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Props | Op-Ed

Kathryn Higgins | Arts Ministries Director

Every prop has power. It draws attention to itself, weather you want it to or not. It can be endowed with complex characteristics and bring your piece to life; acting as your pas de deux partner. Dance and drama in our context (ex. church,  street evangelism, camp ministry…) often means doing our best to drive home the message as clearly as possible, as quickly as possible.  But… just because the lyrics/script mention a prop,  does not mean we need to physically have it on stage. Often when I see a prop being used it almost immediately gets tossed aside where the audience, of course, stares at its lonely shell on the floor until it’s touched again; usually to be removed at the end of the piece.

Audiences love to feel smart…
1+1=2… easy
1+ ? =2 … more interesting

Allow your audience to figure something out, even if it seems simple to you.  Think, how else can I explore this concept without spoon-feeding my audience?

In dance, if your song mentions a journal; be the journal. Be the pages turning.  Be the writer. Be the letters on the page.  There is a plethora of creative solutions outside of having the physical item in your hands. Do we really need to see the item to believe that it’s there? Could it be even more powerful to imply it, rather than display it? Remember, a prop can be limiting to movement if you’re not thinking outside the box. Can I still turn with this or do I feel stuck here, just showing the audience something I have?

In drama, if your script calls for a prop or set piece, take another read-over the script and imagine the whole thing without any props at all. Ask yourself, is it necessary? Could the prop be a potential distraction if it’s only used for a moment? Will the piece still carry a clear message without it?  Filling a set with beautiful props and never having your characters interact with them can be torture to an audience.  Remember, actors love to have something to do with their hands and it often makes them look much more natural! If you’re going to the trouble of gathering accurate-looking items to dress your stage, get all the use out of them you can!

We want to take the audience on a journey, revealing a perspective they might not have seen without an artist’s interpretation.

I would challenge prop-enthusiasts to use their selected item in every way imaginable:

The journal is now something to sit on.
It’s a stepping-stone.
It’s a hat, or shelter from the rain above your head.
Its pages can be torn out and thrown.
It can make sound (and a statement) when it closes, or when it’s dropped.
It’s another character altogether, representing something or someone in the piece who needs a physical presence on stage.  Now suddenly, you are not alone; there are two of you. And a duet is a different dance altogether.

Let’s use props in dance only when absolutely necessary; and then, use it to the full extent of your imagination!

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