A prop table backstage for the musical number "Food, Glorious Food" in the musical production, Oliver!

A prop, formally known as a (theatrical) property,[1] is an object actors use on stage or screen during a performance or screen production.[2] In practical terms, a prop is considered to be anything movable or portable on a stage or a set, distinct from the actors, scenery, costumes, and electrical equipment.[3][4][5]


The earliest known use of the term "properties" in English to refer to stage accessories is in the 1425 CE morality play, The Castle of Perseverance.[6][7]

During the Renaissance in Europe, small acting troupes functioned as cooperatives, pooling resources and dividing any income. Many performers provided their own costumes and small objects needed for performance, hence the term "property" suggesting these items belonged to the people on stage.[5] Conversely, items such as stage weapons or furniture may have been acquired specially and considered "company property".[8][9]

The Oxford English Dictionary finds the first usage of "props" in its shortened form in 1841, while the singular form "prop" appeared in 1911.[10]

"Property" and "prop" apply not only to props used in theatre, but also to props used in film and television. Properties director Bland Wade said "A coffee cup onstage is a coffee cup on television, is a coffee cup on the big screen," adding "There are definitely different responsibilities and different vocabulary."[11]

Backstage and on stage

Props storage room of the Mannheim National Theatre, Germany

During a performance props are set up in order, off stage on a table in an easily accessed area or pre-set on-stage before the performance begins by the assistant stage manager (ASM). The person in charge of preparing, maintaining and acquiring props is generally called the property master.[12]


Most props are ordinary objects. Some may require modification, such as rewiring of lamps to be compatible with dimmers or painting to make an object look used or be more visible from front of house under bright or dim lighting.

Props may also be manufactured specially for the production. This may be for reasons of weight, durability and safety or the item may be unique in appearance and/or function.


"Prop weapon" redirects here. For weapons used for simulated combat in LARPs, see Foam weapon.

A prop weapon, such as a gun or sword, can be a replica, a real weapon or a real weapon which has been modified to be non-functional.

To make melee weapons non-functional, swords often have their edges and points dulled. Knives are often made of plastic or rubber or have retractable blades.

Rubber bladed swords and guns may be used by stuntmen or actors where the action does not require detailed or functional weapons, in order to minimise risk.[13]


Main article: Weapons master

Main article: Prop gun

It is common for functioning firearms to be used in film and television productions usually firing blanks.

Due to the increased level of risk it is standard practice for the safe and proper handling and use of firearms as props to be overseen by a specifically trained and licensed professional, usually called the weapons master or armourer.[14]

Although blank cartridges do not fire projectiles, they still have an explosive charge and can cause fatal injury.

Dummy bullets are used if the prop is in closeup and chambered rounds in the cylinder of a revolver are visible to camera. They contain no primer or charge and are only "bullet shaped objects"[15]

Although rare, fatal firearm related incidents have occurred, notably Jon-Erik Hexum on October 18, 1984, Brandon Lee on March 31, 1993, and Halyna Hutchins on October 21, 2021.


A crew member carries prop concrete debris on the set of Superman.

Breakaway props are designed to be destroyed or break in use, such as furniture made from balsa-wood or cardboard and windows, bottles and glassware made from sugar glass or resin.[16] Cups, plates or vases may be made from bisque or wax.[17]

Although these are relatively safe, a stunt double may replace the main actor for scenes involving their use.


Hero props are the more detailed pieces intended for close inspection by the camera or audience. The hero prop may have legible writing, lights, moving parts, or other attributes or functions missing from a standard prop. The name refers to their typical use by main characters in a production.

A hero prop phaser from the Star Trek franchise, for example, might include a depressible trigger and a light-up muzzle and display panel (all of which would make the hero prop more expensive and less durable).


Although real money can be used,[18] when large quantities are required or the money is to be destroyed, it is usually more practical for facsimiles to be used, which are made to not only look realistic but also comply with counterfeiting laws.[19]


In recent years, the increasing popularity of movie memorabilia has elevated many props to the status of prized collectors items. "Screen-used" props can fetch vast sums at auctions and charity benefits.[20][21]

There is also a growing industry in the making of replicas of well known hero props for home display, cosplay or LARP use.

See also


  1. ^ Oxford Dictionaries Online Archived 2016-08-17 at the Wayback Machine "old-fashioned term for prop"
  2. ^ Roth, Emily (2017). Stage management basics : a primer for performing arts stage managers. Allender-Zivic, Jonathan, McGlaughlin, Katy. New York. ISBN 978-1-138-96055-8. OCLC 940795601.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  3. ^ Nesfield-Cookson, Mary (1934). Small Stage Properties and Furniture. London: G. Allen & Unwin. p. 11.
  4. ^ Govier, Jacquie (1984). Create Your Own Stage Props. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. p. 8. ISBN 0-13-189044-1.
  5. ^ a b Harris, Margaret (1975). "Introduction". In Motley (ed.). Theatre Props. New York: Drama Book Specialists/Publishers. p. 7. ISBN 0-910482-66-7.
  6. ^ Hart, Eric (19 October 2009). "First use of "Property" in the theatrical sense". Prop Agenda. Archived from the original on 22 February 2014. Retrieved 7 April 2013.
  7. ^ Cook, Dutton (1878). "Stage Properties". Belgravia. Vol. 35. pp. 282–284.
  8. ^ Eric Partridge Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English: Second Edition. Random House 1959
  9. ^ Kenneth Macgowan and William Melnitz The Living Stage. Prentice-Hall 1955.
  10. ^ prop, n./6; Third edition, September 2009; online version November 2010. <http://www.oed.com:80/Entry/152851>; accessed 13 January 2011. An entry for this word was first included in New English Dictionary, 1908.
  11. ^ Wade, Bland (2010). "Through the Eyes of the Property Director". Theatre Symposium. 18: 8. ISBN 978-0-8173-7005-3. ISSN 1065-4917.
  12. ^ Primrose, Jon. "Theatre props table". theatrecrafts,com. Retrieved 28 October 2021.
  13. ^ Coyle, Richard. "A Collector's Guide To Hand Props". RACprops. Archived from the original on 3 June 2009. Retrieved 9 July 2009.
  14. ^ Brown, Dave (18 July 2019). "Filming with Firearms". American Society of Cinematographers. Retrieved 27 October 2021.
  15. ^ Savage, Adam (25 November 2020). "Adam Savage's One Day Builds: Hellboy Samaritan Bandolier!". You Tube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-21. Retrieved 2 November 2021.
  16. ^ "How breakable props are made for movies and TV shows". Movies Insider - You Tube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-21.
  17. ^ "Biscuit pottery/Bisque pottery". theatrecrafts.com.
  18. ^ Molloy, Tim (22 May 2021). "Cinema Law: Can I Film U.S. Currency?". MovieMaker. Retrieved 23 October 2021.
  19. ^ Prisco, Jacopo (22 February 2019). "Where does fake movie money come from?". CNN. Retrieved 1 March 2019.
  20. ^ Ian Mohr Daily Variety. Reed Business Information, February 27, 2006 "Movie props on the block: Mouse to auction Miramax leftovers" Archived 2007-10-21 at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ Nevins, Jake (27 November 2017). "The world's most expensive film props and costumes". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 October 2021.

Further reading