When it comes to making a theatrical production work, there's a lot more to it than just the actors who bring the performances to life each night. Just as critical are set and sound design, as well as the props that the actors use on stage. Whether the prop is an item as mundane as the teacup the actor drinks from or as grand as an elaborate candelabra, stage props play an important role in theater performances.
Many plays, such as “You Can't Take it With You,” have scenes at the dinner table. While many community productions forgo this prop and just use dishes, food props can be created. Something as simple as a large loaf of French bread can be dried and then coated several times with a layer of clear glue to preserve it. Additionally, other items like sandwiches, cheese, roasts and other popular items can be purchased in plastic form. If the food is to be eaten during the performance, you can always use the real thing.
The more a stage play resembles the trappings of daily life, the more realistic it will seem. However, often budget—especially for community plays—is very tight. But that doesn't mean there can't be ashtrays on the tables, books on the shelves, vases on the coffee table and lamps in the corner. These items can be found inexpensively at local auctions or yard sales, or borrowed if needed.
Another often overlooked item is the artwork that goes on the walls of the interior of a house or office. While these items can be acquired at auction as well, there's another way to acquire artwork and encourage community involvement at the same time. Many local high schools and colleges have art programs. By contacting these schools, often artwork can be acquired on loan for the duration of the show. The art program can be mentioned and thanked in the show's program, which brings attention to both the art program and the students who created the art.
Genre plays such as “The Majestic Kid” (a western) or “The Tempest” (Shakespearean Elizabethan) require props that will fit that genre. While some can be found at the local auction or second-hand store, many will need to be constructed or purchased. Genre props will be discussed by the director, technical director and artistic director during pre-production. At that time, they will determine if the play has the budget to purchase genre props or if the technical director must construct the props.
Puppet theatre has a long tradition, and many theatrical productions such as “The Lion King” still employ the use of puppet actors for both child and adult audiences. In this case, the puppets are both the actors and the props for the play. Larger productions will have a production designer and crew that makes puppets for the show. If a smaller production does not have the creative staff to make puppets, they can be purchased. And if the play is part a children's theatre group, part of the learning process for the young actors might be to make some simple puppets to learn the process of creating a play from start to finish.