In the summer months, your beloved theatre costumes and props are probably collecting dust in storage, or they may even be strewn about your classroom or home. If you’re hoping to increase these items’ longevity, you should invest some time and energy into organizing over the next couple of months. This way, your items will be at the ready, spick and span, come your fall productions.
Why is Organization Important?
While some of us may thrive on the idea of “organized chaos,” prop and costume cohesion is important for a few reasons. These include:
- Saving you time in the long run: While gathering, labeling, and organizing all your items may be a bit of a time suck on the front end, an orderly prop room will return you back that time tenfold down the road. It eliminates the need for frantic foraging or wasting time fixing tears in costumes, since everything will already be in its rightful place.
- Decreasing stress for everyone: More time for creative endeavors undoubtedly means less stress for everyone involved. And less stress means more fun – and we all want that!
- Makes prop management more doable: Whether you’re a major theatre company or a school department head, it’s likely that your bandwidth is already stretched to capacity. By investing the time to organize props and costumes now, everything else will seem more manageable.
- Retains the quality of your items: Keeping items organized, placed in the correct spot, and hung up means there’s less likelihood of an item breaking, ripping, or getting stained.
- Helps your bottom line: A cumulative bonus of all the above perks is that you will save money, no doubt about it. Paying less for replacement items that were broken or lost means a padded bottom line for other creative outlets.
Now that we’ve gone through the pros of keeping a tidy theatre, here are a few ways to get started on your organizational journey.
Create an Itemized List
Keep a typed list of each prop and costume item in your possession, as well as where that item should be when it’s not in use. This can be a reference both for you and for your team.
Having this easy-referenable list printed out and posted around your theatre increases your bandwidth as a leader to focus on other concerns. Perhaps even more importantly, this will help your actors and crew act independently if they’re looking for something specific … without coming to bug you about it!
Hold Actors and Crew Accountable
Whether you’re working with kids or theatre pros, it should be crystal clear that the organization and care of your props and costumes is not solely reliant on leadership or crew.
If you’re doing shows this summer, set ground rules that everyone must help tidy backstage and keep their costumes and props neat. Model the idea of teamwork, ensuring everyone pitches in. Additionally, set the expectation when a costume or prop is in someone’s possession, no matter how short of a time, that item is their responsibility.
If you find that your theatre is struggling with this concept, you can always enact consequences. For example, if items or costumes are left out after a performance, put them in a box and make your cast ‘buy back’ the items for the next show – whether that’s with actual money (make it cheap!) or with simple tasks.
If you've got racks stuffed to the gills with costumes, use dividers to separate them. How you want to categorize those dividers is up to you, but perhaps the easiest way is to separate them by the type of item (shirts, pants, dresses, skirts, etc.)
If you’re working on a small budget but want to use dividers, just cut a slit in the center of a paper plate, then a small circle in the center of that, and pop it on the rack. You can also use card stock or pieces of paper, just make sure they’re durable.
Label, Label, Label
Label makers are a godsend for theatre departments, and they’re usually pretty inexpensive! Whether you want to label certain areas of the room as designated spots for certain props, label storage containers with the items they hold, or label the items themselves depending on who they belong to, you can’t go wrong with this organizational tool.
Utilize Garment Bags
If you’re planning to have clothing items sit in storage for a significant amount of time, invest in garment bags for protection. You can fit a surprisingly large amount of items into one bag, and these will protect clothes from dust, water damage, spills, makeup, and other variables.
A quick internet search tells us garment bags are reasonably cheap. Make sure to ask your retailer about bulk discounts if you’re making a purchase. You can also pair up with community partners or ask for donations on social media.
Storage Bins are Your Friend
Labeled storage bins are a must-have for props and costume items that don’t need to be hung. But before you break the bank at a big box store, remember it doesn’t need to be fancy. Laundry baskets, cardboard boxes or storage bins from a discount chain will do the trick and keep your items safe from the elements.
Remember to allot some budget for smaller boxes, which can house items like jewelry, coins, writing utensils are other miniature props.
Allot Certain Spaces to Certain Items
This one might seem a little obvious, but let us explain: Establish areas in your theatre or backstage area for specific items only. For example, this shelf only houses shoes, and this prop table backstage only holds Act 1 props. This eliminates the chaos that will undoubtedly occur when your lead actor can’t find his trusty hat 30 seconds before curtain!
Heavy on Bottom, Light on Top
If you’re new to the organizational game, remember to arrange items in a way that allows you to produce effectively. Heavier items should be lower, eliminating the risk of injury or damage to your items and, more importantly, your people.
If you’re using shelving, remember that the lighter items, or the items you use the most, should be at eye-level for quick retrieval.
Make a No Food/Drink Zone
This will become more important when your students, actors, or crew come back into the theatre. While it’s impossible to police everyone’s consumption, make it clear that no food or drink should be around the props and costumes. This could easily lead to a spill or stain. Set your expectations and stick to ‘em!
Now that we’ve guided you through, use the relative peace and quiet you’ve got this summer to go full Marie Kondo on your props and costumes. Future you will be thankful – we promise!