10 Questions for a Broadway Pro: A Local 1 Stagehand talks Props.
My office is right next to the Eugene O’Neill theater, home to the recently departed Fela!, home to the soon-to-arrive Book of Mormon, and the permanent home of Chris Beck, the Property Master or “Head of Props”.
Props men and women have to do it all. Whenever there is ever a question about what department should handle a tricky technical situation, it’s always seems to end up on the Prop guy’s desk.
Chris Beck is no exception. But his renaissance-like skills extend past the properties department. In addition to his full time gig at the theater, Chris is also the Managing Director of Lights Up & Cue Sound, a lighting and sound rental company that services Broadway, Off-Broadway, touring and installation markets. Oh, and they also do parties too – if you came to my social (the only social in the city with moving lights), you saw their equipment in action.
On top of all this, Chris is a heck of a nice guy who just plain loves the theater, which is why he was the first guy I thought of when I wanted to do a 10 Qs with a stagehand.
Take it away, Chris.
1. What is your title?
Property Master, Eugene O’ Neill Theatre
2. What show/shows are you currently working on?
Fela! (which we are loading out right now) and the upcoming Book of Mormon (which will start loading in as soon as we finish with Fela!)
3. In one sentence, describe your job.
I load in, assemble, fabricate and handle all props necessary for an attraction at the O’Neill, in addition to maintaining all seats, curtains and furniture owned by the theatre.
4. What skills are necessary for a person in your position?
Basic carpentry and electric with specializations in seat repair and maintenance. One winds up with a rather large scope of highly specialized and unusual skills. From building a radio controlled and dimmable lantern to arranging flowers “just so”.
5. What kind of training did you go through to get to your position?
On the job. In theatre, you must learn from the best people you can find, failing that, jump in and make it work (safely).
6. What was your first job in theater?
Load in crew on the Great Lawn in Central Park for the Statue of Liberty Centennial Celebration
7. Why do you think theater is important?
The ability to take someone from depths of depression to the heights of exhilaration in the span of about 2 hours broadens horizons and changes perceptions.
8. What is your profession’s greatest challenge today?
The same as it’s been since Shakespeare’s time, finding the new idea.
9. If you could change just one thing about the industry with the wave of a magic wand, what would it be?
The schedule. All shows would play during the week during the day. The theatre gives so much, but cannot replace time missed with family and friends.
10. What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do what you do?
Get your degree and take as many classes on as many things you think you may need as a Prop Master. It will never be enough! A wise Prop Man I know said he was going to write two books on the subject: one entitled Absolutely Everything You’ll Need to Know About Props and the sequel, Throw Away the Book, Baby, This Is How It Really Is!.
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