Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Connecting the Community

I've been trying for a while to find ways to connect the Chicago props community. I think we're probably a fairly small group (though it's hard to know) and that we could all be a lot more efficient and a lot saner if we had ways of helping each other out. It's tricky to get to know each other though, most shows I work on have only one props master...me, so chances to interact with other artists who do the same thing are incredibly limited.
Recently I went out to have drinks with another Chicago props master, Doug Kupferman, who shares the same goals. We talked through some of our wishes and some of the ways we were going to try to get things off the ground.

First, a random list of things that we hope our group could accomplish and questions it could address-

-We could share sources. It's a big city and there are lots of hidden gems. When I do get to talk to other prop masters I find they often have never heard of some of my favorite stores, and I haven't heard of theirs.

-I would like to have an efficient way of messaging other props masters when I am looking for a piece. We are all familiar with different stocks from different theatres around the city. It would be nice to find out if someone has that perfect Victorian couch before I resign to spending half my budget on one.

-I would also like to be able to share online resources, tips and tricks. While we were at the bar the other night, Doug showed me an app he uses on his smartphone that takes pictures of and then catalogues receipts for you, I was amazed! (as soon as I break down and buy a smart phone it is going to change my life!)

-I would like to have a forum for seeking advice (and warnings) about different theatre companies, ideally with a more positive tone ("These are some things that I learned along the way that will help you to know from the start with this company/director/designer" as opposed to "These are the horrible things that person X did and you should never work with them ever and no one else should either"). I would also like to be able to offer recommendations ("This company didn't pay much, but here are the awesome things they were able to offer me/things I learned from the experience")

-I often get emails about open positions that I can't take. It would be nice to be able to email a list of designers to a company looking for one, or to be able to email a job opening to a list of designers and see if anyone is free or interested.

Our initial solutions-

-First we started a google.doc spreadsheet of local Chicago suppliers. It's still pretty rough, right now it is divided into three lists: Antique and Thrift Stores; Fabric, Lumber and Craft Supplies; and Rentals. If you would like, you can check it out here, Chicago Props Resources. If you would like to help us expand the list and edit it, please send me an email and I will add your name to the list of approved editors. I would especially love to add more theatres interested in renting out stock to our Rentals list.

-Second we are starting a google group. chicago-props-forum@googlegroups.com. Essentially it's a list-serve. Once you are added to the group, I can send an email just to the one address, and it gets forwarded out to everyone who has signed up. This should be a great place to start in terms of finding items, and sending out job referrals. Once it gets up and running hopefully we can find a way to expand it into forums, lists or catalogues where we could keep a list of helpful hints on working with the designers, directors and theatre companies in the city. If you're interested in being a part of the list, you can email Doug at douglas.kupferman@gmail.com.


  1. Hey,
    I'm a product design student and I just reviwed your Chicago Props Resources. You should definitly add;
    Jan's Antiques: 225 North Racine Avenue
    Salvage One: 1840 West Hubbard Street.
    Or maybe you have already considered. Just a thought either way. Thanks for the post though. Definitly going to use these for my own thrifting and antiquing needs!

  2. Thanks for the sources Austin. I just added them to the list. Do you have any info about them that might be helpful? Employees to talk to? Something they were particularly helpful with?

  3. Jesse:
    My first job out of college in 1980 was assistant propmaster of the now-long-defunct Saint Nicholas theater on North Halsted. I remember calling another theater to ask if they had an already rigged electric candle we could borrow and the other propsmaster told me to go f*** myself. When my boss came back to the shop she laughed at me for assuming propmasters would help each other out. It was a very different environment back then and I am pleased to see it changed.

  4. Hi Jesse,
    I have been wanting something like this for the San Diego community for the short time I have been in theatre. There is a Facebook group that has been growing to serve the community here; Technical Theatre Artists of San Diego. I have started a Flickr group of the same name for individuals and theatre companies who want to share or rent out the miscellaneous props, costumes, etc that they have sitting in closets, garages, and storage units. I only started it a week ago so it is still tiny. It is also a "when I am not actively working on a show" type of project.
    I love the idea of a spreadsheet for local prop sources! Perhaps I will get on that next. I have created a database of all the theatre groups in San Diego, from small startups, colleges & universities, and our LORT theatres. My list is up to 140. The intent was to check each theatre company, see if their websites include information about prop, scenic, and costume rental. Lighting and sound too, though that isn't my area. Very few have info on rentals, at least so far.
    I hope your projects are all going smoothly!