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A prop table backstage for the musical number ""Food, Glorious Food" in the musical production, "Oliver!

A prop, formally known as (theatrical) property,[1] is an object used on stage or on screen by "actors during a "performance or "screen production. In practical terms, a prop is considered to be anything movable or portable on a stage or a set, distinct from the actors, scenery, costumes, and electrical equipment. Consumable food items appearing in the production are also considered props.[2][3][4][5]



The earliest known use of the term "properties" in English to refer to stage accessories is in the 1425 CE "Morality play, "The Castle of Perseverance.[6][7] The Oxford English Dictionary finds the first usage of "props" in 1841, while the singular form of "prop" appeared in 1911.[8] During the "Renaissance in "Europe, small acting troupes functioned as cooperatives, pooling resources and dividing any income. Many performers provided their own costumes, but special items—stage weapons, furniture or other hand-held devices—were considered "company property"; hence the term "property."[9][10] Some experts however seem to think that the term comes from the idea that stage or screen objects "belong" to whoever uses them on stage.[5]

There is no difference between props in different media, such as theatre, film, or television. Bland Wade, a properties director, says, "A coffee cup onstage is a coffee cup on television, is a coffee cup on the big screen." He adds, "There are definitely different responsibilities and different vocabulary."[11]

On stage and backstage[edit]

Props storage room of the National Theatre, Germany

The term "theatrical property" originated to describe an object used in a stage play and similar entertainments to further the action. Technically, a prop is any object that gives the scenery, actors, or performance space specific period, place, or character.["inconsistent] The term comes from live-performance practice, especially theatrical methods, but its modern use extends beyond the traditional plays and musical, circus, novelty, comedy, and even public-speaking performances, to film, television, and electronic media.

Props in a production originate from off stage unless they have been preset on the stage before the production begins. Props are stored on a prop table backstage near the actor's entrance during production then generally locked in a storage area between performances. The person in charge of handling the props is generally called the "props master". Other positions also include coordinators, production assistants and interns as may be needed for a specific project.

Modern usage[edit]

The term has readily transferred to "television, "motion picture and "video game production, where they are commonly referred to by the phrase movie prop, film prop or simply prop. In recent years, the increasing popularity of "movie memorabilia (a broader term that also includes costumes) has added new meaning to the term "prop", broadening its existence to include a valuable after-life as a prized collector's item. Typically not available until after a film's premiere, movie props appearing on-screen are called "screen-used", and can fetch thousands of dollars in online auctions and charity benefits.[12][13]

Many props are ordinary objects. However, a prop must "read well" from the house or on-screen, meaning it must look real to the audience. Many real objects are poorly adapted to the task of looking like themselves to an audience, due to their size, durability, or color under bright lights, so some props are specially designed to look more like the actual item than the real object would look. In some cases, a prop is designed to behave differently from how the real object would, often for the sake of safety.

Examples of special props are:


  1. ^ Oxford Dictionaries Online Archived 2016-08-17 at the "Wayback Machine. "old-fashioned term for prop"
  2. ^ Nesfield-Cookson, Mary (1934). Small Stage Properties and Furniture. London: G. Allen & Unwin. p. 11. 
  3. ^ Conway, Heather (1959). Stage Properties. London: H. Jenkins. p. 11. 
  4. ^ Govier, Jacquie (1984). Create Your Own Stage Props. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. p. 8. "ISBN "0-13-189044-1. 
  5. ^ a b Harris, Margaret (1975). "Introduction". In Motley. Theatre Props. New York: Drama Book Specialists/Publishers. p. 7. "ISBN "0-910482-66-7. 
  6. ^ Hart, Eric (19 October 2009). "First use of "Property" in the theatrical sense". Prop Agenda. Archived from the original on 22 February 2014. Retrieved 7 April 2013. 
  7. ^ Cook, Dutton (1878). "Stage Properties". Belgravia. 35. pp. 282–284. 
  8. ^ prop, n./6; Third edition, September 2009; online version November 2010. <http://www.oed.com:80/Entry/152851>; accessed 13 January 2011. An entry for this word was first included in New English Dictionary, 1908.
  9. ^ "Eric Partridge Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English: Second Edition. Random House 1959
  10. ^ Kenneth Macgowan and William Melnitz The Living Stage. Prentice-Hall 1955.
  11. ^ Wade, Blande (2010). "Through the Eyes of the Property Director". Theatre Symposium. 18: 8. "ISBN "978-0-8173-7005-3. "ISSN 1065-4917. 
  12. ^ Ian Mohr "Daily Variety. Reed Business Information, February 27, 2006 "Movie props on the block: Mouse to auction Miramax leftovers" Archived 2007-10-21 at the "Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ David James, "People Magazine, Time, Inc. February 24, 2007 "Bid on Dreamgirls Costumes for Charity" Archived 2007-02-26 at the "Wayback Machine.
  14. ^ "HOUSE INTERIOR PROPS". faculty.trinity.edu. Archived from the original on 30 April 2018. Retrieved 30 April 2018. 
  15. ^ Coyle, Richard. "A Collector's Guide To Hand Props". RACprops. Archived from the original on 3 June 2009. Retrieved 9 July 2009. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

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