What Are the Benefits of Using Stage Props?

by Ryn Gargulinski
Stage props are objects with which a character interacts.

Stage props are objects with which a character interacts.

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A play without stage props is possible, but the performance will generally not be as rich, interesting and realistic as a play that uses props. Stage props, officially known as properties, are objects with which the actor interacts that are not part of the background or stage set. A tree in the distance is not a prop, but the ax or saw grasped in the character's hand is.

Realism and Recognition

Props can greatly enhance the realistic nature of a scene. A plain room with a table becomes a fancy restaurant when you add a tablecloth, candles and fine china; that same space becomes a police interrogation room with a tape recorder, video camera and autopsy files strewn on the tabletop. Props help the audience immediately recognize and register where a scene is taking place. Two people sitting on the stage floor might not mean much on their own, but add a blanket, wicker basket and paper plates and the scene instantly reflects an outdoor picnic.

Story Development

Props can also help the audience understand the action of the play, especially action that happens offstage, which the audience does not see but is expected to imagine. A character rushing onto the stage with a gun, for example, immediately indicates he just left a place of violence and danger. A character grabbing his coat and hat indicates he's about to leave the indoor environment for the outdoors; in contrast, that same character entering and removing his coat and hat shows he's comfortable in his surroundings and planning to stay awhile.

Character Development

Props add to your understanding and development of the character. A nervous guy in the kitchen, for instance, might be mindlessly wiping up crumbs with a dish rag; a perfectionist might be incessantly folding the rag or rearranging the dishes. A distracted character might end up staring at the dish rage or dishes rather than listening to anything around him, and a lazy character can make a point of not bothering to touch the dish rag for cleaning up his mess. Props need to serve as an enhancement, not a distraction. Make sure you don't overdo or let the prop steal the scene.

Considerations

When possible, go for lightweight, plastic or Styrofoam props that are easy to maneuver and are unbreakable. Prop retailers sell them; you can gather props from your home, thrift stores or novelty shops; or you can make your own. Props should be safe -- as well as legal. Your character fidgeting with an unlit cigarette, perhaps frantically searching for a match, will go over better than your character smoking in a nonsmoking theater. And no matter how realistic you want a Fourth of July scene to be, it's not a good idea to dance around with sparklers or ignite fireworks on the stage.

About the Author

Ryn Gargulinski is a writer, artist and performer whose journalism career began in 1991. Credits include two illustrated books, "Bony Yoga" and "Rats Incredible." She holds a Master of Arts in English literature and folklore and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in creative writing with a French minor from Brooklyn College.

Photo Credits

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