“Acting is all about big hair and funny props…
All the great actors knew it. Olivier knew it, Brando knew it.”
~ Harold Ramis
Last week I wrote about theatre etiquette concerning costumes. This week, we’re moving on to props!
Let’s get the definitions out of the way, shall we? A theatrical property, commonly referred to as a prop, is an object used on stage by actors to further the plot or story line of a theatrical production. Smaller props are referred to as “hand props.” Larger props may also be set decoration, such as a chair or table. The difference between a set decoration and a prop is use. If the item is not touched by a performer for any reason it is simply a set decoration. If it is touched by the actor in accordance to script requirements or as deemed by the director, it is a prop. (Source)
Good. Now on to the important stuff! When working with props, there are a few hard and fast rules you need to know and abide by.
1. Props are not toys.
They’re fun and creative and often ridiculous and beautiful, and incredibly tempting to pick up. But they’re also often hard to find (especially if it’s a piece from a certain time period), potentially fragile or breakable, or hand-made. If something gets broken, report it to the props team immediately so it can be repaired or replaced. But to lessen the potential for breakage…
2. If it’s not your prop, don’t touch it.
Imagine how panicked you’d feel if just before you had to go onstage, the prop you needed for the scene was broken, or missing altogether. Give your fellow actors the same respect and don’t touch or move their props. They may have them pre-set in a certain area or a certain way for a reason.
In addition: If it’s an edible prop, don’t eat or drink it before it’s needed onstage! You’d think that would be an obvious one. I was talking to the OKTC props head, Mel Becke, about this one. She mentioned it’s pretty ridiculous how often she’s been asked by an actor, “Can I eat this now?” while holding an edible prop. Well, you see, if you and every other actor eats one now, then there won’t be any left to go onstage, will there?
3. Even if it is your prop, if it’s not time to use it, don’t touch it.
Messing around with your props backstage is distracting, often noisy, and a surefire way to get something broken. Hovering around the props shelf or table also blocks other actors from being able to reach their props.
4. During rehearsals, try to use your props as early as possible.
Even if you don’t yet have or cannot use the actual prop, have something as a stand-in so you get used to using/holding the item. For example, if your character reads a book, carry the book with you rather than mime the book. It’s also useful to be able to figure out where and when the prop comes on, and how the prop will get offstage.
5. Before you go onstage, do a pre-show check and make sure your props are in good working order and in the correct location.
Assistant stage managers will generally do a check as well, as part of their pre-show duties. However, when the curtain rises, they aren’t the ones who will have to improvise a solution to the missing knife/book/letter/whatever. Be a smart actor; take the initiative and make sure your stuff is where it needs to be.
Thoughts? Comments? Leave me a note below!
Want to read more fun stuff like this?
Click here to get updates from me and
exclusive surprises, straight to your inbox!