Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Never be Afraid to Ask...Malt Glasses

When I was working in central Pennsylvania, props shopping was much more difficult than it is in Chicago. Shopping selections were limited, some of the most basic stores were an hour away, and there were very few other theatres in the area that I could count on as sources.
On top of all this, we had incredibly short rehearsal periods. If I knew of an unusual prop ahead of time I could plan to order it online and have it delivered,but if something was added late in the process I was often left scrambling. Unfortunately this happened quite a bit, both because I was a new props master and was not as skilled at predicting what might come up, and because, with shows rehearsing for a maximum of three weeks, anything added after the first week of rehearsal was already cutting it close.
One such scrambling incident involved old fashioned malt glasses. The director decided they would be just the thing he needed about 5 days before the show opened. I searched all of my usual sources and called everyone I could think of, but I was getting nowhere. Then one night, after coming home from work, I was sitting watching TV and happened to see a Red Robin commercial (my coworkers and I went to the nearby Red Robin pretty regularly), and it dawned on me that Red Robin serves their shakes in the exact old fashioned malt glasses I needed.
The next day I drove to the Red Robin in the early afternoon (when asking for something at a restaurant always try to go during a downtime, after the lunch rush and before the dinner crowd). I asked to see a manager, explained that I needed the glasses for our production and asked if it would be at all possible to purchase four of them. He went into the back, brought out a box of glasses and offered to sell them to me for $5 a piece. Done! It was the first time I had used this method, but is the source of a rule I now use regularly when brainstorming sources; "Remember, places that sell things are not the only places where you can buy things".

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Quick fancy glasses

These glasses were also for The Double at Babes with Blades. I needed lots of rocks glasses for the bar scene and wanted them to be a bit unique and special (as a reference, the play is based around a lot of classic hollywood and we had decided that we wanted the props to all look a bit "proppy").

The director picked out some glasses with a silver rim from some of the research images I sent her. I didn't have the money to go buy nice cut-glass rocks glasses, so instead I altered some that I found for about $1 a glass at Marshalls.
For the silver stripes I used aluminum foil tape I purchased at Home Depot (you can see this roll was only $6.58 and it's a 50 ft roll). 
I trimmed the tape to the width I needed using my x-acto knife to cut along the edge of my metal ruler. 
Then I carefully smoothed the tape onto each glass. Aluminum is an incredibly soft metal, so wrinkles and creases smooth out fairly easily (at least until they are small enough that they are hard to see from any distance). Also the tape is used for sealing HVAC systems, among many other industrial uses, so the adhesive  will stand up to low temperatures and condensation, both of which are issues that would have come up with putting cold liquids into a glass. 
And there they are. Cheap, easy bar glasses that have a little something special about them. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

This is my job...prop porn

I was talking to an acquaintance the other day about how strange my job can be at times, and told her this story. Her response was, "That's hysterical, you should write a blog about all of your props adventures." I thought it was kind of funny. I do write a blog about props, but I never think to include day to day adventures, just interesting projects and step-by-step how-to's. I don't know if it's going to stick, but I'd like to experiment with changing that.
So to start out my posts about the mischief I get myself into daily, shopping for prop porn.

I rarely turn down help when I am out shopping unless I know exactly what I am looking for and where to find it in the store (like when I go to buy hot glue at Michaels or screws at Home Depot). Employees beware, you may be asking "Can I help you?" just to be polite, but I am going to take advantage of that and ask you, not only where I might find something, but also how to use it, or what it's traditional purpose is, or what it reminds you of. Some stores are especially fun to ask for help in, because almost no one asks for any help. To illustrate my point...my adventures porn shopping.

(door bell rings as I enter)

Friendly Adult Bookstore Cashier- Hi

Me- Hello (looking him straight in the eyes and staying at the counter) 

Cashier- Can I help you?

Me- Actually yes, I have a sort of strange question for you. I am a props master working on a play and I need to find a piece of fairly specific porn that they describe in the script. 

Cashier- Okay, what does it need to be?

Me- In the script two teenage brothers are sitting on the stoop of their house and the one is explaining sex to the other. he pulls out a page from a magazine and says something to the effect of, "that's what it looks like down there, except not that big, they call her the Texas Tunnel, most girls don't look like the Texas Tunnel." 

Cashier- (interrupting) They're not really teenage boys are they, because otherwise I can't sell this to you. 

Me- No, they are adult actors playing teenage boys, no worries. If you could let me know which of these magazines might have an image that could pass for the Texas Tunnel that would be great, I really don't feel like looking through stacks of magazines to find something appropriate. 

Cashier- (Leading me over to a rack of magazines) This one might have a few pictures like that, or maybe that one)

The Cashier and I start flipping nonchalantly through porn magazines and showing each other images. 

Me- (settling on one that had three or four decent images for the director to choose from) I think this one will work, thanks! 

Cashier- (as he is ringing me up)- So where's this play going to be? What's it about? Do you have any fliers or post cards?

Me- It's going to be at X theatre and it opens next weekend. 

I tell him a little more about the plot and curse myself for not having grabbed a few more postcards the last time I was at the theatre. 

Me- By the way, this will be tax exempt. 

Cashier- (blank stare) I don't have any idea how to do that...we don't usually have people do that in this store.

And the moral of the story is...you 'll be surprised where you might find friendly, helpful, employees who are theatre fans, and you'll probably just have to eat the tax when buying props from an adult book store. 

Side note- I go into adult stores frequently when I need prop handcuffs. Almost any adult toy store will have a good pair of handcuffs, with an easy safety release, for a decent price, and they will hold up way better than any you will find in a costume store (like party city) or a toy store.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Light-up radio

This radio was created for a production of The Double opening this weekend at Babes with Blades (for those not familiar with Chicago storefront theatres, they are a group of female fighters and stage combat experts who do plays designed to feature women and swords, and they have a great time doing it).

This play is a backstage comedy set in the 1940s. In between scenes, during the blackouts, a radio announcer narrates recent Broadway gossip. During those moments the director wanted the radio to glow.

Side note- pay attention to how much light is going to be on a radio or other electronic device before deciding to invest the time and money into making it light up. If the radio was being hit from the front with theatrical lights, any bulb I had placed inside (no matter how bright) would have been useless and totally washed out.

 I started by pulling off the back cover of this radio I found for $15 at a local thrift store. I smashed, broke, unscrewed, snapped and ripped to remove all of the old radio innards (sorry for no "before" picture). In the process I also, unfortunately, destroyed the fabric that had formed the front of the radio. I replaced it with a heavy orange upholstery fabric for where the speakers would be, and a gold, sheerish, costume satin behind the dial, both of which were scraps from past projects and therefor free for this one.
Instead of working up a totally new circuit for the lights I used a pack of battery powered LED christmas lights (also leftover from a past project). I set the switch on the battery pack to "on" and then cut one wire a little further down so I could insert my own easy-to-use switch into the system.
I attached my switch to the back panel of the radio where it could be easily reached by an actor,
And then soldered the lights and the battery pack to either side.
The lights were taped in place so that when the back panel was re-attached they would sit just behind the dial.
I reattached all of the dials and knobs I pulled off the old radio front. I was even able to remove the decal in the right corner from the old fabric and insert it into the new.
When the lights go out, the glow is pretty cool.