A prop is any object the actors handle or touch onscreen
September 18, 2019 11:27 AM   Subscribe

I looked at Harvey and said, “I don’t care what you have to do, man. This box has to function in three days. And if you don’t have that done, we are both straight down the shoot.” Various prop masters talk about The Hardest Prop I Ever Made
posted by Brandon Blatcher (51 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
 
an obsessive’s flare for detail

Speaking of obsessive, I'm far more upset about that misspelling of "flair" than I should be.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:40 AM on September 18, 2019 [26 favorites]


* heart eyes *

I have a soft spot for props. It was the first purely-backstage thing I did ever; my high school did a production of Hair my senior year (yes, Hair) and I ended up doing props. Now, I don't know if you've ever seen the props list for Hair, but it is basically bonkers. Among some of the things I had to come up with:

* Edible business cards
* posters (ostensibly of Mick Jagger) which would be destroyed onstage
* fake drugs a'plenty - pills, fake joints, etc.
* for the five minute drug-trip scene - gas cans, spears, tomahawks, guns, gongs, and about two more pages' worth of stuff.

Remember, I was in high school.

I ended up using a shit-ton of candy for the various pills - SweetTarts, Smarties, Necco Wafers, etc. - and made super-thin sheets of white chocolate for the edible business cards. We used copious toy versions of things for the drug trip scene. And for the "posters of Mick Jagger" we just got six random posters and instructed the actor to hold them so that the audience couldn't see it was actually a picture of Donald Duck or whatever it happened to be that day.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:50 AM on September 18, 2019 [20 favorites]


Speaking of obsessive, I'm far more upset about that misspelling of "flair" than I should be.

How's that shoot/chute treating you?
posted by penduluum at 11:58 AM on September 18, 2019 [21 favorites]


The hardest prop most prop masters have ever made must be a realistic cup of coffee, considering how often actors are carrying around obviously empty paper cups in TV shows. Once you notice it, it'll drive you crazy forever.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 12:00 PM on September 18, 2019 [30 favorites]


Oh, and the bit in the article about James Spader stopping a shoot to lecture people because "I'm supposed to be looking at this dog and talking about its balls, but it doesn't have any balls" - that reminds me of another show I did where there was a prop that the actor was expecting would be practical - like, it was a paper prop that they expected would have the specific writing on it they needed, or it was a bottle they expected to be full - when it wasn't something that needed to be practical or actually used. And they started to raise a complaint about that, but another actor interrupted and shut them down with "oh, honey, just endow it."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:02 PM on September 18, 2019 [24 favorites]


Yeah, that does not reflect well on Spader.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:04 PM on September 18, 2019


Cool article! Something that surprises me, I heard an interview with the designer responsible for those pink pastry boxes on the Grand Budapest Hotel. She said that when they completed the shoot she noticed a prominent typo on the box. They couldn't redo the shoot by then, and there were so many boxes that trying to fix it in post wasn't practical as probably, most people wouldn't notice the typo. I was surprised they didn't mention that in the article!
posted by Zumbador at 12:05 PM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


I have been the props coordinator for dozens of shows, and I love all the weird requests way more than just basic, average props that fill whatever show. Especially if they're breakaway or edible or much lighter or much bigger than the originals...LOVE THEM!

I'm about to direct (and do some props for) Hand to God, so I'm building many, many puppets for that, as well as a foam-rubber hammer that can appear to impale someone's hand and a customized, bobblehead Jesus Christ.
posted by xingcat at 12:06 PM on September 18, 2019 [11 favorites]


How's that shoot/chute treating you?

Ah, I just got to that. >:(
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:17 PM on September 18, 2019


Last two prop stories and then I'm done for now:

* We had a show where we needed to have a working fountain pen. It was also set in 1910 so it couldn't be too modern-looking. We ended up going with a pen we borrowed from someone in the cast, but it was their father's and we had to be careful with it so we would be able to return it when we closed. So part of my intermission duties were to make sure we retrieved that pen from the stage and put it safely back into storage.

One night, I went to get the pen - and it wasn't on the table. I checked under the table, I checked around the entire stage, I searched three times - and then noticed that there was a dude in the front row who was using it to write down his phone number for the cute woman he was sitting next to in an effort to hit on her. I walked up to him, stared hard and said "excuse me, that is ours and we need it." At least he had the decency to look embarrassed.

* This is a little different - it was a weapon. We had a show where there was an attempted stabbing which someone blocks with their hand. While we were searching for a fake knife, the guy who was the fight director brought in a real knife he said he'd blunted down. "I wasn't sure about this," he said at first, "but I tried to make sure I just blunted it really well." The director, the actor who'd be blocking it, and I all privately thought "ooh, I'm not so sure about this" but then when everyone else seemed to be okay, we all went along with it.

However, there was one tiiiiiiiiiny spot on the blade that was still sharp. And during our final dress rehearsal, the actor blocking the knife caught that spot on the blade with the web of his hand and cut himself bad. It was the only time I interrupted a dress rehearsal - but things looked bad, and we had to stop for about 10 minutes to stop the bleeding and ultimately called him an ambulance. He had come very near to cutting a tendon, and needed a few stitches and had to have a bandaged hand for the whole run.

The director, the fight director, the actor and I all fell all over ourselves trying to assume the blame ("I should have spoken up" "no, it was my fault"), but ultimately forgave each other and chalked it up to "just one of those things." We used a more obviously fake knife for the rest of the run, and the fight director took the other knife back, blunted it down all the way, and then had it engraved with the name of the show and the date and presented it to the injured actor as a closing night gift (the injured actor laughed his ass off when he received it).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:17 PM on September 18, 2019 [34 favorites]


I love articles like this! But now I want a similar article but only about props from David Cronenberg films.
posted by ejs at 12:20 PM on September 18, 2019 [11 favorites]


The hardest prop most prop masters have ever made must be a realistic cup of coffee, considering how often actors are carrying around obviously empty paper cups in TV shows. Once you notice it, it'll drive you crazy forever.

Here's your options:
1) Cup of dark liquid that is NOT coffee but will undoubtedly stain just like coffee if it gets anywhere during the course of filming.
2) Cup of actual coffee that will either be drank during filming, requiring you to constantly maintain cup level continuity, or purposefully ignored by the actor (see 1).
3) Empty cup that can't stain and doesn't affect continuity. Nobody will care if the actor is drinking from an empty cup except obsessive people on the internet who can be safely ignored.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:27 PM on September 18, 2019 [12 favorites]


Here's your options:

The problem isn't usually whether or not you can see the liquid, but that people handle the cup like it weighs almost nothing; a couple ounces of melted wax in the bottom would definitely give the cup more heft.
posted by AzraelBrown at 12:42 PM on September 18, 2019 [30 favorites]


Yeah, that does not reflect well on Spader.

Raymond Reddington was the role Spader was born to play.
posted by Dr. Twist at 12:43 PM on September 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


Metafilter: obsessive people on the internet who can be safely ignored.
posted by hanov3r at 12:44 PM on September 18, 2019 [47 favorites]


an obsessive’s flare for detail
Speaking of obsessive, I'm far more upset about that misspelling of "flair" than I should be.

How's that shoot/chute treating you?
Ah, I just got to that. >:(


Ah c'mon, give 'em a brake!
posted by Zedcaster at 12:49 PM on September 18, 2019 [9 favorites]


How's that shoot/chute treating you?

I didn't even realize it was an error; I thought it was some industry slang referring to a catastrophic failure during a movie shoot.

Anyway, I was hoping this list would include the collapsible mug/bong from Cabin in the Woods.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:04 PM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


From the article:
It’s funny, because we live in such a disposable culture now that everything gets thrown away. Nobody would think to save a laptop from 2003. They’re throwaway items now. Whereas maybe a typewriter from the 1920s — there are people who collect those items. No one wants to save things that we all look at. If you do a project that’s [set in] 2007, even, it’s hard to find the cell phones because we’ve thrown it all away.
Even though I'm not in props or theatrical production or anything like that, for some reason I find myself frequently thinking about exactly this. Namely, I hope some prop house somewhere is diligently collecting examples of every cell phone, laptop, tablet, etc... as it ages out of production -- along with all the required cables, power supplies, and software -- so that when future holofilm productions (or whatever) are doing period pieces set in our current times, they'll have ready access to this ancient technology.
posted by mhum at 1:11 PM on September 18, 2019 [8 favorites]


West Side Story. High school production. Officer Krupke had handcuffs hanging off the belt, not even an actual prop so much as a costume accessory. Around lunchtime the day of opening night, a cast member handcuffed themselves to a non-cast member in the belief that they were toy handcuffs. They were metal. And not readily pickable. And not a toy. Someone from the school ended up calling the police out, who couldn't open them, so they drove the pair (we cut the chain) to a local locksmith, who tried a few dozen keys before eventually freeing them. Officer Krupke performed without handcuffs.

I also once did a show with a possessed pickup truck on stage. They bought the cheapest truck they could find at the junkyard, drained the fluids, and wheeled it on stage, and I came up with a janky way to connect the lights, turn signals, and most importantly, the horn, to a bunch of relays, so the truck could be part of lighting cues. Then the truck went back to the junkyard, where perhaps someone wondered who the hell would do this to a car's electrical system.

One of my favorite uses of props is the Act I finale of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812: everyone has wine glasses filled with just the right amounts of liquid, and the company stands among the audience and swirls their fingers around the ring of the glass to create a really unique eerie sound.
posted by zachlipton at 1:13 PM on September 18, 2019 [11 favorites]


From the " Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985), the breakaway bottles" section:

At that point, I made a decision. I can either please the studio and not continue to deliver the quality of props I was delivering, or I can ignore the studio and continue to please Paul Reubens and Tim Burton. And I made a conscious decision: I’m going for them. Even if it costs the studio more money. My training was, it’s all about the director’s vision.

It turns out that that film made bazillions of dollars. It’s a cult classic. And they hassled me from day one till wrap. They made it so hard.


Oh man, this.

It could happen in any job - a mundane office job somewhere, or out there in the prop-wrangling world. But I guess the saving grace here is that you can point to the screen and say "I made some decisions that helped create what you see there," and some power-hungry functionary can't take that away from you. Even though the actual big wigs who really matter were thrilled, "You didn't do it the way I wanted it so I'm going to throw a hissy even though this is a success" is just such soul-destroying stuff.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:39 PM on September 18, 2019 [8 favorites]


In high school, one of the plays put on by the drama department had a bit where the main comic actor had to tap a ketchup bottle with a spoon to get everyone's attention for a toast. Throughout all the rehearsals and performances, they'd used the same 3/4 full bottle of Heinz. The stagehands had been placing the bottle the same way for each runthrough, and apparently the actor grabbed it the same way each time and hit it in the same spot each time. He was wearing a light blue or white suit.

On the final performance of the play's run, that bottle--having been hit hundreds of times in the same place, weakening a single spot on the glass--decided it'd had enough and exploded all over the main actor and everything else in the immediate area. The suit was unusable afterward, and couldn't be cleaned. But it didn't matter. That was the end of the show. I heard afterward that it all ended up just being an extra cherry on top of one of the funniest moments of the play.
posted by msbrauer at 1:45 PM on September 18, 2019 [11 favorites]


The Wilson sporting goods company not getting it is just so real and frustrating.

I can picture the conversation.

A starring role in a feature film opposite Tom Hanks. We just need a couple volleyballs. Millions will see it.

"Uhh. You want free volleyballs? I dunno, I'll have to check with somebody..." scribbles on a postit and goes back to browsing Metafilter...
posted by ianhorse at 1:45 PM on September 18, 2019 [7 favorites]


Yeah, I wouldn't mind the coffee cup thing (or cups of water just "filled" from a water cooler) if only the actors remembered to act it, but it appears to be one of the hardest things to remember without prop help. The Gilmore Girls reboot had it bad, which was extra annoying because the coffee was usually called out in the scene, and indicated to be new and full, so it being waved around was super distracting.
posted by tavella at 2:06 PM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


Further to the coffee cup thing and particularly the "once you see it you can't unsee it" factor, the one that drives me nuts is fake clear glass eyeglasses. My wife pointed this out to me on Scully in original run X-files umpty years ago and it's been driving me quietly bugfuck ever since.
posted by hearthpig at 2:12 PM on September 18, 2019 [9 favorites]


The response to James Spader is "what if you tried acting like the dog had balls?"
posted by nushustu at 3:07 PM on September 18, 2019 [6 favorites]


> "Remember, I was in high school."

One of my favorite high school prop memories is when I directed a production of Alice in Wonderland at my school.

INNOCENT, NAIVE ME: OK, so we need a hookah for the Caterpillar. Where on earth are we going to get a hookah?

PROPS PERSON: Just what is a hookah, exactly?

INNOCENT, NAIVE ME: *describes a hookah*

-- a few moments of silence pass --

LIGHTING DESIGNER: I've got one of those I could maybe lend the show.

PROPS PERSON: Yeah, me too.

SOUND DESIGNER: Um, how many do we need? Just the one? Because I kind of have a collection.

The bong we ended up selecting was gorgeous, perhaps two feet high, and indistinguishable from an extremely fancy 19th century waterpipe. Midwestern high school theater kids for the win!
posted by kyrademon at 3:11 PM on September 18, 2019 [29 favorites]


I'm not even a prop master and I keep realistic dog balls around for emergencies. No sympathy.
posted by delfin at 3:12 PM on September 18, 2019 [6 favorites]


Having done props on morning TV for years, I perfected my "WHOOPS!!!" + fake trip move with designer cakes, Waterford crystal, Jimi Hendrix' guitar and have made many, many minders-of-expensive-items have instant anxiety attacks. Good times.

Less good times: keeping track of dozens of cell phones for countless neverending characters and then going to find them when the actors took them to their dressing rooms, next gigs, etc; cleaning up tons of Jon Stewart spit takes with coins and all kinds of weird shit.

Best times: eating the popcorn left over after the Daily Show's "popcorn moments," it was always that super-salty butter-flavored garbage popcorn.
posted by nevercalm at 3:22 PM on September 18, 2019 [19 favorites]


I have a prop monkey's paw I had made for a party game prize, but the winner wouldn't take it. PM me if you want it.
posted by hypnogogue at 3:35 PM on September 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


Even though I'm not in props or theatrical production or anything like that, for some reason I find myself frequently thinking about exactly this. Namely, I hope some prop house somewhere is diligently collecting examples of every cell phone, laptop, tablet, etc... as it ages out of production -- along with all the required cables, power supplies, and software -- so that when future holofilm productions (or whatever) are doing period pieces set in our current times, they'll have ready access to this ancient technology.

I don't know about prop houses, but a combination of hobbyists and computer museums are the best bet for stuff like that in the future. Because of batteries and capacitors that can leak corrosive liquids, if you want it in working condition, it's not enough to just put it aside. It takes some care and specialist knowledge. Unfortunately, stuff from 20 to 30 years ago may turn out to have a longer lifespan than stuff coming out right now, due to trends involving non-removable batteries, glue, and miniaturization. The future of period computer props may is probably non-working artifacts combined with the display put on in post. Use emulators to generate it for accuracy, but even contemporary computers in media generally have fake GUIs generated for them.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 3:46 PM on September 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


What, you're afraid to WISH for someone else to take it off your hands?
posted by Greg_Ace at 3:46 PM on September 18, 2019 [11 favorites]


Namely, I hope some prop house somewhere is diligently collecting examples of every cell phone, laptop, tablet, etc... as it ages out of production -- along with all the required cables, power supplies, and software -- so that when future holofilm productions (or whatever) are doing period pieces set in our current times, they'll have ready access to this ancient technology.
posted by mhum at 1:11 PM


Thought I remembered seeing an article about this linked here, but the closest I can find is a NYT piece (paywall/fussy link) about a recycling center that started up a prop library. Which is still pretty cool, if not so promising on the every-cellphone-ever front.

(There are some interesting fakes out there, too.)
posted by Tess of the d'Urkelvilles at 4:08 PM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


Many years ago, I did prop design for summer stock. There's a ton of things to love about it. I had to find an antique incense burner once and another time I got to spend $100 of the theatre's money on a very specific pocket watch that the director wanted. I also had to build stuff, which meant exacto blade cuts and hot glue burns. I loved it though - the most beautiful prop I ever built was this gorgeous masquerade mask on a stick with long, altered ribbons. Just gorgeous. The most fun prop was a half eaten plate lunch that needed to look wet and disgusting but was in fact 100% solid and dry (but still disgusting).

The thing all four of those props have in common? Destroyed by actors before the first week of the run was over despite long explanations about how the prop needed to be treated.

There is no prop so well built (nor prop protecting instruction so clear) that an actor can't wreck it within five shows.

I'm going to go and weep now.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:40 PM on September 18, 2019 [18 favorites]


despite long explanations about how the prop needed to be treated

I'm reminded of the time I was on a show where an actor decided that the best way to transport his realistic prop rifle across a university campus was to carry it in his hands while wearing his full body camo costume. This led to an interesting conversation with the police.

Actors: the opposite of people? Certainly the opposite of sensible people.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:51 PM on September 18, 2019 [6 favorites]




I'm reminded of the time I was on a show where an actor decided that the best way to transport his realistic prop rifle across a university campus was to carry it in his hands while wearing his full body camo costume.

It's what his character would have done!
posted by tobascodagama at 5:40 PM on September 18, 2019 [5 favorites]


I'm reminded of the time I was on a show where an actor decided that the best way to transport his realistic prop rifle across a university campus was to carry it in his hands while wearing his full body camo costume.

Oh man, I've got a good one. So the studios for The View and All My Children (Or One Life to Live, they get blurry in my mind around this time as the shows moved around before they were cancelled) used to be across the hall from each other. One day VP Joe Biden was on the View, and the building and surrounding area were absolutely crawling with Secret Service. The outside props guy for AMC/OLTL was bringing into this mess.....a box full of prop bombs into the building for whatever the Children/One Life story line at the time was. I wished him well and told him I would convey to his family that he loved them all very much.
posted by nevercalm at 5:52 PM on September 18, 2019 [19 favorites]


Years ago I was working on a show where we had a fight scene using quarterstaffs. We'd rented rehearsal rooms somewhere and had the quarterstaffs stored in a prop closet there while we were in residence, and at one point I was discharged to go fetch them.

And as I was bringing them back down the hall towards our rehearsal room, I passed two guys carrying a toilet from their rehearsal room back to the prop closet.

We glanced at each other as we passed, and I said something like, "you know, theater is really the only place where two guys carrying a toilet can pass by a woman carrying four enormous sticks and have the whole situation still make perfect sense."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:34 PM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


I hope some prop house somewhere is diligently collecting examples of every cell phone, laptop, tablet, etc...

I have a bunch of old electronics dating as far back as the late 70s that I want to get rid of. Tape recorders, phones, analog TVs, a late 90s iMac.
I've asked a couple local theaters (pro & community) if they wanted any of these items. So far, nada.

The problem isn't usually whether or not you can see the liquid, but that people handle the cup like it weighs almost nothing...


It's the unrealistic "drinking" of the liquid that gets me. More than once I've wanted to yell at the screen, "Hey, are you going to swallow that?"
posted by NorthernLite at 9:03 PM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


diligently collecting examples of every cell phone, laptop, tablet, etc... as it ages out of production
Not to mention CRT monitors & TVs
posted by HiroProtagonist at 9:30 PM on September 18, 2019


It's the unrealistic "drinking" of the liquid that gets me

What gets me is actors chug-a-lugging supposedly straight spirits like it's water.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 9:39 PM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


Apparently 9 out of 10 professional props masters choose MeFi for their social media outlet.

Tell us all about the rubber chicken, guys.
posted by Pouteria at 9:44 PM on September 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


Yes, tell us of your home props, Usul.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:35 PM on September 18, 2019 [6 favorites]


What gets me is actors chug-a-lugging supposedly straight spirits like it's water.

Some people can do that without so much as wincing, coughing or, shortly thereafter, falling over or going to the ER. It's not terribly healthy. Not that I would know anything about that.


Since I have talked about props before and I'm mainly an observant outsider that had friends in the business and you all have this covered I am going to tell an anti-prop high school theater story.

The scene in question involved some shoving and shoulder grabbing in conflict, and it had been rehearsed many times and if I'm recalling correctly this was opening night or maybe closing night. It's a packed house. I can't even rightfully remember the play but I want to say Blythe Spirits because, you know, it's high school theater.

My friend is in the play. My friend also has a glass eye.

During said rough-housing scene - yep - his glass eye finally pops right out. It hits the floor, and before they can even try to recover it my friend accidentally kicks his own glass eye like a very expensive pebble which now goes skittering right off the stage into the front row audience.

Where it improbably lands in his own mother's lap in the front row - thankfully wearing a dress or skirt - who then coolly and casually palms it and puts it in her purse. His fellow actor saw it, I saw it, and maybe a couple of other people in his friends and family who even knew he had a glass eye saw it and understood what even happened in the space of about, oh, one and a half seconds. I'm also in the front row and I manage to also see that my friend saw exactly where it went and what happened to it, we exchange glances, he gives a half nod at me like "Right, well that just fuckin' happened." and after barely half a missed beat the show goes on and they finish the scene and the rest of the act.

You have no idea how much of a mistake it was to ask him to keep an eye on anything, especially a drink. Hi Andy!
posted by loquacious at 1:04 AM on September 19, 2019 [13 favorites]


I have three props stories. Here they are:

1) I did a backstage tour of Britain's National Theatre once, where they do Shakespeare plays fairly regularly. Every now and again - as in Richard III - they need a model of a severed head which can be used on stage. Not only that, but it often has to look like the particular actor whose character has just been decapitated. The guide showed us a meticulously-detailed prop head from a recent production and told us they had a tradition there allowing actors to take "their" head home with them when the play's run ends. Not everyone takes up the offer, which is why they still had this one in store.

2) Jeremy Clarkson once said on Top Gear that, back in the 1970s, when British Leyland was supplying cars for TV cop shows like The Sweeney, the company never quite grasped the idea of continuity. The producers would call and explain they needed a yellow Rover for the next day's shooting because that was the car the villains had been seen fleeing in during yesterday's scenes. Often as not, they'd send a blue one instead, explaining in bored Birmingham tones that "It's the ownly one we've got avaylable today".

3) I once saw a US stage production of The Evil Dead which used so much fake blood they equipped the front two rows with protective rainwear. Their prize prop was a severed finger which had been rigged up with an interior battery and motor to twitch all on its own. This was thrown out into the audience at one stage, producing a lot of gratifying screams, but also forcing some poor stagehand to rush out and start scrabbling round between the seats to make sure they recovered it safely for tomorrow night. I got the impression they'd blown about half the props budget on this thing.
posted by Paul Slade at 1:14 AM on September 19, 2019 [7 favorites]


On the archeological technology side of things, yeah, we're probably going to lose a lot of stuff and we probably already have lost a lot of stuff.

I used to collect tech, too, and it's frankly a logistical nightmare just to store the junk. Batteries leak, things corrode, plastic ages and yellows - and e-waste in general can be very toxic, especially in large quantities.

The people that really and truly hoard the stuff don't tend to take good care of it unless they're into collecting and restoring a very specific thing, and they're usually more interested in functional vintage objects, not pristinely kept as collectibles. So you end up with, say, a large box full of cellphones or old computers all crammed up against each other getting scratched, dented and banged. Wires get tangled, power supplies lost, storage units and garages flood.

And there's probably a whole lot of people out there just like me that at one point wanted to save all the tech and document this wild progression we've had over the last 20-40 years and then maybe just stopped because they either couldn't keep carrying and storing all that crap or they lost interest or even realized on some level tech was becoming totally disposable, ubiquitous and even fairly uniform - and so maybe they just gave up.

I also tried donating some vintage tech and no one wanted it. Theater companies definitely don't have the space or resources to archive this stuff. Major studios like Warner Bros may have some stock because they are definitely known for this kind of obsession - in their main prop house they have stuff like an entire wall of different kinds of urinals and bathroom sinks. Or an entire array of old landline phones.

But trying to get historical accuracy and micro-accuracy year by year in tech in the last 20 years? It's just ridiculous. Prior to the AT&T/Bell breakups there were really only a few kinds of phones. After the breakup through the 80s and private phones being allowed, maybe a few dozen kinds or general types of phones. Cellphones from the 90s through to today? We're talking about like thousands, tens of thousands of different models tightly segmented month by month in tight timelines where a few months difference might be anachronistic. It'd be weird to see someone on a StarTac 200 or microTac while someone else was on an iPhone 3G.
posted by loquacious at 1:24 AM on September 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


I'm going to recycle an old comment of mine:
Oh, man. I'm so glad someone else [makes realistic paper props]. I've been in Henry V a couple of times, and I did written props for both of them. For instance, for the scene where Henry exposes the traitors in writing, I copied the general text of a 15th-century arrest warrant, adapting it to include the relevant charges and names in a suitably late-medieval font.

It wasn't entirely authentic--for one thing, it should have been a bit more Middle English-y--but I went so far as to sign it with the name of Thomas Marlborough, a government official who was serving in Southampton (where the traitor scene is set) in 1415. I wanted an actual magistrate, but settled for the next best thing.

...I enjoy this sort of thing more than I probably should.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 3:27 AM on September 19, 2019 [7 favorites]


What gets me is actors chug-a-lugging supposedly straight spirits like it's water.

Such a thing happened in a production of Fool for Love I did in 2002. One night, unintentionally and yet for reasons I understand and would have been nigh-impossible to prevent, an actual bottle of tequila found its way onstage during the show.

That was a memorable night.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:44 AM on September 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


Our sixth-form production one year was Cabaret (I had tremendous fun playing Fräulein Schneider). During the run-up to performance week, various teachers took the opportunity to volunteer their classes for assistance with prop-making, programme production, set-building, and so forth.

And that is why, one day, the Ofsted inspectors that year entered a Textiles class of this respectable Catholic secondary school to see them all diligently sewing swastika armbands.
posted by Morfil Ffyrnig at 4:54 AM on September 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


In high school, I directed Kurt Vonnegut's Happy Birthday, Wanda June. The script calls for the set to be adorned with multiple big game trophies. I was able to borrow an assortment from a student's father, a wealthy and generally unpleasant man who traveled all over the world to shoot animals, and I transported all of these severed heads back to school in my mother's '89 Taurus station wagon. The vehicle interior was accessorized with warthog bristles for the rest of its days.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:20 AM on September 19, 2019 [5 favorites]


Oh gosh, severed head props. One of the high school productions I worked on was a play that involved a character getting beheaded and their head making a (comic) appearance on the stage. The actor whose character got beheaded was gung ho for the prop to resemble them, so we did a whole face-plaster cast thing followed by using some sort of pretty solid latex goop to make the face which was then mounted to a styrofoam wig head with a shock of wig hair matter with some fake blood. It was meant, as I said, to be a comic moment, but the head was realistic enough that most people gasped and there were audible "ewwwws" in the audience. I took that as a win.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:06 PM on September 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


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