Props can cover everything, from dining chairs to a pair of spectacles. The term usually applies to items that can be brought onto or removed from a stage set, for example, items that can be carried.
Some props can be expensive, or difficult to find, so learn to be creative and canny when it comes to finding, making, borrowing or buying props for your youth theatre productions. When you buy a play script it should have a list of props that you’ll need for that play. Take that list with you wherever you go so that you never miss an opportunity to get hold of an item you might need! Keep your eyes open for any items that you might be able to use and snap them up as soon as you see them. You snooze, you lose!
Go to your local refuse dump or recycling centre to look through items that people have thrown, or are throwing, away.
Ask teachers, school governors, friends, family and neighbours for items you can beg or borrow. Some people have an attic full of old telephones, lampshades, crockery – and even furniture! Type up the list of items you need and email it out to everyone. Make sure, if borrowing props, that you make a note of who they belong to and take great care of them.
Get parents, teachers, family, friends and neighbours into the habit of asking you first before they throw anything away.
Visit charity shops and second-hand stores and buy interesting or useful items. Sometimes charity shops will allow you to leave your props list and a telephone number and will contact you if a suitable item is brought in. You’ll be donating to charity and getting a useful bargain at the same time!
Use social media to contact any schools or youth theatres in your area who might have put on a production of your play and who may have props you can borrow. Give them a couple of free tickets as a thank you and make sure that you take great care of anything they loan you.
Get creative! Learn to be imaginative with a table, a couple of plastic chairs, or a clothes rail and large pieces of cloth. Never throw old sheets, towels or pillowcases away because you never know when the material might come in handy.
Make papier-mâché your friend. Newspapers are easy to get hold of, wallpaper paste is relatively cheap. Mix the two together and you can use the resulting papery gloop to cover or mould a huge range of items. Make tree stumps by papering over shaped chicken-wire; make bowls by using papier-mâché over a blown-up balloon; rocks, ornaments, even food can all be made from papier-mâché! Use PVA glue if you want to be a little more sophisticated in your technique, and plain paper rather than newspaper if you need to be able to decorate your item in a more refined style.
Visit DIY stores for any unwanted items such as carpet offcuts or bits of wood. The offer of a free mention or advert in your programme will help to generate goodwill. Also check out your local Community Repaint as they have large supplies of unused or half-used paint. Again, be sure to include them in your programme as a thank you.
Remember the power of suggestion: items only need to look like and suggest what they are; they don’t have to actually be what they are. Trees or bushes can be made from plywood, paper and paint; cauldrons can be large papier-mâché bowls painted black; two chairs pushed together, padded with cushions and draped with a throw could be a sofa. Use the magic of the theatre to your advantage.
If all else fails, hold a fundraiser and use the money to hire specialist props for your youth theatre production. See our Directory for companies offering prop hire.