December 2015

Print this page ›

December 2015

News & Notices

Member Spotlight: Eric Hart is a Master of Props

Eric B. Hart, prop maker, Prop Master at Triad Stage in North Carolina, author of The Prop Building Guidebook, and editor of the Prop Agenda blog.

USITT: How did you get involved in props?

Eric: I was born in Brooklyn, but my parents moved us to a farm in Pennsylvania when I was five. They are both potters, and turned the barns into various studios and workshops. So I grew up around art and around making things with your hands.

I started doing theatre in high school, and hung out with the theatre kids as an undergrad. I originally went to college as an engineer, but switched to a theatre degree about halfway through, with an emphasis in scene design. After a few years working as a stagehand/technician, I went back to graduate school as a scene designer, and had to do my work study in the props shop, run by Tom Fiocchi (of Ohio University). I then got a job in the props shop at the Santa Fe Opera with Randy Lutz. Between Tom and Randy, I found I really loved props, so I left grad school and have been basically doing it ever since.

What’s behind your Prop Agenda blog?

My first post on the Prop Agenda blog was in January of 2009. I was trying to find websites and blogs about props and prop making, but there really weren’t any at the time. Now there are lots more places to read about props and theatre, but mine seems to be read by a lot of people in the industry. I've gotten to meet a lot of people through it, and people I work with tell me that my blog usually pops up near the top of Google when they search for something weird, like "Giant champagne bottles," or "How to make an exploding cuckoo clock." And now with the book, they sort of go hand in hand; people who read my blog were some of the first people who bought my book, and people who get my book find out about my blog and become regular readers. The content is a mix of things I find around the Internet, my own projects, other people's projects, and general rants that I have every now and then.

How does your blog fit into your day job?

I post twice a week. I usually wake up a few hours earlier than I need to go in to work so I have time to work on my next book, feed my cats, and play with my baby. I share my blog posts on my Twitter account as well as on the Facebook page for my book.

What keeps you involved in USITT?

I love the fact that I can see so many people I know at the USITT conferences. It's a great way to maintain personal contact with people I usually only talk to through email, or with people I haven't seen in a few years. There's always so much sharing of information and news at the conferences; whenever I come home from one, I have all these new ideas and products I want to try. TD&T is wonderful too, especially since it is one of the only publications devoted to technical theatre. I feel like all the things USITT does helps create a sense of shared history and direction for the technical theatre industry. Rather than all of us working alone in our little theatres throughout the country, it makes it seem more like one larger community.

So what’s a fave prop you made recently? Your favorite ‘found’ prop item?

I just made a mace for Deathtrap that I was pretty happy with. It was actually a really quick project; I made it during tech rehearsals for the show. For a found prop item, I needed a bar, again for Deathtrap. I found this dresser that was in pretty beat up shape, but it had great legs and hardware. I lopped the top set of drawers off and took some of the other drawers out, turning the space into open shelving. I was also able to take the hardware off the unused drawers and use them on the desk which was also in the scene. With a bit of refinishing, it looked like this amazing mid-century bar, even though it started out as an old dresser from a flea market.

What are your fave new technologies for prop-making?

I wish I had easier access to more digital fabrication tools. I've done a few things on a CNC router and have had some stuff laser cut for me in the past, but I usually don't have time or money to do it on a regular basis. But you can do some pretty exciting stuff with those tools. I also like all the electronics you can get nowadays which have shrunk in size and become so easy to use. You can pop a little wireless speaker or a wireless dimmer and some LEDs into the smallest of spaces now. It's amazing.

Thanks for sharing! We look forward to seeing more of your work!

Video: Eric solves the ‘window shade gag’ from The 39 Steps.