The props department is primarily responsible for the things that the actors interact with that do not involve scenery, microphones, or costumes (although there is an inevitable overlap).
Props will generally be stored in large open-faced boxes or on props tables. Every prop will be in a specific labled spot. The basic rule with props is do not touch it unless you are assigned to, and always put it back where it goes.
Props can be used to dress the scene, enhance a character, fill a space, contribute to the story or mood, and sometimes provide special effects.
Hand props are anything handled or carried by an actor. They could include staffs, food, fans, weapons, lanterns and candles, canes, staffs, parasols, and fake cigarettes.
Personal props are props worn or carried by a particular actor and given specifically to him or her rather than stored on the prop table.
Set props are dressings for the set like furniture.
Some set dressings are "practicals", props like lamps or Christmas tree lights that perform on stage as they do in real life. These may be the responsibility of either the props department or the electricians.
- Trim props are a type of set dressing that hang on the walls, like pictures and curtains.
Greens are plants, live or artificial.
Mechanical special effects are any special effect that does not electricity to operate (i.e. pull pins or a strings), Mechanical noise-makers like thunder sheets or prop gunshots also fall under props.
Mechanical fog makers involve combining dry ice with water and pumping the fog out of a tube to direct it onto stage.
[Dry ice is vary hazardous to skin. Always wear thick gloves when handling dry ice.]
Breakaways are props designed to break on cue.
Other Props Tasks
The props department is typically given many other odd jobs that don't fit into specific departments. These can include
Putting down the Marley - a vinyl flooring rolled out and
stretched using a kicking method called "the marley shuffle"
Setting the orchestra pit - This includes setting out the chair,
music stands, individual lights, instruments, cabling, small video
monitors to see the conductor, and personal mixers called 'AVIOMs'.
Setting up snacks and drinks for break
On long runs of shows the props department might be responsible for such things as:
Deconstruction, construction, maintenance or cleaning of properties
Refilling water jugs
Sweeping and mopping the stage. Sometimes the show prefers a
French Mop, which is a damp towel wrapped around a push broom.
Stocking courtesy items like facial tissues and lozenges
Moral of the story is, if you are assigned to the props crew, don't be surprised by anything you are asked to do.