January 4, 2016

Detailed Prop Presets with Evernote and Skitch

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 9:02 am

You know those prop presets. The ones where a list is simply not going to cut it. You need diagrams. And with the rise of cell phone cameras, you’re probably used to skipping the diagram entirely and just filling your phone with a bunch of pictures of props strewn about. But the pictures probably don’t tell the entire story. You still sort of need the details that you’d get if you hand-drew a diagram.

Enter Evernote, and its now-subsidiary app, Skitch.

I’ve written about Evernote before. It’s a note-taking app that lets you add multimedia stuff and organize your notes into notebooks with tags and categories and stuff. It syncs with your mobile devices. It’s just generally very handy when you need to dump information somewhere.

Skitch used to be a standalone app that annotates pictures. If you’ve seen any of my calling desk blog posts, that’s what I use to label stuff (a new one will be coming soon). You take a picture, and then you can easily add very attractive arrows, text, and other markings to it. A few years back they were purchased by Evernote, and now the Skitch features are available directly in Evernote when you take a picture.

White Christmas use case

You know what I hate about stock? Sure you do: I hate split rehearsals. I hate knowing that there’s one rehearsal the ASM absolutely must be in, and it’s the same rehearsal I absolutely must be in. Or vice-versa, the dance rehearsal I really want to see, but I’m stuck in a blocking rehearsal. But this post is about the first example.

White Christmas, yo. There’s a scene towards the beginning of the show (which, if you know the movie, it’s the same idea) where Bob and Phil are in their dressing room having just finished a performance on the Ed Sullivan show, and while bickering about each others’ love lives, they completely strip down to their underwear and put on a new set of clothes, in a tightly choreographed sequence that suggests they’ve been doing this forever. It’s pretty cool. But in order for it to look that effortless it also has to at some point be taught and rehearsed. And preset.

So there I am, having to be in this rehearsal. Knowing it’s going to be 90% about prop and costume presets. I’m not a huge fan of this happening without the ASM (or, for that matter, the PA) being present. But there I am, and by gum, I’m going to take awesome notes.

From the beginning of our process we knew one thing about this scene: we were never, ever, going to rehearse it without full costume. Which was actually kind of cool, if something of a pain in the ass to transport the costumes every time (always in the rain). The rehearsal schedule evolved in constant coordination with the costume department to ensure fittings for it were given priority, and this scene wasn’t scheduled to be blocked before the four suits needed had arrived, been fitted, and alterations completed.

There aren’t that many times when you start blocking a scene with your actors in full costume, so it was weird and fun to get a preview of the “real thing” so early in the rehearsal room. Normally people get a little thrill to see someone come into a scene wearing actual costume pieces like a coat or skirt. These dudes were in full show costume including underwear and socks, every time.

Let me give you a visual, using some of our lovely production photos courtesy of David J. Murray.

These are the costumes they start out in, for Ed Sullivan. So very, very green. The shoes were green, too, which really ties the whole “green” theme together, but they didn’t arrive (or get painted) till opening night, so they didn’t make the first photo shoot during the dress rehearsal. Sorry. Imagine the shoes are green. Greener than the costumes. I swear.
Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 3.41.39 AM

But wait, I do have a picture of the shoes!
This is Piggy, our stage management mascot. His exploits (which I promise to blog about soon-ish) culminated in a brazen bid to seize the role of Phil Davis (dramatized in perhaps my favorite film, The Real Pig Davis). This was a teaser photo of him “sniffing out his next role.” You can see part of one of the shoes behind him. Enough to know they were greener than the suits. I told you it was possible.

So anyway, at the top of the dressing room scene, the boys start taking off the green. The street clothes they’re changing into are hung on the coat trees on their respective sides of the dressing table, with the accessories and shoes on the table unit.
Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 3.43.01 AM

Most of the way there, the green stuff has all been crammed into that suitcase (getting the suitcase to behave while two suits with shoes were packed into it ended up being the most disruptive technical challenge of the entire production).
Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 3.40.57 AM

There’s not really a picture of the whole finished look, but Joey can model the basic suit-with-coat-and-hat concept:
Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 3.40.36 AM


So, that’s where we’re going. In the rehearsal room, we had a table (no mirrors, sadly, for the boys) and some chairs, and a coat tree, and an awesome stand-in coat tree that props masters everywhere should take note of. I never got around to getting a picture of it “naked” but that’s a mic stand gaffed upside-down to some kind of wooden… I don’t know. Something that’s not supposed to be a coat tree. It worked great.IMG_5780

Once we had started to settle on where the props needed to be placed, I took pictures in Evernote on my phone, and then immediately synced it to my computer where I could more carefully label things.

These are some of the pictures I provided (there were several revisions, as my ASM and PA didn’t get to see the scene and take their own notes until our stumble-through). The documentation was especially important in this case because it wasn’t just a reminder — it had to explain everything so that people who have never seen the scene, or know that Bob’s suit is the blue one and Phil’s is the gray-and-pink one, could do the preset themselves without assistance. Everyone who received it (the ASM, PA and props master) found it extremely helpful.




The last one has a giant trick question: while everything else is “Bob on this side, Phil on that side,” their ties are intentionally on the wrong side (so they can do a cute little bit where they realize they have the wrong tie and throw them across the table at each other). That particular situation is why the color-coded text for each guy’s clothes was necessary.

The labeling of the photo (as opposed to taking pics and also drawing a diagram) is also super-useful in situations such as this where not all the props are physically there, because you can clearly point out where the “invisible” things are, like the towel and pocket square (which we didn’t realize were needed until we started blocking), and Phil’s shoes (which I believe were being de-tap-i-fied at this time). Yes, that’s a word.

I highly recommend doing this for any preset tricky enough to require good photos as well as descriptive labels. Once you get comfortable with the software it doesn’t take long. And when you’ve got all your photos in your Evernote note, you can quickly save it as a PDF and share it with whoever you need to (or, if you’ve got a shared Evernote notebook with your team, they will automatically have it).

January 23, 2010

Best Prop Note Ever – With Video

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 10:04 pm

Tonight Nick was checking the prop preset and found something amazing: a wonderfully humorous way to remind actors not to take props back to their dressing rooms instead of returning them to the prop table.

Nick and I report from the scene:


The object in question was a kazoo, which an actor had taken to his dressing room in his costume pocket. Around the kazoo was attached a note: “Return to prop table! Or face the wrath of the fearsome Kazoo Beast!”

Artist’s rendering of Kazoo Beast:


In the background at the end of the video you can hear some offscreen noise. This could have been edited out, but was left in, because Nick and I find it as funny as the Kazoo Monster. So here’s the story:

Last year we did this play called The Spy, which contained a scene in which the American revolutionary Captain Lawson confronts the British officer Colonel Welmere. He says, “Why is it, Colonel, that I don’t trust you at this moment?” right before getting stabbed by the Skinner who was supposed to be helping him, as seen here in this production photo:

Of course this scene was run at fight call every night before the show, starting from the line before the violence. Since Wellmere was not actually involved in the violence, he didn’t need to be there, and Andy, who played Captain Lawson, would have no one to talk to. So somehow it came about that I would stand in for Wellmere so Andy didn’t have to talk to the air. Thus at fight call, the line became, “Why is it, Karen, that I don’t trust you at this moment?” before Chris Thorn, who played the Skinner, would stab him.

At one of our last performances of The Spy, our wardrobe supervisor hatched a plot to dress me up in Colonel Wellmere’s costume as a surprise for Andy at fight call. Here’s a photo of that incident:

So anyway, back to the present. In our show there’s a moment where Tybalt leaps off the stairs from the balcony, does some fancy cane-twirling and says “Turn thee, Benvolio, look upon thy death.” After fight call is over, just before we open the house, Isaac practices the jump and the cane-spinning. Since I’m milling about the stage trying to open the house, I’m usually in his way, so I’ve taken to placing myself where Benvolio stands, so I’m doing something useful rather than just being in his way. Chris Thorn is in the company again this year, and after witnessing this one night, said “Why is it, Karen–” and we all had a good laugh remembering the fun we had with that last year.

So tonight while we were filming this little video, Chris wandered out onto the empty stage and exclaimed to no one in particular, “Karen–? Why is it, Karen…?” and it happened to get captured on the video, which Nick and I thought was hysterical. So we left it in.

April 22, 2007

Further Adventures with the Rubik’s Cube

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 6:34 pm

So since my first day with the Rubik’s Cube which concluded with me spending two hours at home fixing it, I think I have had a total of one day of rehearsal which did not involve me having to solve the cube at least once. Many days I have had to do it two or three times. I have saved the site I use to help me to my Treo’s web browser, so I can call it up during rehearsal to fix the cube as we work. Since my duties right now basically consist of taking prop notes and being on book, any time we stop to talk about blocking or character work, I use that time to follow the directions and fiddle with the cube. Of course viewing a graphically-intensive page on such a small screen can get confusing, especially when the diagrams to show the moves don’t all fit on the screen at once. I have hopelessly screwed up an almost-solved cube numerous times because I got distracted at some point and obviously did something wrong.

Today I realized the need for a cheat sheet, and I made a crude pencil one during rehearsal, which worked very well. Tonight I arranged the graphics from that site into a concise page, which should eliminate a lot of the delays in restoring the cube during rehearsal.

The actor who uses the cube in the show has really taken to it, and perhaps due to the fact that he spends a lot of rehearsal sitting around, has come up with a good system to screw up the cube enough that it appears to be sufficiently jumbled-up, but he can solve it in six moves without getting confused. Unfortunately our cube is rather cheap and gets jammed a lot — it’s quite comical that when he practices he solves the cube easily while delivering his dialogue, but as soon as he gets in front of the director, the cube refuses to work smoothly and makes the whole endeavor look like a bad idea. But we’re confident we’ll get it to work. I’ve been trying to break the cube in for him during rehearsals when he’s not around. Which is how I got it screwed up today — the first time. The second time was because my PSM was messing with it and handed it to me saying, “Here, see if you can figure it out — it’s only two moves away.” I failed. Miserably.

I hate doing props, but one nice thing about it is that you can pick up really random skills.

April 17, 2007

Prop Master’s Nightmare — The Rubik’s Cube

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 7:01 pm

So my show has a Rubik’s Cube in it. And it needs to be solvable on stage by the actor in just a few turns. How exactly this is going to be set up so it works every night, we haven’t quite figured out yet. My instinct is to let the actor take it home and play with it, and figure out what works best for him. There’s been some concern about the possibility of the Rubik’s Cube getting hopelessly mixed up, but I assured everyone that in the unlikely event something happened to it, there are sites on the internet that show you the moves necessary to solve it. No big deal.

So today… the Cube wasn’t needed in rehearsal, so it sat on the stage management desk the entire day, and to stay sane while being on-book, I began spinning the cube, always in one direction, unless I was looking right at it, at which point I would spin it once the other way, and then quickly restore it.

After four hours of safe operation, I started to get a little too daring, and you can guess what happened. Long story short, if you need to solve a Rubik’s Cube, this site is the best I found for simple instructions and illustrations. But I will never get back the last two hours of my life, and I leave you with this bit of wisdom: the easiest way to solve a Rubik’s Cube is not to mess with it in the first place!