Ushmo (from Adelaide) is a legend and institution when it comes to props. Here's a little insight into what a props person endures …
Every show has its challenging prop, from a Boer War saddle for “Breaker Morant” to a 4 course meal for 12, for “Boys in the Band”. But the cringe factor for me is when I read in the script…He sits and, with a flourish, opens newspaper to the article mentioned. This says to me that not only do you have to design appropriate front and back pages, (not so hard these days with Google and Publisher) but the flourish suggests that it has to sound like a newspaper. Have you noticed how many prop newspapers these days behave and sound like copy paper? And one can''t even mock up one because, thanks to progress, every newspaper has colour on every page.
The musical, I have found, is usually the harbinger of the “spur of the moment prop”. This is the one where the director or the choreographer, after a moment of reflection, says, “Couldn’t the chorus have a prop here? It will give the routine a lift”. And so it was during a production of “Pal Joey”. Choreography was usually blocked on Sunday, and I turned up to see the chorus of eight, dancing, using sticks which they had found in the workshop. “Canes” said the director. OK! Not a problem. Cut down broom handles with knobs and rubbers….dutifully made and supplied for the Monday night rehearsal….
The following Sunday…different routine, but the same canes being used in a different way……”Spades” says the choreographer..and as the name of the song was “Plant you now, Dig you later” spades made sense. As an afterthought “ could they glow in the dark?” Still not a problem. Dowel, stiff card and fluoro paint, and ready by the next Sunday.
Next week, carrying the spades into the rehearsal room, and feeling rather pleased with myself , there they were again…same chorus of eight, same canes, different song. “The Flower Garden of my Heart.” The director caught my eye, and looking very sheepish said “I need to talk to you about these props” and drew me aside. And then he described what he wanted. “Long stemmed flowers to match the costumes the chorus were to wear”, which were representing the flowers they were singing about.
And could they stand up when dropped … ?
“Of course you can”…says I, putting down the spades before I used them as lethal weapons.
A rose, sunflowers and lilies, all lent themselves to the brief. Heather, violets and lilac caused reality to be stretched a bit, but after a lot of practice with weight distribution and little sandbags, we had flowers that could be thrown into the air and tossed between the chorus. And my ego was stroked with the smattering of applause I got as they stood up when dropped as the chorus posed on the final beat.
This kind of prop gives me the most pleasure. The interesting and the unexpected. But thank goodness for the shows where the props plot is sufficiently involved that the pleasure is gained by being organised and busy.