Theatre Design & Technology - Spring 2021 - 54

BOOK REVIEWS

CATHERINE MANTOOTH, EDITOR

The Properties Director's Toolkit:
Managing a Prop Shop for Theatre
2nd ed.
By Sandra J. Strawn and Lisa Schlenker
Routledge, 270 pages
Paperback $44.95, hardcover $160, eBook
$40.45

spaces, and levels of autonomy within
any venue's properties environment.
In almost every chapter, Strawn and
Schlenker acknowledge these variables
and speak to the differing situations, acknowledging best-case scenarios and offering advice on how to deal with tougher
environments. Advice for these less-thanideal situations includes budgeting, uncollaborative colleagues, and small shops.
The only time the authors admit that they
cannot provide for all the different caveats
is in the subject of co-productions, saying, " ...there are as many versions of coproduction contracts as there are stars in
the sky. " The way they tackle these diverse
subjects with grace, clarity, and a bit of
humor, is impressive. The varying subject
matter could easily become confusing
and heady, but throughout, the language
remains clear cut and easy to understand.

Reviewed by Rebecca Bandy
To describe this text as comprehensive is
an understatement. Sandra J. Strawn and
Lisa Schlenker's The Properties Director's Toolkit takes the reader from a basic
understanding of what type of employees
could possibly make up a properties shop,
continues towards an understanding of
props in general, and then progresses to
very specific topics, such as how to effectively and efficiently tackle the prop work
of a co-production. Along the way, they
explore several avenues of prop work, including film, opera, Broadway, academic
theatre, and more. The text's building
block structure makes the content very
accessible and offers a great invitation
for anyone of any background to successfully understand how to start a career in
props. I wanted to copy the first chapter
and send it to all the friends and family
who have never been able to understand
exactly what I do.
As stated clearly in the text, properties departments are set up in myriad
ways. There are endless jigsaw puzzles
that consist of a variety of shop staff, shop

54 | THEATRE DESIGN & TECHNOLOGY | SPRING 2021

The authors
share their
decades of prop
knowledge,
and they also
invited several
props artisans
from across
the country to
include pictures
of their shops,
projects, and
paperwork-
vital visuals to
support each
chapter's main
ideas.

The authors share their decades of
prop knowledge, and they also invited
several props artisans from across the
country to include pictures of their shops,
projects, and paperwork--vital visuals to
support each chapter's main ideas. Also
included are interviews from various theatre professionals from across the country--not only properties directors--which
were a great addition to the text. The inclusion of diverse real-world perspectives
on props, the way the department should
function, and how props work differs
between mediums, is a strength. These
additions underscored the authors' emphasis on collaboration being essential in
the properties world.
There are very few critiques, but
there are a few instances where content
seems to be written for a large properties
shop with many workers to whom duties
could be delegated. For example, a lot of
paperwork is discussed, specifically in
Chapter 6, which focuses on budgeting.
This section is informative and impressively done, but a reader beginning their
props career may think that these things
have to be done fully to be running a shop
successfully. In actuality, there is never
enough time to maintain this level of itemized, in-depth paperwork in many shops.
There are, of course, certain academic
scenarios that force a properties director to identify every piece of material and
minute of labor going into a project, but
most often a general estimate can work to
keep a small shop within budget.
Overall, this text is thorough, easy to
understand, and engaging. The multiple
sources of information make it truly feel
like a well-rounded, complete toolkit. This
reference guide would be ideal for beginners, independent learners, or a class devoted to props. There are many lessons
that can be discussed and expanded upon
in class, and thus it is a good teaching tool
for professors, too.
Rebecca Bandy is a properties artisan who
has run both professional and academic shops.
She is currently Props Master at the Phoenix
Theatre Company.



Theatre Design & Technology - Spring 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Theatre Design & Technology - Spring 2021

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