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My Career as a Freelance Prop Maker

Melanie Wing, 32, is a freelance prop maker based in the UK.

How long have you been in this particular job and how did you find it?

I have been working as a prop maker for around 12 years. I also continue to work as a stage manager. The two jobs work well alongside each other. Having always made simple props as part of my stage management work I began working as a freelance prop maker by chance. A show I was working on as stage manager needed a prop but they couldn’t find someone suitable to make it within the required time frame. As I was working on the production and knew exactly the requirements for the item I was able to make it within a specific budget and get it into rehearsals quickly.

What was your first job as a prop maker and how did you end up doing it?

I have always made props from an early age at my local youth theatre. I was encouraged and inspired. I first made my own Scythe for Death in a Terry Pratchett play and then later had to make all sorts of strange items such as dead rabbits and whale costumes. In 2006 I got a job working as an onstage prop technician at the Royal Shakespeare Company where I was responsible for the setting and maintenance of props used in productions. Then I moved into the RSC’s prop making workshop. There I broadened my knowledge base and grew in confidence to try new skills.

What academic qualifications do you have?

I have a BA (Hons) Theatre Design from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and a BTEC Diploma in Art and Design.

Do you think that university prepared you for the way the work gets done in the real world?

My degree was very hands-on and focused on teaching practical skills. It also trained us in what it is like to manage your own time and be responsible for planning and prioritising.

What do you do in a typical working day?

For me there is no such thing as a typical day. Some days I can be at a sewing machine hour after hour. Other days I could be covered in glue and paint, moving between different projects while waiting for things to dry. Another day I could be out shopping (propping) looking for just the right item to meet a designer's request.

What are the most important qualities an applicant must and should possess?

To work as a freelancer for the theatre you must have a broad knowledge base and an ability to respond to random requests in an often short time frame. You cannot become too precious about the items you are making and a sense of humour is vital. Often I am asked to change something I put hours and hours of work into at short notice because the director or designer have changed their mind about how they want to use it.

Do you belong to any professional body, and if yes, what are the benefits?

I am a member of Equity which covers all my work within the entertainment industry. Equity is a very important union for improving working conditions within the theatre generally.

What has been your best experience on the job?

The first time I got a phone call asking me if I could make all the props for a big show. I was really pleased they had asked me and it felt great to be able to fulfil their requests.

What was the worst experience?

It is always frustrating when a request comes in but I’m too busy to do it. As a freelancer, turning work down goes against every instinct. What advice would you give to someone thinking of doing this job? Learn as much as you can from others. Seek out new skills and ideas and then give things a try. You get better in this job by diving in and giving it a go.

If you left this position, what else would you consider or enjoy doing?

I have thought about being a teacher. I would like to inspire another generation to work in the creative arts.

Do you mind us publishing your salary / rate per hour - this is very helpful for job seekers?

There is no regular wage in this line of work as a freelancer. I receive requests which I then quote for, depending on materials and time. Each job is different. If working on a rate rather than quoting per item, as a prop maker you can expect to earn between £10 per hour and £250 per day depending on your skill level and the type of work you are doing.

Read Full interview here

Article by: Melanie Wing