The Prop Exercise

Good afternoon. It is I Gigi the parti poodle. Things are amiss you see because my novelist has given me another bath. And this mind you after I saw her coming and hid under the bed and refused to come out. Some novelists cannot take a hint. Making me take a bath this soon after suffering through the last one means she is planning to give me a haircut with that retched trimmer she attacked the malty with last week. Apparently, one must have a bath before one is groomed. I am not going to stand by and be attacked by that vulgar machine. You should have seen the pile of perfectly good hair my novelist shaved off the malty. Dreadful I tell you. Absolutely dreadful. I simply do not understand what she has against fluffiness. Oh, dear. My novelist is coming so you must excuse me so I can go hide. Haircut indeed!

Another acting exercise that can be beneficial to writers is the prop exercise. Props can be a great way to push a story along when used effectively. The way to make a prop effective is to give it a history. The prop exercise for actors works like this. The actor goes home and picks out an object, any object. Preferably something they can bring into class so probably not a refrigerator. The actor’s job then is to come up with a story about what the object is, how they came to acquire it and what has happened to the object since it became theirs. The story should be fictional.

Let us say I look through my things and choose a pair of sunglasses. And I decide in my story that I purchased the sunglasses at a brick and mortar store as opposed to online. And I decide I purchased them at a deep discount. And I decide I bought them with cash I earned working at a store where I did not make much money and a good chunk of my income went to pay for food and rent. And because they were normally pricey glasses, I treasured them so much I locked them up in my footlocker so no one would know I had them. Now I am starting to get a history of how the sunglasses were acquired.

After I complete my story which would essentially be a monologue, I would practice performing it while holding the prop in order to get an idea of the feel of the object and its subtle tactile characteristics as I spoke. When I go to class I head onstage with my prop and perform my monologue. Holding the prop and how I hold the prop gives me sense memory. The monologue might theoretically go something like this:

“Every day after work I would stop at this discount sporting store where they sold Ray-ban sunglasses. I was especially fond of a pair of Wayfarers that had frosty clear frames. The glasses were in a locked case on top of a glass counter at the back of the store and I would always check to see that the one and only pair of frosty framed Wayfarers was still there. They were a bit rich for my budget because I had just graduated from college, I did not yet have a decent paying job and my reserves were tapped dry. Most of my money went to paying for the rent and food and a bus pass to get to and from my job. Whatever I little I had left I squirreled away in savings. But I really wanted the glasses because I had never had a pair of Ray-bans before. When I was in college, I saw people in my classes set them on their head or put them on when they walked outside into the sunshine. I thought I would like to get rid of these beaten up Foster Grants that looked strange on me and get myself something with a fashionable durable frame. But I could never afford them. I did not want charge them on my credit card because I wanted to be able to pay the balance in full every month and not accrue debt.

“One day I went into the sporting store, walked back to the sunglasses case as usual and found there was a sale sign on top of the case: Clearance. I rushed to see if my glasses were still there and they were. But I had one more day till my credit card flipped for the month to the next statement. Tomorrow, I thought. I will come back and buy them tomorrow.

“The next day after work I hurried into the sporting store to buy the Ray-bans. As I drew near the case, I saw another customer there…holding the frosty framed glasses. I overheard the customer tell the clerk they were buying them for a gift. My heart broke as I watched the clerk ring up the sale, put the glasses in their case, the case into a bag and hand the bag to the customer. I watched helplessly as the customer went whistling out the door with the glasses I had waited so long to buy. Slowly, I turned away from the counter and slogged out to the bus stop to go home.

“As I stood there in the rain waiting for my bus, I thought about all the times I waited too long to make a decision. And here was another time I had failed to go after what I wanted. As I bemoaned my plight under my weathered umbrella, it occurred to me perhaps it would be wise to return to the store, hat in hand, and see if there was a different pair of Ray-bans in that sale case. They would not be the frosty clear framed ones, but they might be a good price anyway.

“So, I walked back into the store and headed towards the case, my wet umbrella dripping behind me. I began perusing the glasses but there were very few Ray-bans inside. After a moment I asked the clerk if there were any more Ray-bans besides the ones in the case. The clerk said no but there might be something in the stock room. I waited and the clerk returned with one pair of glasses: a wayfarer style in tortoise shell. I asked how much they were, and the clerk told me the price which happened to be lower than the price of the frosted crystal framed ones. I purchased the glasses immediately and the clerk put them in a case and put the case in a bag and handed it to me. I had to wait for the next bus to come along and was an hour late getting back to my apartment. But as you can see, I now have a pair of Ray-bans Wayfarers of my own.”

And that is the prop exercise. While you are waiting for my next post here you can check out my novel Chicane on Amazon.

You can sign up for week’s free class Creating an Income from Screenwriting from ScreenwritingU here.

Here are a couple of films where a prop plays a large part in the telling of the story.

The Night of the Hunter from 1955 is one of the finest films ever made. It is based on the book by Davis Grub (published in 1953) screenplay by James Agee and was the only film ever directed by actor great Charles Laughton. Shot in glorious black and white it is the story of a psychopathic would-be preacher named Harry Powell (based on real-life serial killer Harry F. Powers) played by Robert Mitchum who during the depression hunts for young widows, charms them, marries them, kills them and steals their money. But one day he makes the mistake of steeling one of his victim’s cars which gets him thrown in prison for grand theft auto. While he is in the clink, he happens to share a cell with another murderer who killed a couple of people and stole a fortune in the form of American currency. The cell mate who is a clever guy, happens to have two children and a young wife (Shelly Winters). Knowing his wife is a sweet but stupid woman he enlists his young son John to handle the stolen goods instead. Taking the ragdoll of John’s younger sister Pearl, the cell mate stuffs the doll with the bills and swears both John and Pearl to secrecy also telling John he must absolutely protect his sister. After the cell mate is executed the would-be preacher sets out on a quest to marry his cell mate’s widow and figure out where the money is hidden. Silent film star Lillian Gish is outstanding in the roll one of my all-time favorite characters Rachel Cooper.

The Red Violin is five stories in one. The movie won the Oscar for Best Original Score and the Genie for Best Picture. It is a gorgeous film which revolves around an acoustically perfect violin painted with an unusual varnish applied by its creator Nicolò Bussotti in 1681. The violin travels through the centuries from its origin in Cremona to a prodigy orphan in Vienna in 1793 to premier violinist and composer Lord Frederick Pope in Oxford around 1890 ending up in the hands of Pope’s Chinese servant who brings it to Shanghai where it ends up in the possession of political officer Xiang Pei in the 1960’s and finally arriving in Montreal in 1997 where it is put up for auction. Each of the five places provides an unusual part of the violin’s history. It is one of those rare movies where the prop takes center stage. The film is interestingly told and well worth the watch.


The original film Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory from 1971 is an absolute must see for children and adults alike is the whimsical film from the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by legendary writer Roald Dahl who also penned the script. The prop here, of course, is the much sought-after golden ticket of which there are only five hidden in the mysterious Wille Wonka’s chocolate bars. Mr. Wonka (perfectly played by Gene Wilder) who was based on an eccentric well to do chocolate maker from Dahl’s childhood has shut up his factory for years and though chocolate bars and other confections goes out for sale no one is allowed in. Charlie is a likeable idealistic child from a poor family who can barely afford a bar of chocolate as it is much less have a chance at one of those precious golden tickets. But sometimes serendipity slips in and so begins the tale of one of the greatest children’s movies of all time.


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