The third part of the "my process" series takes place after the budget is made and before the first rehearsal.
At this point I have a list, a good base conversation with director and an idea on how I plan to use my budget. After that the process can vary significantly depending on the type of show, but I'm going to try my best to give a general outline.
My next step is to go down my list and divide it up into pull, buy and build. To keep things easily accessible I will redo these lists separately so I can focus on the one I need at the time (taking the buy list out shopping or the pull list to props storage)
The pull list gets done first so I can be absolutely sure that I don't waste money and time on something the theatre already has in stock. As I am pulling, everything gets set together in a place where I can keep track of and organize it. While I am going through stock this first time I make sure to take as much as possible that might be useful. This includes pulling multiple options for things I have in stock and pulling rehearsal props for things I plan on acquiring later (even those I expect to have final props for long before they are needed). I take pictures of all the props I am hoping to use and email them to the relevant people.
Throughout the process I find that my camera is my best friend. I take pictures of everything and send them on to designers and directors. I don't think there is any reason not to embrace all of the technology available to you. Before working as a props master I saw no need for cell phone cameras, but now I use mine all the time. I can find a piece of furniture at a thrift store, take a picture, send it off to the set designer, and get a yes or no answer before I leave the store. In short, get a camera or camera phone and use it. It is worth the investment.
Next I start to tackle the buy list. I place ads for anything I think I might be able to get through freecycle or craigslist, then I take my shopping list and use it to make a preliminary list of stores that I need to visit. I find it incredibly important to take the full list into every single store and re-read it before leaving to make sure I have checked for everything that I might be able to find there. It is so easy for me to get hung up looking for one or two major things, and completely forget to pick up something little, which means I'll have to take another trip out shopping later.
The build list is the most variable by show, so it's hard to describe the step-by-step. I think the most important thing here is to keep your to-do list up to date and to continually consult it.When I am working in the theatre (or shop) I tend to have several projects in the air at the same time. An up to date to-do list allows me to find another task that can be completed while I am waiting for the paint or glue to dry on something. I will usually make my to-do list either at the beginning or end of the day at a point when I can sit and think through the whole picture. Taking the extra time to focus on the list, and making it as complete and detailed as possible, pays off later when I have a number of projects in the air and I can just trust my focused list and not have to stop and think through the steps again.
It is always my goal to have all the final props there by the first rehearsal, this never happens. There will be props you are making that take longer and things that have to wait until needs are decided in rehearsals, but the goal is always there and is a good one to strive for. At the very least you must have something there to represent every prop even if the rehearsal prop is nothing like what the final will be, having something the approximate size and weight to pick up in rehearsal is incredibly important for the actors in rehearsal.
Also going into the first rehearsal it is important to label everything with the item, scene and character who uses it. I find that the better props are labeled, the more likely actors are going to feel comfortable picking them up and using them earlier in the process, the more likely they will get used to them and comfortable with them, the less likely they are to want them to be changed.
So to recap, the most important parts of this part of the process are- 1. Take pictures of everything. 2. Take the time to keep a current and thorough list, 3. Trust your list, 4. Have at least a rehearsal prop for everything at the first rehearsal 5. Label everything.