Moving On spoke to Allan Edwards about his job as a theatre props maker, his association with the amazing stage version of Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse novel and how he got into the theatre props making business.
Allan Edwards is a theatre props maker who has worked at the National Theatre in London for 15 years. He was involved in the maintenance of the huge horse puppets for their highly successful stage production of Michael Morpurgo’s children’s book War Horse. The production has moved to the New London Theatre now but Allan’s expert theatre props maker skills are still called upon occasionally, to maintain and repair the complicated War Horse puppets, which were originally designed and built by The Handspring Puppet Company.
We asked Allan how easy it is to become a theatre props maker and he told us, “If you are focused on your goal, research the way the industry works and acquire the training you need, you should find your way into theatre props making, with patience and perseverance.”
Before becoming a theatre props maker, Allan spent some time after leaving school working for a ceramics company and pursuing his love of acting. However, he decided to go back to college to re-train and went to the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School to study theatre design.
For anyone wishing to follow in Allan’s theatre props making footsteps, he recommends starting off by doing an art foundation course, which will give you experience in a number of different areas of art and design and the creative and cultural world which would be relevant to working in theatre design or as a theatre props maker . Allan also recommends going on from there to study an art or theatre design degree , which he says is an invaluable qualification for any would-be designer but that there are also apprenticeship schemes run by many theatres, which might be more suitable option for anyone with a hands-on, not so academic approach to the practical nature of the job of theatre props maker.
Allan is currently mentoring an apprentice at the National Theatre and one of his former apprentices is now back there working with him full time, after working as a freelance theatre props maker for a year.
Here is Allan’s list of top tips on how to break into the business of being a theatre props maker
- Find out about the theatre industry, how it works, what your options are. Make a list of UK theatre companies to contact, and arrange visits to see the building and go on a backstage tour.
- At the National Theatre we run backstage tours, as do many British theatres so go and visit a few which are near to where you live.
- You can also see us at work, from the newly-opened Sherling High-Level walkway.
- Find out who runs the theatre props department and write them a letter. Emails are all very well but an actual piece of paper is not so easily missed or forgotten about. And try to arrange a personal visit if you can.
- Organise your plan of action. Give yourself small achievable targets with a realistic date to achieve each target by.
- Not forgetting that if you are a maker, make! If you want to break into the theatre props world, take photos, compile a personalised portfolio of work and be prepared to talk about it. Show that you have the right employability skills, be interested, confident and friendly and show you are willing to learn everything you need to know about being a theatre props maker.
The National Theatre runs regular events and workshops for those interested in a career in the theatre and theatre props making and there’s lots of useful info on the NT website.