Teaching Drama Technical Theatre

Round-Up: Your Costume & Prop Challenges!

Costume Prop Challenges
Written by Kerry Hishon

We reached out to you, our amazing community, through social media to ask, What are your biggest props/costume challenges for your productions or upcoming show?.Turns out, there are lots of challenges that drama teachers are facing when it comes to props and costumes! Here are just a few of the concerns that came up, with some suggestions for dealing with these issues.

1. Dealing with those crucial, yet difficult, costumes or props that are specific to a particular show.

There is always something that is absolutely necessary to the plot of the show that is a royal pain in the butt to try and create or acquire – either it’s super-expensive, technically difficult, or just really hard to find. Some of the challenges mentioned included acquiring the printing press and loads of newspapers in Newsies, finding sardines and fishing lures (without hooks) for Noises Off, and creating an amulet that lights up and that the actor can control (possibly for a show like The Little Mermaid or Peter and the Starcatcher).

  • For these crucial items, make it the highest priority to get them taken care of early. Don’t leave these items until the last minute to try and find.
  • Search out other productions and see what they did with that specific prop or costume and how. For example, for the light-up amulet, I have seen similar items made out of a battery-operated tea light or lit up with a flashlight. Try posting on a theatrical message board or Facebook group (like the Theatrefolk Facebook page!) to see if other directors have ideas or creative solutions.
  • Sometimes talking to friends or other teachers not associated with the production can help to gain a new perspective or great idea for creating or acquiring a particular item. They also might have a connection that you weren’t aware of. For example, a friend of mine was directing The Music Man and was having a tough time finding the matching band uniforms. I just happened to know a friend of my mother’s who is associated with our local university’s marching band. I was able to make a connection between the director and the marching band leader, who was willing to rent the items out for the production. You never know where a connection could occur.
  • Try Getting Other Departments Involved in Your Production. Again, your colleagues and other students at your school can be great resources for new, fresh ideas.
2. Dealing with soooooo many costume changes!

Some shows have what seems like hundreds of costume changes, which creates a whole host of issues: finding/creating/acquiring all the costumes, staying on budget, storing the costumes during the run of the show, and general chaos in the backstage area. Consider the following:

  • See if there are costume items that can be worn layered for faster changes.
  • Could you go deliberately minimalistic and have your students wear a set of basics (for example, a black shirt and black pants and add/remove items as needed?
  • Don’t feel that you need to change every single item for a costume change to be effective. Sometimes just changing a hat, jacket, jewelry, or other accessories can make all the difference.
  • Be sure that every item backstage is labeled with the name of the student who wears the piece.
  • Arrange students’ costumes so that those with the most or fastest changes have quick and easy access to their stuff – i.e., put their costumes nearest to the stage.
  • Rehearse any difficult or particularly fast changes as part of your standard run-throughs of the show. Have extra costume team members or assistant stage managers available to act as dressers and help with quick changes.
  • Start working with costumes early and do as many costume run-throughs of your show as possible so students can be organized and familiar with their costume items.
3. Needing to get period costumes and props for low- to no-budget productions.

We’ve got you covered! Check out these articles from the Theatrefolk blog for help:

Do you have a costume- or props-related question you’d like to ask us? Leave a comment or send us a message and we might answer it in an upcoming blog post!

Click here for a free classroom exercise: Costuming Your Show for $50 or Less

Kerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer and stage combatant from London, Ontario, Canada. She blogs at www.kerryhishon.com.

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About the author

Kerry Hishon

Kerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer and stage combatant from London, Ontario, Canada. View her blog at www.kerryhishon.com.