Most of my posts recently have been typed stuff and I was wondering about doing something a bit more arty. Then a few days ago I was rummaging around in the garage when the item below fell on my head (I keep bits of props and set in the rafters and had accidentally dislodged one). The key things about my set and props are: 1) do it as cheaply as possible with things you have to hand; 2) there’s only me to do it so it has to be quick, simple and relatively effective; 3) make it light enough to easily move on stage (this has the added bonus of not hurting when it falls on your head).
We were doing a production of ‘Grease’ and we needed an old ’50s style record player for one of the scenes. Rather than go on a scrounge for a real one (which will be a prized antique these days) I decided to make one. I happened to have a cardboard box with an opening lid that was roughly the right size and dimensions, so I painted it green (like my mum’s) and found pictures of Dansettes on the internet. I grabbed an appropriate image, printed it out in colour to full A4 size, cut out the bit I wanted (the mesh grill and control knobs) and pasted it on to my painted box.
It looks surprisingly three dimensional for a flat bit of paper – and saved a lot of messing about trying to paint the details convincingly.
Slightly less convincing was the inside bit, but the audience was far enough away for it not to matter much. It’s an adequate representation of a 7″ single. (For those under 15, it’s a flat bit grooved plastic which we used to stick a diamond needle onto; it’s how we used to listen to 3 minutes of music. Hipsters are apparently turning on to vinyl once more but generally they were a pain in the arse. I used to have to stick a 2p coin on my old player to stop it from jumping when playing warped singles. Anyway, I digress…)
My first cardboard creation was a cast iron stove for ‘Oliver’ which was on a small mobile flat that was present in Fagin’s den. It also made an appearance in ‘Annie’ in the Hooverville scene, and in ‘A Christmas Carol’ in the Cratchit’s house.
Again, simple cardboard box, painted matt black and then, using a study sheet of images from the internet, I created detailing using white paint. Three bits of triangular cardboard form the legs and the socket for the cardboard flue to sit in. The top of the flue was attached to the top of the painted flat (not shown).
I hope it helps inspire people to take another look at cardboard as useful material for props. And if you haven’t seen my awesome cardboard piano please check out the links (making it; haiku about; prop in action).
Remember: if you don’t have to sit or stand on it, go for the smoke & mirrors trick – make it look real without the need for it to act real. And it won’t kill your actors or crew if it falls on their head.