A cluttered table of props sourced from various different places

Props are an essential component of any theatre production. They create atmosphere and bring the audience into the world of the play. Every piece of set dressing and personal props help create an environment which drives the story forward. Whether if this is your first time sourcing props or you are coming back and need a refresher here are five tips to remember when sourcing props for your production.

Know your play/text

The text that you will be working from is very important. Therefore, the first thing you need to do is in-depth research on your text. Knowing the time period, era and context. For example, if your play is set in the 1920s and your production requires a table. You would need to source a 1920’s style table but it should not look like an antique in the audience’s eyes.

The status of your characters would also determine what state the props would be in as well – those from a poorer background would logically have shabbier furniture… unless their character is house-proud! Knowing your text will help you create a props list and help you compile an estimated costing for all your props.

Know your props

Once you have constructed your props list you will know everything you need to source for your production. To help better understand what the props look like before getting on your feet, what helps me is finding image references. Using search engines and websites such as Pinterest to create prop ‘mood’ boards helps a lot so you can get a feel for what it is you need and how it will look visually when thrown together.

Know your area

This is key, before the start of rehearsals I find it useful to know the area I would be looking for props in. You may be a freelancer travelling to an unknown city for the first time to source props on a production. No matter how much budget you have, you should always try to look for items at the cheapest deal you can as you never know what you may need next.

Knowing the kind of shops that are in your area can save you time and money. Here are some places to start looking for props:

  1. Charity shops

    These are a great source for propping as you never really know what you are going to get. The price range varies from different stores and locations but they tend to be quite reasonable. It’s worth keeping a bit of spare change in your pocket here as you might find something that you KNOW will get used in another production you might work upon.

  2. Antique stores

    Perfect for when you need something for period productions. The items tend to be quite pricey to buy as they are real antiques. Then again, there is nothing more authentic than the real item!

  3. Car boot sales

    There are two in Cardiff where I am based and they are fantastic. At these markets, you can haggle and the prices are fairly cheap but just make sure the buyers can’t see the desperation in your eyes. At the boot sale market, you will get something different every time.

  4. Online resources

    Websites such as Ebay and Amazon makes our lives a lot easier in the prop sourcing world, especially Amazon Prime with next day delivery in case we’re in a rush! However, the prices for these items tend to come at a premium. Other online resources such as Freecycle, Gumtree and the Facebook Marketplace are also great and affordable options.

  5. Local theatres

    You’d be surprised at the kindness of strangers. Enquire at your local theatres to see if they’d be willing to lend you any props. It’s always good to make connections with these people anyway as us theatre types should try to help each other out as much as possible!

  6. Prop hire companies

    For your larger or more intricate prop items, it might come to be cheaper to rent your probs than to buy them outright.

Knowing your Director and Designer

Communication with your director and designer is key whilst sourcing props. After all, you are helping them implement their vision onto the stage. Have regular meetings with them and ask questions. Be sure to show them plenty of pictures and make sure they know exactly what you are buying before you purchase it. It is always better to ask for clarification then to leave a problem to be discovered down the line.

Knowing your show

While sourcing for props you may realize that you don’t have to buy all your props there are other options such as hiring and borrowing. For example, your production may have a very active fight scene and you have a lot of props on stage. It might not be the best idea to hire your props in case they get damaged. Knowing your show will help you make the decision.

Hopefully, these tips will help you on your quest when you are sourcing props. I have tried to list as many different types of locations where you can source props but to list them all would be another essay in itself. Lastly, in our age of social media don’t be afraid to ask for help on online forums such as the Facebook group ‘UK Props Network’. There isn’t a correct method to go about prop sourcing as it all comes from learned experience – so get out there and have a go!

Theodore E. Hung
Theodore E. Hung is a freelance Stage Manager and aspiring writer based in Cardiff. He is a graduate from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and is excited to continue working in the industry.