prop supervisor and oversaw the props for the Lincoln Center production of My Fair Lady with a scenic design by Michael Yeargan. Mantilla walks us through the build for the chandeliers in the embassy ball scene at the top of Act II. Read More...
  • Words, Words, Words

    Jay Duckworth | Answer Box | September 19, 2018Speaking at Maine State Music Theatre this summer, I was asked what my design process was. I said, ‘First off, read the script.’ Holy Cow, I can’t believe the number of people that I’ve worked with that just skim it over to look for ‘he hands him a hammer’. What if the actor must hit someone on the head with that hammer?  The first time I worked with playwright Arthur Laurents he told me, ‘If you have any questions, look back into the script, and it will tell you everything.’ When I go through a script for the first time, I hit everything that is a prop with a yellow highlighter; everything that is a perishable with a red highlighter, and situational information (year, season, holidays, before and after, financial situation, day of the week, and weather trends) with a blue highlighter.  Read More...
  • The Right Material for the Job… Unless you are a Prop Builder

    Michelle A. Bisbee | Answer Box | August 22, 2018Props people are the MacGyvers of the theater and movie industry. Hopefully many, if not all of you, have seen the amazing Q2Q Comics #210 The Hardware Store. What makes this one so painfully funny is how truthful it is. I know I am preaching to the choir when I say this, though there are many items that can be easily purchased, it is how we use these items and thus how they need to be constructed that differs from the ordinary person… that and an individual’s budget for a single item compared to that same dollar amount for an entire show as Jay Duckworth recently discussed in the Answer Box article Order Up! A Working Ziosk Prop in the August issue of Stage Directions. To quote poet Arthur O’Shaughnessy: We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams. Our number one weapon in our arsenal is our imagination. We look at things in a different way—we look at elements, overall shape, texture, and potential. In class, whether teaching model making or props, I ask students to push and surpass the limits of their imagination.  Read More...
  • Order Up! A Working Ziosk Prop

    Jay Duckworth | Answer Box | July 25, 2018Digital Ordering in View of the Audience "Did you read last night’s report?" Corinne Gologursky, assistant props master for Kings at The Public Theater asked me. "They want the actor to order from the Chili’s Ziosk in real time.""Oh yeah, I saw that…" I responded. "I’m just choosing to be in denial about it."  One of the great things about doing new plays is not only the idea that you are working on ink-wet work that is adding to the American playbook, but you get new challenges that really test the mettle of who you are as an artist. Read More...
  • Fit For A King – A Nine Piece Rolling Throne

    Jay Duckworth | Answer Box | April 25, 2018Design drawings. Sometimes they come in late. There are times when not all the information is on the drawing. A designer has actually said ‘I wish you would have told me that you were going to build it the way I drew it.’ Then there are times you’re sitting in the production meeting and you find out a whole lot about the drawing you were given just the day before. Usually this doesn’t stress me but for Henry V the drawing for the throne had an exploded view as most drawings do. This wasn’t just for details sake, it was because at the beginning of the play, during the first monologue, the nine-member cast has to take one part each and build Henry’s throne onstage. So, challenge one—the cast has to put a chair together and it has to be in nine pieces. Challenge two—during the production meeting I find out that the chair has to be pushed over carpet and so will need casters. Challenge number three—the director also wants an actor to stand on the throne and be pushed around the stage, on the carpet. So again, I see all our challenges; I see our limited budget; and I have to complete this in two weeks. Read More...
  • Reflections on the First USITT Props Lab

    Jay Duckworth | Answer Box | April 4, 2018I started out as an actor, but I fell in love with props." "Thank you for the Props Lab, this is my first time at USITT, we’re from Canada..." "The fountain pen has a straw filled with blood in it, so you put it on his face and squeeze; it looks like you stabbed his face." "This material is from Worbla." It was like a constant buzz. "I’m a student;" "I’m a graduate;" "I use this for armor in cosplay;" "Is that an Nerf gun made into a cannon?;" "Where do you get these?;" "You can get that cheaper at this site." It was filled with energy and ideas. And then there were all the ah ha moments where presenters let the guests put two and two together and you could see the flash of excitement race across their faces. I’m talking about the first ever Props Lab at the 2018 USITT Conference and Stage Expo. Read More...
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