Props Challenges

What is a prop? It’s any item that is used or carried by an actor during the course of a show. It could be as simple and straightforward as a pencil, or as complicated, and potentially dangerous as an exploding hand grenade. Play scripts often require things to happen onstage that go “bang” or break while in use, or burn or transform into something else. Someone has to figure out how this will happen safely, repeatedly, consistently and within budget.

This set of related activities introduces users to Victor Elliot, Props Master at the National Arts Centre and his very creative approach to three plays that offered three distinctly different prop requirements.

The aim of this set of activities is to challenge students to think creatively and problem-solve.  Props (properties) is an area where individuals with diverse interests and abilities can bring ideas to the table from many subject areas: art, physics, chemistry, carpentry, design.

Each Props Challenge has three parts:

  1. Setting the Scene gives a synopsis of the action and how the prop or prop effect is used dramatically
  2. The Challenge outlines what is needed from the prop and sets up the activity discussion for students
  3. The Solution shows, via video, how each effect was built and how it functions in real time 

The first two parts should be undertaken as a group activity, allowing discussion* and brainstorming.

  1. Setting the Scene should entail ensuring that everyone reads and understands the dramatic situation.
  2. The Challenge should make clear what needs to be seen on stage and what the requirements are for safety, durability, reliability, esthetics and budget.
  3. The Solution (not to be viewed before the discussion!) reveals the solution that Victor and his team came up with, although there may be other solutions, and students will come up with some terrific ideas.

* The discussion aspect of this activity should be fun and freewheeling. However, if students become frustrated by the challenge, that’s a lesson too. The props people who worked on these challenges did not come up with the solutions until they had made a lot of diagrams, and floated many schemes. When students see the solutions, they will be intrigued and inspired about what can be achieved with thought, planning, and some simple but effective substances and objects.