Props: short for properties. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: “A theatrical property, commonly referred to as a prop, is an object used on stage by actors to further the plot or story line of a theatrical production. Smaller props are referred to as “hand props”. Larger props may also be set decoration, such as a chair or table.”
While (I suppose) you can stage a show that features actors on a black empty stage and depends entirely on dialogue and emotion, it would be pretty boring. One of my favourite aspects of producing a show is finding and creating props: it demands creativity, thinking outside the box, and if you’re an amateur group, borrowing, scrounging and making do.
So what props does Macbeth need? Well, for starters, there are numerous battles, murders, and fights, so there must be weapons, shields, knives and blood (about which more later.) This production of Macbeth has been fortunate to have a connection to an expert on period weapons and fighting techniques so we have weapons ranging from pikes and daggers to broad axes and bows. One of the highlights of the show will be a sword fight between Macduff and Macbeth in the final scene.
There is a banquet scene in the play that demands formality – but we’re playing this out of doors. Four picnic tables have been brought in to join the one in the park and each will be fitted out with a tablecloth, pewter or clay vessels, and baskets and bowls of food. And, because this play is being staged to encourage audience participation, 24 attendees at each show will sit at four of the picnic tables and drink something potable while Banquo’s ghost haunts Macbeth.
Later in the show the audience will pick up tree branches to carry Birnam Wood to Dunsinane. It is the props team’s job to get enough tree branches for an audience of 100 to join the cast in the march on Macbeth’s castle.
One of the more challenging aspects of props for this show are the ingredients for the witches’ cauldron, not to mention the cauldron itself. It is a credit to the director that this scene, which could easily descend to farce, will not. We’re still looking for some items: anyone out there have a wolf’s tooth or a shark’s stomach?
Earlier I mentioned blood. One person has taken on the task of coming up with several recipes for blood: blood for the battle casualties (which can be left in from one show to the next), blood for daggers and hands, and blood for clothes that will need to be cleaned. Experiments are proceeding with poster paint, finger paints, cocoa, peanut butter, dish soap, but not corn syrup (a component of many recipes) as this may attract ants and would require thorough cleaning between shows.
When you watch the show, you will hardly be conscious of the hundreds of props, but without them, many a scene would not unfold with such drama and realism.