Archive for props

Why I don’t like props.

The set is (mostly) built.    Parts are painted.   Light plot done.  Color and templates are about to be ordered.   So now comes the props.

I don’t like props.  I have never liked props.   Props were always a frustrating afterthought.   Props are the things the actors hold in their hands during a play.   Closely related (and just about as disliked) is set dressing.  Set dressing is the stuff on stage that isn’t really set, that the actors could hold in their hands, but don’t.

My dislike of Props and Set Dressing are a big part of what I love about lighting design.  Lighting design also has lots of fidley detaily stuff– but it is fidely detaily stuff I actually like.

Finding props and set dressing is often a matter for driving from store to store to store (often thrift stores since most shows want stuff that looks used and budgets require stuff that is cheap).   You never know what you will find, and I’m always afraid to buy something in case I see better at the next place.

One never know what one will get, or what one will be able to find.   Often a designer (or director) has an image of the perfect “whatever” in mind and nothing else will do, even if the perfect “whatever” doesn’t exist.

I also dislike lots of props and set dressing because of what it does to many actors.   Lots of set dressing provides lots of visual interest in which it is easy to loose actors.   In film and television, where the director can control how much set is in shot at any moment, and what if any is in focus, can handle lots of set dressing.  In theatre, we have to work hard to make sure that what is there is either really important, or muted enough to not overpower the scene.   I’ve tinted 100s of books  blue for a show, so that they would fit in better with the overall scene and not over power it.    Books aren’t blue — certainly not a whole wall of them.   BUT the set designer had to have them because it was plot.  And they had to be blue, or else the audience would spend time looking at the books and not the actors.

Props cause many actors problems, but actors (and many directors) love props.  “I need business,” the actor says.  Business is the stuff actors do while saying lines:  setting the table,  winding their watch, packing a suitcase.   It certainly is true that humans very often multitask:  talk to someone while performing another activity, and it would be completely unrealistic if actors on stage didn’t do the same.   The problem the props cause the actors is that playwrights rarely work out how long it takes to set a table, pack a suitcase, or drink a beer.  In fact, the playwrights are usually (rightly) more concerned with the dialogue the actor’s are spitting out.   So props create the problem of “We need to drink 2 beers on stage per night in this 8 minute scene”   So the prop department makes fake beer, in cans as needed.  The poor actors now have to drink all that liquid (and run to the john as soon as they are off stage).

The truth is, there isn’t a solution.  Props are needed.   Actors have to work with them.  They are still a huge pain in my rump.  Some designers and artisans thrive on the prop and set dressing challenges.  I salute those folks.  They aren’t me.   To my mind, any play with more props than Our Town, has too many props.   And even Our Town might be able to be done with less.