Written by Shona Sneddon, GAC Volunteer
“Can you make me a mammoth tusk? ” is not an unusual request that Judith Eden may be asked. She is the Props Master for Guelph Little Theatre who is tasked with finding the perfect prop for each show that gets produced, regardless of genre or time period. Whether it’s a series of archaeological tools for a 1980s play, a ginormous turkey from the 1890s, or even a recently unearthed tusk that’s thousands of years old, it needs to be onstage, ready to go, and ready to use by opening night.
Here I (SS) ask Judith (JE) some questions about the role:
SS: What makes a prop a good prop?
JE: A good prop must complement the stage design, be relevant to the atmosphere of the play (time period, time of year, etc.), be durable so that it lasts the length of the production’s run, and be able to be used by the performer appropriately and readily for the purpose of the play.
SS: What type of research do you do?
JE: I follow the vision of the director and then go to pictures in books at the library and online.
SS: Where do you get your props?
JE: Our theatre has a vast supply of props. I’m able to obtain them directly in the props department. I contact people in other theatres to find some. Many people will lend us props from their own home.
SS: What happens if you can’t find a prop?
JE: If I cannot find a particular prop that the director wants, I try to make it, or show the director an alternative. Our theatre also shares props freely with other theatres. We all become a ‘lending-library’ of sorts.
The props themselves transcend time, encapsulating a moment that many of us may vaguely remember, or don’t recall at all. The latest production of Perils of Persephone took place in 1989, when party lines on a telephone connection still existed, when the tape recorder was the product of choice for audio recording and the local newspaper was where everyone got their news.
Of course, hilarity ensues when props outdate cast members. Then, it is the director’s job to make sure the cast knows how to use props older than the actors themselves. If you’ve never seen a tape recorder, how do you use it? If your cell phone’s GPS is how you get around, you may not know how to read a map. Older actors often get a good laugh at watching younger generations try to figure out the “complexities” of these props. Regardless, the perfect prop can “set” the stage for ambience, help the actor convey their character, further the plot, or simply entertain. Never underestimate a good prop.