From crocodiles to calligraphy, the props you see in our shows all come out of our Prop Shop in Stratford-upon-Avon.

What are props?

‘Prop’ is short for ‘property’ and is any object used in a performance that isn’t part of the set or worn by an actor.  Props can be anything, from small to large items – a notebook to a fountain.

Man standing holding a metal urn surrounded by oil lamps and many other objects
Inside the RSC Prop Store
Photo by Lucy Barriball © RSC Browse and license our images

If you're thinking about a career in prop making, then it's a good idea to gain qualifications in one of the specialist areas the department requires - such as cabinet making, metalwork or upholstery. There are also some specialised courses in prop making. Key qualities for prospective employees are enthusiasm, attention to detail and a willingness to learn.

the model box for Love's Labour's Lost
A 1:25 model of the set for Lovel's Labours' Lost (2014), designed by Simon Higlett.
Photo by Simon Higlett © RSC Browse and license our images

Sourcing props for a show

Each show has a Prop Supervisor who works between the designer and the prop makers. Before rehearsals begin, the Prop Supervisor meets the designer to see the model box for the first time – a 1:25 scale model of the set and major props (pictured).

The supervisor finds out what props are needed for the show and has detailed discussions with the designer about durability, materials, how props will be used, what the actors will need to do with them and how they will be stored.

Then they begin sourcing the props, looking in the Prop Store for anything that can be reused; buying in items, such as furniture to adapt; or making things from scratch where needed.

Making props

Most of what they make is computer modelled first, so they work from a plan, creating props in wood, metal and plastics. There’s also a small team creating soft props such as upholstery, cushions and curtains as well as paper items. Prop-makers will have a range of skills, but generally specialise in a particular area, such as working in wood or metal. 

Skills needed include:

  • Carving & Sculpting
  • Plastic moulding
  • Cabinet-making
  • Metalwork
  • Soldering
  • Embroidery
  • Upholstery
  • Casting
Woman in a teal jumper standing at a workshop table concentrating with paper, pen and ruler
Creating soft props in the workshop
Photo by Lucy Barriball © RSC Browse and license our images

Once a prop has been made or adapted it goes to the Paint Shop next door for painting and effects, then it's taken to the theatre in time for technical rehearsals ('tech') before the show opens. 

Several of Shakespeare’s plays require severed heads modelled on the actor playing the role. In the past the actor needed to visit the workshop to sit while their face was coated in plaster. It was an uncomfortable and time-consuming process. The team have pioneered a new method where all the actor needs to do is sit for photos for 10 minutes. The photos are used to create a computer model of the head which is then printed out on the 3D printer.

Woman talking to a man in a theatre auditorium. she is holding up an illuminated lamp to him
The Prop Supervisor during technical rehearsals
Photo by Sam Allard © RSC Browse and license our images

Preparing for the show

The Prop Team's work continues after the props have left the workshop. The Prop Supervisor and members of the team are on hand throughout the technical rehearsals ('tech') and the show's early 'preview' performances to check that all props are working correctly and looking right within the wider stage design.

The props are then handed over to the show running team who are responsible for making sure all props are in the correct place to be picked up by the actors who need them - this could be in dressing rooms, in the back dock, at the sides of the stage or even around the auditorium.

Throughout the run of the show they also look after daily maintenance, working alongside the prop makers in the scenic workshops, repairing and replacing props when needed.

After the show

When the show has finished, the props all go into our Prop Store so they can be used again for future shows, as well as hired out for productions, film shoots, events or anywhere else they might be needed.