One dictionary defines a prop as: “an item other than furniture or costume which is used on the set of a play.” Some of the most famous plays just wouldn’t be the same if they were acted out without the appropriate props. Image Hamlet speaking without a skull to talk to. It follows, then, that each theatre must be in touch with one or several prop construction companies who can provide items as they are needed. These items may be bought or hired. Some may come from an established inventory, others may have to be specially made.
Let’s imagine how some of the props in a prop construction company’s inventory might be used. No need to go searching through a list of companies, the website of Handmade Creations has a photographic gallery of props available for hire.
Two of the first items in the gallery appear to be a stone snake and a huge skull. To me they have an Indiana Jones kind of vibe, or they may be from a production of King Kong. King Kong in a theatre? That would be worth seeing! Next is what appears to be a poster featuring pink 1950s American cars. One would think such an item wouldn’t actually feature in a play as a prop, more likely it would be used as part of a backdrop to create a sense of time and place. Dreamboats and Petticoats, maybe? Prop construction companies would want to stay abreast of the current scene, so props for a popular new piece like Dreamboats would be sure to be in demand.
The gothic statue with the archer looks like it could be used in any number of plays set over several hundred years. Prop construction companies might hire out a prop like this to one theatre after another. If the prop is used to visually reference a certain location in the story, it may not feature in the actual plot at all.
The Pirates of Penzance banner is pretty self explanatory. Next to it is some foliage painted in a fantasy style – not one for those who like realism in their stage sets. Maybe it was made for panto. The lamppost below looks like one from early 20th century New York. Perhaps it could be used in a production of Singin’ in the Rain. After a mock up of a tank and some more fairy tale style backdrop with stained glass windows, we come to the posters with cut out faces. Such life size pictures were popular attractions in British resorts a century ago, and it would be fascinating to know what play featured them. Again, I would guess prop construction companies would keep items like this around to add period ambience to any appropriate production.
The warehouses of prop construction companies must be fascinating places: the north pole, a huge roulette wheel, medieval thrones, cutouts of Elvis Presley, giant legs in stockings, a rubber ring from the Titanic... I’d love to have a good old rummage!