Glossary of Technical Theatre Terms – Props

Props & Prop-Making 


ACETONE
A flammable solvent used in some prop/costume-making processes. Used by make-up artists to remove skin adhesive from the netting of wigs and moustaches by immersing the item in an acetone bath, then removing the softened glue residue with a stiff brush. Also one of the primary components of some nail polish removers.

ACTION PROP
A hand-held practical prop used by an actor for combat or for a specific purpose.

ALGINATE
An organic polymer which is a viscous gum found in the cell walls of brown algae. The commercial variety is extracted from seaweed. Supplied as a powder, when mixed with water it becomes a fast-setting mould-making material which is used to make casts of body parts or delicate prop items. The resulting mould is very detailed and strong. Dental alginate is used to make casts of teeth and gums. Take care to store the powder in an air-tight container as it's very absorbant and will 'go off' very rapidly if left open to the air.

ANACHRONISM
A scenic item, prop or costume which is from a different time period than that being portrayed on stage. Usually, it's a modern item that shouldn't be seen in a period piece.

ANTIQUARIANISM
A movement which insisted on historically-accurate scenery and props on stage. The more stylized sliding wing flats were replaced by more detailed box sets including architectural features, props and furniture appropriate to the time period in whcih the show was taking place. Antiquarianism moved into theatres in the late eighteenth century in Europe. 

APPLE BOX
Apple Boxes from Udengo A small strong wooden box used as a temporary step or to lift an item (or actor) up to make it visible. Named after the standard-sized fruit packing crate. Used in the motion picture industry.
More about Apple Boxes

ARMOURY
The Department in a large producing theatre which deals with the maintenance and storage of prop weapons.

ARTIC
Short for Articulated Lorry. Lorries of 40 feet length (or more) are used to transport sets, costume, props and sound & lighting equipment from venue to venue. A number of companies specialise in moving theatrical and musical tours around the country / world.

ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER
Usually shortened to ASM, the assistant stage manager is the most junior member of the Stage Management team, and is often in charge of sourcing and running Properties during the run of a show. She or he is also a member of the stage 'crew'. See also STAGE MANAGER and DSM.

BAGGAGE MASTER
Redundant term, in use theatrically between approximately 1884 and 1960 in the UK, it originated on the railway system. The Baggage Master is part of a touring theatre company, and is responsible for all personal and company luggage, and has to check all luggage (including props, costumes, scenery etc.) is packed and ready when the show leaves for a new venue.

BAPAM
British Association for Performing Arts Medicine. Specialist health and safety support for performers and technicians.
British Association for Performing Arts Medicine website

BISCUIT POTTERY / BISQUE POTTERY
Eathernware product that has been fired once but not yet glazed. It can easily be painted / decorated and can be used for plate / cup smashing scenes on stage as it breaks more easily / gently than a fully glazed product. However, breakaway cups or plates made from wax are the only really safe solution, as even biscuitware can have sharp edges.
For a long-running show, or for a more controllable effect, consider using a glazed plate / cup and pre-smashing it, then using filler or glue to 'fix' it so it holds together. It will break far more easily, so minimum effort will be required.
Any breakaway or pre-smashed item will need a sound effect 'smash' to make it fully believable.
Ensure that use of any ceramics / crockery on stage is fully risk-assessed.

BREAKAWAY
Prop or item of furniture designed to break/shatter with impact. Breakaway furniture and some props are usually capable of restoration to be 'broken' again.

BREAKING DOWN
Treatment given to freshly painted or newly made props, scenery or costume, to make it look either aged, lived-in, or less "new". Ofter involves spattering with paint to add interest and texture to areas lacking it.
Breaking Down Props and Costumes

DRESSING (the set)
Decorative props (some practical) and furnishings added to a stage setting are known as Set Dressing.
See also TAB DRESSING.

EL WIRE
Electro-luminescent Wire. Requires an alternating current power supply of between 90-120 volts, but this is usually generated by an oscillator circuit powered by a few AA batteries. The wire is very efficient and robust. The weak points tend to be the connections between the wire and the power supply, so ensure these are well-protected if the wire is being used in/on a prop or costume.

ENTERTAINMENT TECHNOLOGY
Any technical or practical craft used in the creation of live events or experiences. As the definition of 'live events or experiences' includes music concerts, theatre, theme parks, visitor attractions, museums and sports events, the skills needed are very broad. It's not necessary for anyone to be highly skilled in all of the crafts, but an understanding of the whole picture is very helpful, and knowing when to call in a specialist (and where to find them) is vital.

The crafts involved in entertainment technology include, but are not limited to:
Lighting (stage lighting and architectural lighting)
Sound (live and recorded)
Video and Media (projection or display)
Scenic Construction and Automation
Show Control
Animatronics
Costume
Props and Masks
Make-Up and Prosthetics

ESCAPE ROOM
An Escape Room is an interactive live game where your team is trapped in a room (or series of rooms) until you can solve a number of puzzles. Typical Escape Rooms have a time limit of around 60 minutes.
They may involve live actors, but often there are multimedia elements, as well as lighting & sound effects and a vast array of props which act as clues (or containers for clues).
They have a great deal in common with immersive theatrical experiences, and are wildly popular world-wide.
Escape Room page

FLAMBEAUX
A flaming torch, often handheld and used in a procession.
A silk-effect flame (with light and fan) is much safer, and can give an excellent effect if the rest of the lighting is suitably dim / atmospheric.
See also SILK FLAME, SCONCE.

FLAME-RETARDANT
A treatment which can make props, costumes, drapes and any other porous materials suitable for use on stage by reducing the fire risk. An item treated with a flame retardant will limit or inhibit the spread of fire by not supporting combustion.
FLAMECHECK is a commonly used treatment, suitable for a wide range of materials.

FOIL
1) A fencing blade, rectangular in cross-section (the Épée has a triangular cross-section, with a groove running down the length of the blade, and is heavier).
2) A subsidiary character who emphasizes the traits of a main character.

GET-IN
The process of moving set, props and other hardware into a theatre prior to the fit-up. (aka LOAD IN (US) and BUMP IN (Aus.) and PACK IN (NZ.))

GLASS FIBRE
A combination of a glass mat and a resin which can be formed into a strong shell. Used in prop-making.

IMMERSIVE THEATRE
1) A piece of linear performance where the venue has been adapted / altered to make it part of the narrative of the story. Secret Cinema events are immersive in this sense. 
2) A piece of non-linear performance where a non-theatre venue has been completely transformed into a highly detailed world within which the audience is free to roam and see various parts of the story performed in appropriate locations. The UK company Punchdrunk created the concept of audience members wearing masks which allow them to wander around the space anonymously.
Punchdrunk Theatre

KILL
To switch off (a light/sound effect); to strike/remove (a prop).
(e.g. Kill channel 6 please)

MISE EN SC√ČNE
Although the term literally "placing on stage" in French, the Mise en Scene refers to much more than the setting of a performance or event. The term describes all of the visual aspects of a setting - props, lighting, costume as well as set design, and how the details can contribute to the telling of the story.

PAPERBOARD
A type of paper-based non-corrugated board over 250gsm in weight used for model-making etc. 

PERSONAL PROPS
See PROPS.

PRODUCTION MEETING
A gathering of key production staff during the months leading up to a performance or event. The aim of the meeting is to come to an agreement about any questions raised during rehearsals or the construction phase, to deal with any budget problems, confirm detailed schedules and to keep the process moving forward successfully. Decisions should be written down and circulated to those present and anyone that couldn't make the meeting. 

PROP ROOM
Either a room in which the theatres' collection of props is stored, or an offstage room where props for the show are kept, ready for the actors to pick them up.

PROPERTIES
See PROPS.

PROPERTIES MANAGER
The Props Manager / Properties Manager is in charge of the stock of props at a theatre.
In the UK, the ASM (Assistant Stage Manager) is often responsible for propping a show (finding/buying props and organising the making of additional ones). Larger organisations might have a Prop Manager who is responsible for sourcing the props required for a show (or a series of shows).

PROPERTY MASTER / PROP MASTER
Member of the creative team who has responsibility for all of the PROPS used in the production (US).

PROPPING
The task, often performed by stage management in the UK, or by the scenic designer in a small company, of going around finding / borrowing / buying props for the production.
It's essential that a clear record is kept of the source of the props so that they can be efficiently returned at the end of the show. Reference books are used to ensure the items are correct for the time period of the production.

PROPS
(Properties) Furnishings, set dressings, and all items large and small which cannot be classified as scenery, electrics or wardrobe. Props handled by actors are known as hand props, props which are kept in an actors costume are known as PERSONAL PROPS.

PROPS TABLE
Table in convenient offstage area on which properties are prepared prior to a performance and to which they should be returned after use.

PUPPET
Information coming soon

RADIO CONTROL
System whereby battery-powered practicals / props on stage can be controllable from offstage with no connecting leads.

RESET
1) To go back to a particular point ready to run part of a scene again, during a technical rehearsal (e.g. 'OK that scene change went really well - can we please reset to the end of the previous scene ready to try it again?')
2) After a performance, the Reset involves all on-stage crew in moving scenery and props back into position for the top of the show, ready for the next performance. 
See also SET BACK. 

REVERSE RADIO
A sound system that works opposite to a radio microphone - a sound signal is transmitted from the mixing desk to a battery-powered receiver, amplifier and speaker. Used for relaying a fully controllable sound feed to a remote location on stage - often used for an on-stage prop radio or tape player. This system is also used for in-ear monitoring (IEM).

SCONCE
A wall-mounted light fixture, where the light is directed upwards. Also refers to a wall-mounted flaming torch.
See also FLAMBEAUX.

SHOW ELEMENT
Term for an item of scenery or prop required for a production.

SILK FLAME
A substitute for a real flame, consisting of flame-shaped pieces of light-coloured silk, with an orange/red light underneath, and blown by a fan pointing upwards.  The airflow keeps the silk upright, with a random movement which from a distance reads as a flame.

SKIP (Costume/Props)
A large wicker basket or box, often wheeled, which stores costumes and/or props for touring.

SPONGING
A scenic artist's technique to apply a textured paint finish to a piece of scenery or a prop, achieved by dipping a natural sponge into paint and then applying it to the scenery.

STAGE CREW
Member of the Stage staff who is responsible for moving props and/or scenery during the show, and for ensuring that items under their responsibility are working correctly and properly maintained. Stage Crew (also known as Stagehands) are often employed on a casual basis for a specific production, and may not be part of the theatre's full-time staff. They also may be touring with a particular production.

STAGE MANAGER
The Head of the Stage Management team comprising the deputy stage manager (DSM) and assistant stage manager (ASM). The DSM is normally "on the book" calling the cues from the prompt corner. The ASM supervises props. Depending on the needs of the production, there may be a team of stagehands, usually casual employees.
French: régisseur.
German: Inspizient (also Theatermeister or Bühnenmeister)

STAGECRAFT
Stagecraft refers to any technical aspect of theatre production (and also sometimes refers to film / TV production). It includes working in technical areas such as lighting, sound, scenic construction, costume & prop construction, stage management and makeup. It usually does NOT refer to the creative / design aspects of those technical areas. 

STRIKE
1) To disassemble a stage set ("strike the set") (e.g. "How many crew do you need for the strike?") In amateur theatre, the strike at the end of a run of shows is sometimes followed by a strike party. 
2) To remove props from the stage. ("Strike the armchair after scene 1", "Make sure the mushroom prop is struck after the forest scene" etc.). 
3) The act of turning on a discharge lamp (e.g. "Make sure you strike the followspot at the half")

VELCRO
Trademark. The concept of hook and loop fasteners was invented in the late 1940s, and the company Velcro was founded in 1952 in Switzerland. 
Velcro website

ZINGER
Term used in artistic rendering (illustration) of a theatre set or prop. The zinger is to the brightest part of a highlight, which gives the illusion of a 3d object accurately lit.