Part of the magic of theater is the ability to create a suspension of disbelief in the audience. This is done through the combination of good acting, costumes, lighting, background sets and props.
A prop is something that can be held and moved around the stage. Examples are swords, books or other items needed to tell the story. Whether you are an at home production, a school play or a big budget Broadway musical, having the right props can help weave the story and help actors play their roles.
You can make your own stage props if you know how. Here are some things to consider.
- Know the story. Before you go out and start making props and buying materials, you first need to know what the story needs. Don’t base your decisions on the title alone. Watch the rehearsals so you can see what the actors need. Look at the storyboards of the play so you have an idea what props are needed per scene. You need to make a list per scene and per actor so you have an inventory of what you need to provide.
- Talk to the director. You need to work together as a team to be able to bring the story to life. Talk to the lighting director, set designer, costumer designer and the director of the play so you can coordinate with each other. Ask what things the actors need. A director usually has very clear ideas what to use for a scene.
- Use what you already have. Work with a budget and see if you can recycle props from other productions. You may already have some basic props, such as household items to create a living room set or a magical forest. If you’ve already done a period piece, you may have swords, shields and other items that can be used for battle scenes.
- Keep it lightweight. It’s important that when you design a prop, it is lightweight and maneuverable. For example, don’t use real swords. Make your own using plastic, foam or other lightweight material. A prop is supposed to give the illusion it is real although it is fake. Keep in mind that actors and stagehands need to be able to move around quickly so you can’t have items dragging around or clanging about onstage during scene changes. For background props, you can use paintings on canvas to create scenery, paper mache items or painted Styrofoam, light wood and cardboard to create what you need.
- Design and execute your props. Once you know what you need, you can design the items. Purchase the materials you will need to make the design. You may need to work with a carpenter, craftsman or other specialists to get the right effect. You’ll also need a good painter to provide the finishing touch to your piece. It only needs to look real from afar.
Prepare your props early on so the actors have a chance to work with it. This will also help your stagehands practice their blocking. Having good props is essential to telling the story, so make it realistic.