Thursday, May 20, 2010

Coping with Change

I love my job, I get to be self-employed, work in a business I love, go shopping, and play with arts and crafts. I never do the same thing two days in a row, and I learn something new and exciting every show I do. With all of that, you would be surprised there isn't more competition for props jobs. In reality there are very few people who work in props and stay in props for an extended length of time; there is a ridiculously high burnout rate. The source of this burnout, from what I can see, is change.
Get a bunch of props masters together and you will inevitably start swapping war stories about props that took hours of time, a big chunk of budget, or every favor you could call in and then got cut. Or on the other side, a giant prop that was added two days before opening when there was no time or budget left to get it done. I have found the difference between decent props masters and the really good ones is the ability to not let incidents like these bother you.
The reality is that props are much easier to change than sets or costumes and are much more likely to be effected by a small change in the action onstage. You have to be prepared for change at every turn. If you let yourself be surprised, upset or defeated by changes, cuts and additions, you'll never make it.
There are ways to make life easier on yourself.
  • Communicate with directors and designers early and often. Use pictures samples and anything else you can to make sure everyone is on the same page (for example don't say "what color are you thinking you want the chair," say "which of these three spray paints on the table do you want me to use").
  • Get the basics done early, especially furniture and anything that is going to be involved in complicated business. Once the furniture has been approved then take the time to reupholster, paint or refinish it. The earlier actors and directors get something in rehearsal, the more likely they will become attached to it, comfortable with it, and not want to change it later.
  • Provide rehearsal props for anything you don't have, if actors are miming something, there is a good chance the eventual prop you provide will not live up to what they had in their head. Make sure that rehearsal props are as close as possible to what the final prop will be (If the final prop is going to be steel, don't give them a rehearsal prop made of foam, when the real one arrives someone will have a problem with how heavy is.). And always make sure that the stage manager is aware of which props you have provided are supposed to be final and which are rehearsal.
  • Finally, smile, shake it off, and say "okay". No matter how good you are at your job, how perfect the props you provided were, or how much everyone liked everything last week, something is going to change. If you take a positive attitude, prepare yourself for change to happen, and roll with the punches, you are going to be a lot happier and this job is going to be a lot easier.

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