props to you, emily adinolfi

by Luke Ryan

The NIDA graduate and props maker for Sydney Theatre Company talks us through her path to greatness: fake food, animatronic turtles and all.

So, you're a full-time props maker for the Sydney Theatre Company. What does that mean on a day-to-day basis? Well, one of the best things about this job is that there's no such thing as a standard working day. Sometimes you'll be working two shows at the same time; some days you'll be doing one or two big jobs. Other days you'll be doing a ton of little jobs: making fake food or casting objects or fixing something that was broken in rehearsals or mending a bit of furniture.

How does it actually work? Who makes the decisions about what to do and how to do it? There are four of us in the team – the head of props, a props buyer and maker, an assistant props maker and myself – but by necessity we're a close-knit, collaborative bunch. When there's a new show coming up, the head of props will sit down with the designer to get a feel for their vision. They'll use that to break the show down into individual projects and the team will start talking about how we're going to make and source all these objects, what materials we should use and how best to achieve everything we need to within the parameters we've been given. The great thing is that everyone has a hand in what's being made. It's a job where you get a lot of responsibility, and it requires a lot of problem-solving and creativity.

What’s the best and/or strangest thing you've had to make? I think the two often go hand in hand. We did a Tom Stoppard play called Arcadia back in 2016 where I helped to make an ultra-realistic animatronic turtle. I was mainly working on the shell and giving that the right consistency and structure, but it was a really cool team effort.

Props making is a pretty unusual career choice. How did you end up doing it for a living? I'd always been a pretty creative kid, really into building stuff and painting, but it was when I was introduced to woodworking in high school that I started thinking more seriously about making a career of it. I did a lot of backstage work in Melbourne's independent theatre scene, but when I found out about this Props Making course at NIDA, I knew I had to do it. I applied, got in and ended up on secondment to STC in my final year. Then I just started doing more and more work for them, until they had no choice but to hire me full-time!

How important was your time at NIDA to getting you where you are today? So important. It's such a tough degree, but it's also amazing because they really drop you in the deep end. Almost immediately, you're given all this responsibility and everyone treats you like you know what you're doing – and because of that you have to back yourself. People keep throwing you curveballs, so you're always finding new ways to do things. But I still think the most important part of my time at NIDA was meeting all these incredible creative people. Every day I'm working with designers and prop and costume makers that I met at NIDA half a decade ago. It feels like a network that I'll have for the rest of my life.

What advice would you give to newbie props makers? Just make stuff. Experiment with different materials and forms. Be ready to collaborate, be flexible and admit you don't know everything. No two productions are ever going to be the same, so the work you do will never be the same either. And that's the best thing about it.

Love movies, theatre and live performance? Want to make your passion your career? @NIDAcommunity's range of diplomas, bachelor and masters degrees cover acting, costume, design, props, scenic construction and more. Learn about NIDA courses at their Open Day on Saturday June 16th. 

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