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How to get use out of an expensive set piece for every single show

By On The Stage

You know the phrase: “Waste not, want not.” This is true on theatre sets, especially when it comes to large and expensive set pieces. If you’re on a tight budget, want to go green(er), or need ideas on how to recycle pieces and props from show to show, On The Stage has you covered. 

Why Props are Important 

While the magic of acting is phenomenal on its own, theatre is often brought to life by more than just the actors themselves. Whether it’s a table and chairs, moveable walls, books, beds, or whatever else you need to advance your show’s plot, these pieces are important to the performance for a multitude of reasons.

  • Tell the story: While the imagination is a powerful tool, props propel the story forward in a variety of ways and give a grounding presence to the show.
  • Fully immerse the audience: Props make a story more believable and allow the audience to fully engage in the show. No suspension of disbelief with the right set! 
  • Motivate the actors: Actors often need a push to fully ‘get into character’ – this can be through costuming, engaging scene partners, or realistic props/sets.


Budget Constraints

Perhaps the most common issue in the theatre realm? A lack of funding. This can affect a variety of aspects of the show – from costuming, to lighting and sound, to marketing efforts, and finally, the set budget. 

An abundance of efforts can help with budget constraints, including:

  • Hosting fundraisers and events within your community 
  • Selling merchandise for your theatre in general or for specific shows 
  • Applying for grants from foundations
  • Partnering with local businesses for mutual benefit 
  • Reusing set pieces and costumes 

How to Best Recycle and Utilize Set Pieces

Not an uncommon tactic, re-using set pieces has been around for ages. Here are a few ways to ensure you’re utilizing props and set pieces to the best of your ability, all while keeping your budget under control:

  • Sharing is caring: Network with other theatre groups, schools, or troupes to swap props and set pieces you no longer need. You’d be surprised at the sheer number of people within the network that can find you something you need.  
  • Go dutch: If both you and another theatre are on a tight budget, consult with them about potentially sharing a set. This one requires a bit of planning but can reap major financial rewards. 
  • Reconceptualize pieces: The theatre is a judgment free zone, right? Let your imagination run wild with big pieces after their original purposes have been served. What was once a large, moveable wall can now be wood to create a ramp for the next set. Get your cast and crew in on the brainstorming and get the ideas flowing! 
  • Don’t be afraid to rent: If you need a major set piece that will be hard to utilize in another show, consider renting. 
  • Limit blemishes on lumber: If you’re lucky enough to have students or a team that can handle power tools to create set pieces, ensure you’re keeping the lumber relatively tarnish-free if you plan on breaking it down for another use. This means limiting glue, screws, nails, and other tool marks that can’t be covered up with paint. 
  • Love it or list it: If a prop or set piece just isn’t working for you anymore, get online and sell it. You’ll free up some much needed space in your theatre, and earn some cash in the meantime. 
  • Get to sewing: For costumes, don’t be afraid to brandish dye, scissors, and a sewing machine to transform the fabric.
  • Host a prop drive: Don’t underestimate your community’s desire to help out! Host a drive where people in your network can bring props and items you may need for your next show. 

A Strong Investment

If you want to take the financial plunge with a set pieces to call your own, here are a few things you can re-use for virtually every show:

  • Platforms/Flats: Adding dimension to your staging is key to a dynamic show. Create a strong and sturdy platform now for less worry later. 
  • Stairs: Much like platforms, stairs can be a great staple for a variety of shows. While it will likely be a bit expensive to create and maintain, stairs can be used and reused, show after show.
  • Doors/windows: A powerful doorway entrance or a longing glance out the window? You can find moments like that in a variety of shows – so get to building! 
  • Furniture: From timeless lighting pieces to tables, chairs, couches, and stools, furniture is one thing most musicals and plays need. A bonus? A coat of paint or a quick reupholstery can change the entire vibe and time period of the item with minimal money spent.

Keeping Items Safe

While major set pieces will likely need to chill out on stage, small props, plus costumes, should be stored correctly when not in use to maximize their effectiveness. Not sure where to start? We can help. 

Tags: school theatre, production, how-to

On The Stage

On The Stage

By theatre makers, for theatre makers, On The Stage offers expert insights, best-in-class support, and an all-in-one platform for ticketing, promotion, audience engagement, and more...including a complete production and streaming platform for performing artists. Learn more today.