What will you Need?

Every play is going to require some properties or "props", even a pencil is a prop if the script requires an actor to use one. Usually however the props required are far more varied.

Check what props are mentioned in the play. Do not rely on the prop list that is often given in a play script, you will usually find that something has been missed or that you need something extra.

The distinction between properties, costume and scenery is sometimes not very clear, for example;

Is a walking stick costume or properties?

  • If the walking stick is always carried by the character is is probably costume, but if the character brings it on stage because they have "found it", then it is a prop.

Is a candlestick and candle properties, scenery or even lighting?

  • If the candlestick is on the mantelpiece it might be a prop or part of the scenery, but if it lights up (by battery or electricity, not a real flame) then it might be lighting / effects.

However in amateur productions generally speaking everyone mucks-in, so as long as someone has taken responsibility for whatever is required there should be no problems.

Period and Style

Your properties must match the period and style of the production. So for a pantomime most of your props will be over-sized, brightly coloured or highly stylised and exaggerated, but a period play will require authentic looking replicas of everyday items from the time of the play. You can hire some specialist props, but they are likely to be expensive. Sometimes you will be lucky and find a modern but apparently authentic looking item item at home or work. The props only have to look right, they need not necessarily work or be convincing close-up. Most of the audience will be at least 10 to 15 feet away, so fine detail and intricate designs on an item will not be appreciated by them.

Make sure that the item is recognisable as what is is, or what it is supposed to be. If the audience can not tell what the item is they could be distracted from the action by wondering what that odd looking thing is meant to be.

If something is meant to have the appearance of metal, make sure it looks metallic. It might be wise to let the director know that what appears to be a solid metal urn is made of paper maché, so it is treated accordingly.

Keep it Simple

For some unknown reason many actors brains do not work normally on stage, they enter a world where simple tasks become complicated. If your cast need a tea pot and mugs on a tray only put just the right number of mugs on the tray, arrange the handles so they can be picked up easily and if they have to contain tea or coffee make sure it's not boiling hot. However, also make sure you have a number of spare mugs ready for the next performance, there is a good chance one will get broken or go missing.

Buy, Beg, Steal, Borrow

A good prop master has the ability to beg, borrow or obtain all sorts of items from wherever you can find them. Charity and second-hand shops can be a really good place to find items like table lamps, crockery and handbags at very reasonable prices.

Keep a record of who has loaned items to you and what arrangements you have made to transport larger items.

Personal props are items that the actors carry or use on stage and should usually be easier to obtain. Provide actors with temporary props for rehearsal so that they get used to handling items. For later rehearsals and the performances set up a table with the props arranged so that they are easy to find.

If you have a large number of props lay them out in the order they will be required on a large sheet of paper, or the back of a roll of wallpaper. Write on the paper the act and scene or page number the item is needed for, with the outline or description of the item. This will help you see if something is missing or has been taken to use on stage. Some props may need to be put in a more convenient place for example where a character needs to pick an item up quickly before going back on stage.