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Prop make-over

posted by prop shop on Mon, Nov 17, 2008
in Prop shop

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Being in Berkeley (and because people know me as a recycling freak), I often get asked if we reuse props in shows. Of course we do, but no designer is going to use something exactly the way some other designer did. Even when we buy something specifically for a show, it's rarely put on stage looking as it was bought, no matter how simple the object is. And sometimes it's so far from the original that we wonder why we bought the item in the first place!

So, I thought I’d share some examples of transformations that have happened in two shows we've been working on simultaneously…Let me give you a little tour of the furniture before and after.

For Joe Turner’s Come and Gone we created a beautiful parlor and kitchen on the set from various real items.

Here we have a chair we borrowed from our friends at American Conservatory Theatre (A.C.T.) in San Francisco. Scott Bradley, the set designer, saw this chair in their inventory catalogue and fell in love.

Chair 1

But when we went to pick it up, we realized it had been used in one of their recent productions and had been transformed to this not-so-period-appropriate version, which was definitely not in Scott’s color scheme:

Joe Turner chair, redux

Since this chair had been painted silver, the only real way to get it back to looking like its original wood was to strip it down and start from scratch. We took it to a furniture stripper after getting it this far ourselves.

Chair - stripped 

Since we had to re-upholster the chair, as well as a settee we had in our stock (which we'd received as a donation a while ago--we love donations, by the way), Scott chose a fabric for them both, and Bruce re-covered them. This settee wasn’t a simple recovering job either. Its sprung seat got completely replaced and we gave it a height enhancement

Here, you can see Bruce adding to the wood on the legs, after which he carefully painted it to match the original wood of the settee.

Bruce and the setee

Scott also asked that we have some wood showing on the front edge, so we refinished the wood interior piece and changed the upholstery point to be higher than it was in the original version. It’s a subtle difference, but quite nice and slimming. Overall, the actors sit more firmly and higher up on this settee than they would have originally, which helps them project their voices as well as be seen better.

Joe Turner settee - original 

Joe Turner settee - re-covered 

To finish off the parlor, Sarah (Miss SupertyDooperino) created the lighting fixture from a mix of parts ordered from our now-favorite online lighting store, Rejuvenation (they are the nicest, fastest vendor I have found), from random found parts, and even stolen pieces of lamps we had in stock (one of which we had bought/created for another Scott-designed show).

 Sarah with lamp  

Paint it all brass and it looks as if it was born this way! Then some careful masking and spray paint on the shade to tie it into the color scheme...and here’s our finished parlor (at right, you can also see the final version of the macrame curtain):

Final parlor

Stay tuned for tomorrow--the Joe Turner kitchen, and a quick look at The Arabian Nights.


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