Players Pen – October 10, 2018

Props Masters/Designers are called upon to perform magic at some point in a theatrical season, if not for each and every show. A prop may need to beep, bleed, move, break, burst into flames, glow, bang or any other number of things.

Props Masters require a range of experience across many disciplines, including but not limited to, trick mechanisms, soldering, casting, wiring, electricity, model making, pneumatics, fake food preparation, edible food preparation, sewing, carpentry and more.

Properties designer Wendy A. Huber and prop shop manager Kristen Nuhn got to explore their geeky, nerdy, collectibles side while collaborating on “Salvage” with scenic designer J Branson and director Greg Vinkler. Joseph Zettelmaier’s comedy-drama, mystery-romance is set in a storefront in Detroit, and our props team had an exciting time creating the world of Jason’s collectibles shop.

You can meet Wendy and Kristen on PenPlayers, our YouTube channel, where the trailer gives you a peek behind the scenes of “Salvage.” To view visit
What is a prop? While looking for a definition from The Society of Properties Artisan Managers (S*P*A*M), which is an association of professional Prop Managers and Educators, I was led to and “The Properties Directors Handbook Props for the Theatre.”

“Props live in a world of the visual design created by the scenic designer to establish the stage setting for the play,” the handbook states. “They are the details fleshing out the architecture to define the characters in the play, set the time period, complete the action needed with the structure of the play, and complete the ‘bridge’ between the characters on stage and the reality of life objects.”

There is stage dressing, set props and hand props. The props are all non-permanent items. An analogy used by Kristen while giving a backstage tour to the students of T.J. Walker middle school last week explains it well. “Think of a moving van,” she told them. “What items would movers place in the van?” Think of the house as the scenery, it is stationary and does not move. Items loaded into the van are the props. The furniture, books, dishes, office supplies and so forth.

Some plays that are infamous for their special prop effects include: “Peter and the Starcatcher,” in which a bird transforms into a glowing fairy; “Living on Love” featured flaming desserts; “Dial M for Murder” has a murder victim stabbed in the back with a pair of scissors; while “The Mystery of Irma Vep” was jammed-packed with mummies, werewolves and other gothic horror tidbits. Other theater companies have reached out to us for our Fantasia dip recipe from “Making God Laugh.”Set props are large movable items not built into the set. In the case of our current production, “Salvage,” a majority of the display cases, racks and period furniture are set props. The scenic designer, director and props designer communicated directly with each other daily and agreed upon what ended up on the set.

Stage dressing encompasses items used to enhance the visual setting, such as classic horror movie posters on the walls; a life-size cut out of Darth Vader; a shadow box of a Black Hawks jersey, hockey puck and sports cards; lampshades decorated with superhero logos and emblems; a life-size Creature from the Black Lagoon bursting through a wall; a variety of Pez dispensers lining the picture rails, or early editions of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books on the bookshelves next to retro cartoon lunchboxes.

These prop items are rarely touched by the cast, but the designers and director spent much time discussing what should be in Jason’s world. Jason does not consider these items junk -instead, they are art and pieces to be cherished.

A hand prop is anything carried onto stage by an actor, from a cane to a cigar. Props used to fulfill the action of the play are also hand props, such as a pen used to sign a document, a cell phone used to place a call, goblets to consume wine and a stack business cards.

Besides the needs of the play, props also have to meet any and all special considerations of the designer, director or actor as well. Many attempts are made to find the right cell phone that will easily slide out of a pocket on cue, to the correct recipe for an edible steak for a vegetarian.

There are many hidden treasures on the set of “Salvage,” including a prop from each play of the 2018 season. Arrive early to discover these treasures! The house staff and ushers understand if you want to get a closer look at the set before taking your seat.

There are still a few performances remaining to enjoy the pre-show atmosphere in our outdoor Beer Garden before we close the 2018 season on Sunday, Oct. 14. While watching “Salvage” you may wonder which company member collected Pez dispensers, the figurines, baseball cards or the nerdy t-shirts on display.

Tickets may be purchased for 7 p.m. performances Tuesday through Saturday or for Sunday’s 3 p.m. matinee at Or phone the Box Office at (920) 868-3287 to register for an e-mail announcement of the 2019 season. We hope you will join us by the bay where the sun sets, the curtain rises and the stars shine.