Prop Design Defined:
The definition of a theatrical prop is very precise: ‘A prop is anything that appears on stage and is not scenery, and not a costume or a hat. Props are things moved on and off stage.’
Prop-makers build, source, or find props for theatre, TV and film productions, at home and abroad. Prop-makers require a multitude of skills: carving, sculpting, basket-weaving, plastic moulding, cabinet-making, metalwork, soldering, embroidery, upholstery making, casting, to name just a few. The work is extremely detailed. Accuracy according to period is essential, and much time is spent consulting reference books, researching items on the internet and visiting museums for meticulous study.
Careers in Props:
If you want to follow a career in the Prop Shop or become a freelancer, then it’s a good idea to gain qualifications in one of the specialist areas the department requires. Most of the prop designers have learned their skills on the job.
There are also some specialised courses in prop making.
For the Props team in the theatre, the key qualities for prospective employees are enthusiasm, creativity, attention to detail and a willingness to learn. Plus you must be confident going on stage during the scene changes, appearing in front of the public and staying calm in a crisis.
A typical day starts by checking last night’s show report. This report is written by the Stage Manager to give a detailed analysis of the previous evening’s performance. It details any problems with props that occurred during the show.
Throughout the day, in addition to meeting designers, sourcing items, researching and actually making the props, the phone rings constantly. Every week, the team meet designers about future shows, attend regular health and safety meetings and travel for production meetings.
Prop Making Jobs
Model making jobs requires real attention to detail. A model is often smaller than the object it represents. Many people like to collect model figures so many businesses, film companies or gaming companies like to make models of popular characters. Models are also often used within architecture, product and theatrical design.
Set, production or stage designers are in charge of creating the overall look of a theatre, television or film production. Set design jobs are such an important part of telling a story, the set needs to fit the story and aid the actors in their roles.
You could work as a prop maker over a variety of different industries or become a prop maker within a workshop. If you work in a prop workshop you’ll be creating props for a variety of different customers such as film, theatre, business, retail and many others.
You’ll need to be adaptable and have a really wide set of skills in order to fulfil clients prop requests. They may provide you with a rough idea of the type of prop they’re looking for but you’ll then need to go away and decide on the best method and materials to use. You could be creating anything from theatre props, film props to window display props.
The great thing about being a prop maker is that it can take you into many roles. There are always new and exciting designs to create and you can always be creative. These skills are also very transferable across many different artistic and creative sectors so you’ll have many options. No day is ever the same as a prop maker, so if you’re looking for a job that enables you to be innovative and adaptable, prop making could be the profession for you.