In theatre, props are an important part of creating the scene. Even in the simplest productions, props can help to set the mood and create an overall sense of place for your audience to enjoy.
Whether you’re in charge of providing equipment for the play your drama club is putting on or you’re one of many West End props assistants, realistic theatrical props are always crucial to your show’s success. In this article, we’ll explore what these valuable theatrical elements are and what to pay attention to when purchasing them.
An Introduction to Stage Props
What are props in theatre? Well, they’re pretty much what they sound like: objects used to enhance a theatrical performance. The scenery is something that we picture as being more permanent, but if you’ve ever been to a live performance, you know that theatres don’t actually have any kind of physical setting for their shows (besides perhaps some curtains).
It might seem strange to go see a show where there are no set changes or backdrops. You might wonder how people manage to tell stories or act out scenes without any change in scenery. This is where stage props come into play. Although you might think of them as mere accessories, they are essential components of theatrical performances.
Where do You Get Your Stage Props From?
A seemingly obvious question, but if you've never thought about it before, you should probably start there. If you’re an amateur enthusiast (-e.g., you’re a member of an amateur theatre group-) there are several places that you can source reasonably low-cost stage props. These include garage sales, charity shops, off-the-shelf items from retailers, Facebook Marketplace or online retail sites, such as Amazon or eBay. If you're on a slightly higher budget, you can find many retailers specialising in selling props. Wherever you get your equipment from, always look for durable and good quality materials. You definitely don’t want to buy props that look unrealistic or will break after one use. As such, do your research before buying.
If you’re a theatre professional, you’ll be more likely to use bespoke props that are tailor-made for a particular play, taking the set narrative and the technical requirements into consideration.
If you’re looking to use custom made stage props, you will need to contact a professional prop maker. However, the same rules apply here; always do your research before commissioning someone to make your props. It’s also important to have an initial chat with your chosen prop maker where you can discuss all the details and see examples of their previous work. A reputable prop maker will always be happy to show you their work portfolio.
We at Spur Creative are not only happy to show our portfolio to our prospective clients, but we also show them around our workshop.
When looking at your chosen prop maker's portfolio, always check the realism and the attention to detail in their work. Realism is very important when it comes to stage props, hence we are very keen to make our film and theatre props as detailed and authentic as possible.
We have designed many theatre props for famous theatres and arts organisations in the past, including the National Theatre and the Glyndebourne Opera.
How Can You Maintain and Preserve Your Props?
Theatre props are often incredibly delicate, which is why it’s important to store them in a way that maintains their quality. If you aren’t careful, they can become permanently damaged during transportation or (most commonly) storage. Fortunately, there are ways you can minimise those risks.
It is important that you create a designated 'props area' (shelf, table, room etc.) backstage. You can mark the space for each prop with a Sharpie or painter’s tape. Make sure that each prop is placed on the top of the label, so everyone can see if a prop is missing. You can also create a temporary props area for smaller props by using a trestle table. You also need to remind everyone that the props area is for props only. If people start eating, drinking, storing things etc. around the equipment, that can easily lead to a risk of damage. If you can, also install blue light in the props area, so the actors can easily find what they are looking for, even when it’s dark during a play.
Last but not least, always make sure that your props are sufficiently packaged during transportation. When using a third party company to deliver your theatre equipment, always give them clear instructions on how to safely handle the props.
We hope you've found this article helpful. If you are looking for professional theatre props, we can provide bespoke design and sculpting in polystyrene, fibreglass, and other materials. We also offer theatrical scenic painting using a number of painting techniques (see the picture below).