Props need not be expensive or complicated! Here is our list of twenty items and some ideas for using them that can help bring your students' performance to life.
If you're traveling for a festival, put these together in a "Road Box." If you're not, having a box of items handy can be useful for classroom exercises.
1. Sheets: A sheet can become a toga, a ghost, a cape, a long skirt, a long headdress, or the back of a horse. Patterned sheets work too. A sheet can double as a tablecloth, a curtain, and the markings of a small room.
2. Scarves/bandannas: Smaller pieces of material can transform an outfit. Matching scarves can represent military honors or household allegiances (think of Capulets and Montagues). They can also serve as head wraps, bandages for the wounded, or a sign of rank. Red scarves are also useful to represent blood – especially when fake blood is not allowed, like on the Folger stage.
3. Bathrobes and/or men’s shirt: Oversized and belted, they can symbolize a variety of different clothing: i.e. a bathrobe can be used as a king’s robe.
4. Bedroom Slippers: The perfect substitute for pantoufles (Elizabethan shoes).
5. Makeup: You can work wonders with an eyebrow pencil and lipstick. Wigs are a specialized subset of makeup. While a trunk full of specialized wigs is great – and Halloween shopping can provide many fabulous opportunities – you can also create your own wigs with cotton balls, glue and a swim cap.
6. Ribbon: Can be used for multiple set and costume decorations.
7. Fashion Hats: Hats are a wonderful and transformative item you can carry in a prop box. You need a little else to make an outfit. Hats are also great for performers who double parts – it’s much easier to change just the hat rather than the entire outfit.
8. Jewelry: A collection of junk jewelry will look fabulous on stage.
9. Masks: Plain masks are inexpensive and can be decorated to fit the appropriate part. They’re very useful for ball scenes, or course – think of Romeo and Juliet – but they are also great in disguise scenes or when creating supernatural characters.
10. Sword and daggers: Essential for most histories and tragedies. Although these can be made from cardboard, you can also buy cheap plastic swords at most toy shops or use paint sticks. Avoid anything with a sharp point. Err on the side of caution.
11. Silk flowers: Legend has it that using real flowers on stage is bad luck. It’s also very expensive. Buy bright, eye-catching silk flowers that can be used as Ophelia’s herbs, Juliet’s wedding bouquet or the adornments of Titania’s bower.
12. Heavy Rope: Not only can the rope serve its obvious function – tying this and people up when required – it can also serve as a leash or as the demarcation of mystical space on stage.
13. Candles: Unlit create a sense of light in darkness.
14. Crowns: Shakespeare’s plays are littered with royalty. Invest in a few plastic crowns, or get some cardboard ones free from Burger King and cover them with foil for a brilliant effect.
15. Staff: Can be used as a cane, a scepter, or as a magic wand.
16. Money: Old cigar boxes filled with pennies can serve as chests of gold.
Pouches – which need be no more than circles of fabric tied with ribbon – can hang from a performer’s belt, conveying a sense of wealth.
17. Scrolls: Take any piece of paper, roll it up, tie it with a ribbon, and you have a lover’s letter, the royal decree, and the poet’s verse.
18. Tableware: Empty plastic bottles, clear plastic plates and goblets are readily available and will last quite a long time. Avoid glass, which can shatter when dropped by a nervous performer.
19. Toys: Almost any toy can create a fantastical atmosphere: yoyos, pinwheels, etc.
20. Musical Instruments: Never underestimate the power of music. Whether a beat of war in a history play or a tambourine jingling in a comedy, simple rhythm instruments will add a powerful new layer to the spoken word. Harmonicas, kazoos, or whistles are can be wonderful additions as well.