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Theatrical property

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A prop table backstage for the musical number "Food, Glorious Food" in the musical production, Oliver!
A prop table backstage for the musical number "Food, Glorious Food" in the musical production, Oliver!

A prop, formally known as (theatrical) property,[1] is an object used on stage or screen by actors during a performance or screen production.[2] In practical terms, a prop is considered to be anything movable or portable on a stage or a set, distinct from the actors, scenery, costumes, and electrical equipment.[3][4][5]


The earliest known use of the term "properties" in English to refer to stage accessories is in the 1425 CE morality play, The Castle of Perseverance.[6][7] The Oxford English Dictionary finds the first usage of "props" in 1841, while the singular form of "prop" appeared in 1911.[8] During the Renaissance in Europe, small acting troupes functioned as cooperatives, pooling resources and dividing any income. Many performers provided their own costumes, but special items—stage weapons, furniture or other hand-held devices—were considered "company property"; hence the term "property."[9][10] Some experts suggest that the term comes from the idea that stage or screen objects "belong" to whoever uses them on stage.[5]

There is no difference between props in different media, such as theatre, film, or television. Bland Wade, a properties director, says, "A coffee cup onstage is a coffee cup on television, is a coffee cup on the big screen." He adds, "There are definitely different responsibilities and different vocabulary."[11]

On stage and backstage

Props storage room of the Mannheim National Theatre, Germany
Props storage room of the Mannheim National Theatre, Germany

The term "theatrical property" originated to describe an object used in a stage play and similar entertainments to further the action. The term comes from live-performance practice, especially theatrical methods, but its modern use extends beyond the traditional plays and musical, circus, novelty, comedy, and even public-speaking performances, to film, television, and electronic media.

Props in a production originate from off stage unless they have been preset on the stage before the production begins. Props are stored on a prop table backstage near the actor's entrance during production then generally locked in a storage area between performances. The person in charge of handling the props is generally called the property master. Other positions also include coordinators, production assistants and interns as may be needed for a specific project.


Many props are ordinary objects. They must "read well" from the house or on-screen, that is, it must be readily identifiable as its intended appearance. Many regular objects make for poor quality props due to their size, durability, or color under bright lights, so prop versions are often specially constructed versions of common objects. In some cases, a prop is designed to behave differently from how a real object would, often for the sake of safety.


A prop weapon, such as a gun or sword, can be a replica, a real weapon,[12] or a real weapon which has been modified to be non-functional. To make melee weapons non-functional, swords often have their edges and points dulled, making them less able to stab or cut. Knives are often made of plastic or rubber.

Rubber bladed-weapons and guns are examples of props used by stuntmen to minimize injury, or by actors where the action requires a prop which minimizes injury.[13]

Use of firearms as props

If a piece is used to discharge either live ammunition or blanks, it is considered a firearm.[14] The safety and proper handling of real weapons used as movie props is the premiere responsibility of the prop master or armourer. ATF and other law enforcement agencies may monitor the use of real guns for film and television.

Although blank cartridges do not have bullets, they still have an explosive charge, which has caused incidents when used on stage or film, a notable example being actor Alec Baldwin firing a gun when filming Rust, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza on October 21, 2021, in Santa Fe, New Mexico.[15][16]


Breakaway objects, or stunt props, such as balsa-wood furniture, or sugar glass (mock-glassware made of crystallized sugar) are props whose breakage and debris look real but rarely cause injury due to their light weight and weak structure. Even for such seemingly safe props, very often a stunt double will replace the main actor for shots involving use of breakaway props.


Hero props are the more detailed pieces intended for close inspection by the camera or audience. The hero prop may have legible writing, lights, moving parts, or other attributes or functions missing from a standard prop; a hero prop phaser from the Star Trek franchise, for example, might include a depressible trigger and a light-up muzzle and display panel (all of which would make the hero prop more expensive and less durable). The term is also used on occasion for any of the items that a main character would carry in film and television (which are often hero props in the first sense as well). The term may sometimes be used in stage production, as many props from film find their way into theatre from common rental and purchase shops.


In the United States, productions are allowed to use real money in their filming.[17] Some productions, however, choose to use facsimiles which must comply with federal counterfeit money regulations.[18]


In recent years, the increasing popularity of movie memorabilia (a broader term that also includes costumes) has added new meaning to the term "prop", broadening its existence to include a valuable after-life as a prized collector's item. Typically not available until after a film's premiere, movie props appearing on-screen are called "screen-used", and can fetch thousands of dollars in online auctions and charity benefits.[19][20]

See also


  1. ^ Oxford Dictionaries Online Archived 2016-08-17 at the Wayback Machine "old-fashioned term for prop"
  2. ^ Roth, Emily. Stage management basics : a primer for performing arts stage managers. Allender-Zivic, Jonathan, McGlaughlin, Katy. New York. ISBN 978-1-138-96055-8. OCLC 940795601.
  3. ^ Nesfield-Cookson, Mary (1934). Small Stage Properties and Furniture. London: G. Allen & Unwin. p. 11.
  4. ^ Govier, Jacquie (1984). Create Your Own Stage Props. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. p. 8. ISBN 0-13-189044-1.
  5. ^ a b Harris, Margaret (1975). "Introduction". In Motley (ed.). Theatre Props. New York: Drama Book Specialists/Publishers. p. 7. ISBN 0-910482-66-7.
  6. ^ Hart, Eric (19 October 2009). "First use of "Property" in the theatrical sense". Prop Agenda. Archived from the original on 22 February 2014. Retrieved 7 April 2013.
  7. ^ Cook, Dutton (1878). "Stage Properties". Belgravia. 35. pp. 282–284.
  8. ^ prop, n./6; Third edition, September 2009; online version November 2010. <>; accessed 13 January 2011. An entry for this word was first included in New English Dictionary, 1908.
  9. ^ Eric Partridge Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English: Second Edition. Random House 1959
  10. ^ Kenneth Macgowan and William Melnitz The Living Stage. Prentice-Hall 1955.
  11. ^ Wade, Blande (2010). "Through the Eyes of the Property Director". Theatre Symposium. 18: 8. ISBN 978-0-8173-7005-3. ISSN 1065-4917.
  12. ^ Moniuszko, Sara M (22 October 2021). "What is a prop gun and how can it kill someone? How the Alec Baldwin tragedy was possible". USA Today. Retrieved 23 October 2021.
  13. ^ Coyle, Richard. "A Collector's Guide To Hand Props". RACprops. Archived from the original on 3 June 2009. Retrieved 9 July 2009.
  14. ^ [1]
  15. ^ Saperstein, Pat; Maddaus, Gene (Oct 21, 2021). "Alec Baldwin Fired Prop Gun That Killed Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, Injured Director". Variety. Archived from the original on October 22, 2021. Retrieved October 22, 2021.
  16. ^ Traxler, Victoria (October 21, 2021). "Sheriff's office: Star's 'prop firearm' kills one, injures another". Santa Fe New Mexican. Retrieved October 22, 2021.
  17. ^ Molloy, Tim. "Cinema Law: Can I Film U.S. Currency?". MovieMaker. Retrieved 23 October 2021.
  18. ^ Prisco, Jacopo (22 February 2019). "Where does fake movie money come from?". CNN. Retrieved 1 March 2019.
  19. ^ Ian Mohr Daily Variety. Reed Business Information, February 27, 2006 "Movie props on the block: Mouse to auction Miramax leftovers" Archived 2007-10-21 at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ David James, People Magazine, Time, Inc. February 24, 2007 "Bid on Dreamgirls Costumes for Charity" Archived 2007-02-26 at the Wayback Machine

Further reading

External links

This page was last edited on 27 October 2021, at 16:17
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