Kris Julio is the Assistant Professor in Stage Properties at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, one of the few universities to offer a props program to both undergrads and graduate students. In this week’s episode, he talks about his career, what he teaches at UNCSA, and what kinds of prospective students he is looking for. He is also an accomplished furniture builder, and you can see his portfolio at krisjulio.com.
Below is a transcript of this episode, edited for readability.
ASHLEY: Welcome back to another episode of Silk Flowers and-
ERIC: Papier Mache Hearts. I’m your host Eric Hart-
ASHLEY: And I’m your host, Ashley Flowers. On today’s episode, we’ll be sitting down with Kris Julio and talking about his prop’s life and where he is today in North Carolina.
ERIC: Cool. Excellent. So Kris, do you want to start off by saying what your official title is, right now?
KRIS: My official title right now is actually Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) in the Stage Properties department.
ERIC: Excellent. Excellent. And for those of you who don’t know, I think the Props Department at UNCSA is one of the few graduate props programs in the county and one of the few undergraduate props programs as well.
KRIS: Yeah, that’s true. I think we are one of the few schools that do both.
ERIC: That’s correct.
ASHLEY: That’s awesome.
ERIC: So, how did you get here?
KRIS: How did I get here?
KRIS: Honestly…Okay, so fun fact, actually, this fall will be the tenth year I’ve been doing props in my entire life. I’ve only been doing this for ten years.
KRIS: Yep. I went to a really liberal arts college. It was a state school in California; I went to Santa Cruz, and I didn’t focus on any technical theatre-
ERIC: Oh wow-
KRIS: Yeah. I didn’t actually get into any technical theatre until about halfway through my academic career when my parents asked me, “What are you going to do with all of your essay writing and dramaturgy?” and I was like, “Oh, but this is so much fun!” And I loved studying history and, you know, I’m at a school where I can do pretty much anything I want, and it wasn’t until I was asked, “What are your practical skills?” that I started looking at the technical aspect of theatre, so I got into Scene Design, because you take an intro class and you’re like “Oh yes, these are all the elements of theatre design”. It’s like writing, set design, and costumes, and I was like, “None of those are interesting except for scenic design.”
KRIS: [chuckling] So naturally, I assisted and there were no props classes. There were no scenic painting classes. There were just studio skills and set design, and my mentor, Kate Edmunds, said “Well, now that you know how to do all this stuff, at least the basics, you should probably find a year-long residency at a regional theater.” So I looked around, and I landed one at the American Conservatory Theater (ACT) in San Francisco. Since it was only like two hours away from my college, I was like, “That’s perfect!” It wasn’t when it was super expensive to live there.
ERIC: Oh wow!
KRIS: I mean, it was expensive, but like, not ridiculously expensive as it is right now. About a couple months into that internship- I never really used any of the tools in the shop. I’d never really done props. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. I realized that it was pretty much the only place I felt like I could actually have a realistic career from that point on. So then I turned to my colleagues, and I was like, “What do I do? I’ve chosen props. Like, what do I do next?” And all of them were like, “Go to grad school.”
[Ashley and Kris laugh.]
KRIS: So that landed me here, and then I did the three-year program as a graduate student and finished in 2013. Went on tour for a couple of years, did some summer stock, and then got invited to teach in 2015.
KRIS: So yeah-
ERIC: And I think also 2013 was when we met out at Santa Fe Opera-
KRIS: Yes. That’s true-
ERIC: Both in the Props-Carpentry Department.
KRIS: That’s true!
ERIC: So, was your internship at ACT- Was that specifically in props? Or was that in multiple- Okay.
KRIS: Yeah. It was a shop of four at the time, so there was a Prop Supervisor, Ryan Parham, who really was the one who was like, “You should totally go get a grad degree.” And then his assistant at the time, she had been working at Cirque and then decided to do regional theatre for a while, so she had a really cool background. She had also gone to grad school for props. And then they had a furniture carpenter who had a 25-year career in furniture making. Like custom furniture making. And he was like, “I’m just a cool hippie who, like, found theatre and I’m gonna do this for fun.” And so, I kind of had a really cool mix of: a dude that really focused and mentored me in furniture, and then two really amazing artisans and managers mentoring me through that year. Since they worked with Local 16 (of IATSE), I wasn’t allowed onstage, but I was just in the shop as their intern.
ASHLEY: That’s awesome. How did the American Conservatory Theater internship go? Did you do other internships that you can compare to or just give us a little bit of a breakdown-
KRIS: Well, so, the reason I picked Santa Cruz, aside from the fact that it was the farthest away from home I could get cause I was born and raised in L.A., was that they- that program actually partnered at that time with a LORT theater called Shakespeare Santa Cruz. And so, every summer I would work for that company, and I worked eight consecutive summers with Shakespeare Santa Cruz. I even did an extra summer when I was in grad school here at North Carolina to go back be like, “Alright.”- I’ve had every job you can imagine there. I was the stage manager for a couple seasons. I was on a festival set-up crew. I was a carpenter. I was a painter. So like, I had a couple other jobs in technical theatre and they sort of all rounded out to pointing to props.
KRIS: [Smiling] I mean, cause I did a little bit of everything and a whole lot of- you know. And with my interest in furniture growing, it was like- I had enough experience. So once I picked Props, basically, my colleagues at ACT put me in touch with other jobs. I was the Assistant Prop Master at the Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF) in West Virginia, and then I did a couple other small one-off things and freelance things. But mostly, it was saving up for grad school, because, you know, the recession hit, and I was like, “I have no money! I better go to school.”
[Eric and Ashley laugh.]
KRIS: “Cause that’s the only thing I can do right now.” They’re like- All these companies were furloughing their employees and I was like, “I think it just makes sense to take out a buttload of loans and just go to school.” [ERIC: Mhmm.] So, that’s what I did.
ASHLEY: That makes sense. Speaking of your furniture, I suggest everybody to go to his website, krisjulio.com, and we’ll have that on our page, but- His beautiful work there, so you guys should check that out.
KRIS: Thank you. I appreciate it.
ERIC: So, with your furniture pieces, what’s one of your favorites?
KRIS: My favorite pieces of furniture?
ERIC: Yeah, that you built, ever.
KRIS: Oh man. I would have to- Honestly, that’s really tough. The favorite things that I’ve done in furniture I would have to say is actually my very first project in grad school. I got really ambitious and I was like, I wanna do mid-century, cause that’s my favorite era of furniture. It’s my favorite style of almost everything.
ERIC: It’s objectively one of the best periods.
KRIS: It’s true. Yeah. Objectively. Although, I did read an article that mid-century modern is the pumpkin spice latte of the millennial era. [ERIC: Oh no!] And it is really funny, but totally accurate.
[Ashley and Kris laugh.]
ERIC: To be fair, I also like pumpkin spice lattes.
KRIS: [laughing] Same. And I’m like- [ASHLEY: Yes!] is that necessarily a bad thing? A little bit of both.
KRIS: Trendy, and also still delicious. I agree with both. And I remember my first semester, Bland, who is another- is the head of the program here. He was like, “Wow, that looks really ambitious.” and I was like, “Yeah! I wanna do it all in walnut cause it smells really good when you cut it.” He was like, “Okay…” and “I’m allergic, so I’m not gonna be here.” So I was just like-
KRIS: So I had to- I built a six-foot by thirty-something odd credenza out of cabinet grade walnut plywood, and it was so expensive and so difficult. I pulled research images and then I built a matching arm-chair with it, actually, that I upholstered for another class. And then I sold it as sort of a graduation gift to myself, as like, “I need money. Buy my furniture!” And an interior designer bought it off of me for a good chunk of money.
ERIC and ASHLEY: Oh wow!
KRIS: Yeah, but it was about forty hours of work building the first one and getting it all finished correctly. And there were totally mistakes. There were totally meltdowns. I totally measured twice, cut once, and regretted it a couple of times, you know? Where you read 21 upside-down and then right-side up, you forget that it’s 12.
[Ashley and Eric laugh.]
KRIS: And then you set the table saw and you’re like, “Oh no! What did I do? This sheet of plywood is $200.”
KRIS: Actually grad school. So that’s one of my favorites, because I love the mistakes. Everyone was like, “It’s okay. They’re maker’s marks.” Maker’s mistakes. [ASHLEY: Love it.] That’s one of my favorites, I would say. And then I went to Santa Fe and we started playing with steel, and I was like, “Forget wood. This is so much more fun.” [Laughs]
ERIC: Right, yeah. Now, did you actually learn welding at Santa Fe or-
KRIS: I did, actually. Yeah, cause Dave Schneider was like, “I’m gonna teach you how to weld. I’m gonna do a crash course. And really, I think it was supposed to be a whole afternoon, but it couldn’t have been longer than an hour of him showing me the set-up and going, “And then you just adjust.” [ERIC: Yeah.] For your needs, right? That totally sounds like something he would say.
ERIC: [Dave Schneider impression] You’ll know. You’ll know when to adjust it. [Normal] Like, no, I won’t.
KRIS: But like, that was fun because he started taking me through things that I’d never thought I would do in steel. Like bending 90 degree angles on the Hossfeld, and like, reading the manual and finding the right dies. And once I realized you could combine furniture-making with wood techniques into how you look at steel and integrating both. It was like, “Oh man, why am I not doing this all the time? I could just make my own hardware.” And then you realize it’s expensive and it takes a lot, and you’re like “Oh. People pay people a lot of money for this.”
ASHLEY: You can say you can do it!
ERIC: Yeah, the Santa Fe Opera has a really good metal setup for Props and Scenery. [KRIS: Yes, they do.] I mean, you’ve got shears and hole punchers and just-
KRIS: All kinds of machinery-
ERIC: Rollers and benders and things like-
KRIS: And every kind of welder you would need.
ERIC: Yeah. I know when I’m out there, you crank something out of steel and then you try to do that in any other shop and you’re like, “Oh, I’m missing thirty tools.” I can’t even get started. I don’t even have a pile of scrap like they have there. It’s like, oh, I need a solid rod that’s three inches in diameter. There’s one in the back by the trailer.
KRIS: That’s true. Their scrap wood and their scrap steel put a lot of other peoples’ to shame. Yeah. Just working there alone, it’s like, “Wait, I can dish my own steel here? This is ridiculous!” Who else has a setup for that? Cause, it’s not just welding. It’s also forging and other ridiculous metalworking techniques, which is really cool.
[Eric and Ashley murmur in agreement.]
KRIS: Yeah, and that summer, all five of us- Or six of us?- Were there six props carpenters? I think so. Two apprentices, a journeyman, and then four carpenters, plus Dave. That’s a lot of people. I think it was eight then. We built that thirty-foot car. [ERIC: The car, yeah.] `Yeah. The thirty-foot limousine. [ERIC: Thirty-foot stretch] Model T-
ERIC: Model T, from scratch. I guess the wheels were Model T.
KRIS: And the- what else was- There were like one or two parts.
ERIC: Yeah, but the fenders and the hood were all just fabricated from scratch. The frame-
KRIS: I think maybe the canopy worked too. The steering wheel turned.
ERIC: I mean, all the seats, cause there were so many seats, they were all upholstered-
KRIS: Like hand upholstered-
ERIC: Yeah, by the crafters.
KRIS: And all the doors opened, and all the hardware was fabricated.
ERIC: But it couldn’t turn-
KRIS: No, it couldn’t-
ERIC: Cause it had to come onstage one way, go offstage, and then come back on facing the other direction.
KRIS: And it was raked in two different directions, so it had to tilt in both directions. So that was fun too. Because-
ERIC: Because the Santa Fe Opera didn’t have any wing space at that time, so you’re trying to turn a twenty-foot-
KRIS: Thirty-foot car. And it came apart in four pieces.
KRIS: Yeah, that was a really fun summer. You [to Eric] did like six confetti cannons for that plus other ridiculous tricks. That was a really good summer.
ERIC: Yeah. Cannons. Cannon Barrels.
KRIS: There were torches that summer.
ASHLEY: All the things!
KRIS: All of the effects. Basically, Eric playing with all of the toys.
ERIC: Right, yeah.
KRIS: He was like, “How can we make this work?”
ERIC: 4′ by 8′ vacuum-form table, take the lathe apart so you could turn a 14″ diameter chunk of foam.
KRIS: Yeah. And it’s just like a whole mess of foam around you. And like you were literally knee-deep in foam. Pretty instantaneous.
ERIC: It was fun. It was a good time.
ERIC: Cool. So now you actually teach furniture construction-
KRIS: That’s true-
ERIC: Probably one of the only furniture building classes in the country. I know Ohio University has [KRIS: I didn’t know, yeah-] independent studies. [KRIS: Oh really?] They might do furniture construction, but yeah…
KRIS: Yeah, we’re getting into it this year. We’re also offering an official upholstery class that is separate from furniture construction. When I took it as a [ASHLEY: That’s amazing.] student, it was combined furniture and upholstery. Now, Furniture History is separate, Furniture Construction is separate, and Upholstery is separate. So those were all segmented classes for finish work in the program at both the undergrad and graduate level. The expectations are a little bit different between undergrad and graduate level. But it’s pretty much all the same core curriculum.
ERIC: Yeah, I know when I was looking for undergrads, I had never even heard of props.
ERIC: So, I’m interested in the students who are applying to be in undergrad props. What are they bringing and what are you looking for in students? How do you do your recruiting?
KRIS: Well, honestly, I learned it mostly from Bland, because, you know, he started the first one pretty much in the country about 30 some-odd years ago. Cause I think the program is actually as old as I am. That we realized the other day. But yeah, what he usually looks for- it’s not someone who necessarily has a background in theater? Because we currently have, actually, a student from the visual arts background who was a visual arts student here at School of the Arts. But also, we’ve taken graduate students who don’t have a theatrical background before. We’ve taken an engineering student before. What we’re really looking for is people who are process-oriented, people who can figure a puzzle out, and then also explain it to another individual. It’s “Are you a self-taught person?” “Are you self-motivated?” and also, “Do you understand the creative process?” meaning, “Can you come up with a plan to create something and problem-solve your way through it, and also record it?” What we also look for is, I think, communication qualities. Because a lot of times in the interview process, at least here at the School of the Arts, it’s not like a sit-down, straight interview where you’re asking questions to your recruiting students. You just sit down and get to know them. A lot of times, Bland and I try to form a class that we think will get along with each other and also a class that we think can communicate well within the entire major and the school as a whole. We look at the whole package deal. It’s like, “Who are we getting? What types of people are we recruiting? Are they the kind of people that we would actually want to work with?” Because that, right off of the bat, is- it’s kind of like when you staff a season, right? Do you want to hire people that you actually would enjoy working with in a shop? Those are the people that you’re going to spend the most time with, so we kind of bring that same element there, and also if they have the artistic chops. Like yeah, of course we want someone who has some ability, but we also want to see that they can learn in the process too. So a lot of our students come in with the initiative, I think.
ASHLEY: And with your students, when they’re there, what would you say are the biggest experiences that they’re given and learn?
KRIS: Well, I think the thing that is really individual about the School of the Arts- because you caught me at a really good time, recruiting- I just went to a high school recruiting…
KRIS: Festival, yeah. It was the International Thespian Festival in Lincoln, Nebraska. It’s like three thousand high school students, and I’m gonna explain this, because you’re sitting in a recruiting room with like twenty other liberal arts and conservatories, and conservatory means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, right? At the School of the Arts, it means that we treat you like this is day one of your career, not of your education, but it’s something that’s an educational career, sort of, environment, where you’re getting hands-on master and apprentice mentorship, and also we give you the tools to perform like a professional. The facilities are different than most universities, first of all. I mean, our Prop Shop, [ERIC: Yes] that we are teaching in our classroom, is a furniture shop. It’s not the Scene Shop with a corner where the prop kids hang out. It’s its own shop. Our craft room has a kitchen and a washer and dryer in it and a paint sink, not just the basement level of the shop. We have an upholstery room with real equipment, and so, I think the difference in our program is just the facilities and all the toys that we bring in and also the expectation for faculty to stay on top of their careers. You’re working with people who, if they’re not in it, they will be as relevant as they can be throughout their career and their teaching career. It’s a different level of expectation when they walk in the door, and so we recruit people who are really serious about what they want their career in, and we start that from the moment they walk in.
ASHLEY: And what are the types of classes that your students take? I know you mentioned furniture making and upholstery.
KRIS: I think, honestly, ours is- our program is actually really open, because- I don’t know. You kinda picked a perfect day to ask that question. [laughs] We’re sort of stacking the cards in our program right now with special topics and independent studies, obviously because you can’t cover everything in props in one program. I think a lot of the classes tailor to specific needs. Like last year, Eric taught a special effects class, right, in special effects and weapons?
ERIC: Yeah, yep.
KRIS: And also, Introduction to Stage Properties, or just Stage Properties? [ERIC: Yes.] Which is more of a crafts-
ERIC: Right, it’s the craft- it’s molding and casting, sculpting, vacuuforming, that sort of thing. Fake food.
KRIS: And then, we also do management. That’s a huge part of it, because our productions are entirely student-driven and student-run and student-managed. I don’t oversee- As an advisor, I don’t oversee any budgets. I mean, overall yes, we monitor them, but the students are in charge of really everything on their shows. When it comes to schedule and work-load, they’re in charge of that. We’re really just advising over them. So, yeah. Productions run really differently as well, you know, like you’re actually turning to your peers as colleagues, not to professors or graduate students. It’s everyone in the same boat, basically, getting the same level of experience all the time. And then, what other classes do we teach? Blacksmithing is an elective.
ERIC: Well, then there’s all the other departments. I don’t know what a props student has to take in other departments, but-
KRIS: Well, there’s obviously the liberal arts. They definitely take Scenic Painting. It’s required to do at least one semester or one year. I know a lot of my students are taking Prosthetics next year to get more sculpting and mold-making experience in the Prosthetics Lab with our Wigs and Make-Up department, which we have both in undergrad and graduate levels.
ASHLEY: That’s amazing.
KRIS: A lot of them have taken Puppetry. I’m doing an independent study next year on florals, both fake and real flowers, and so a student and I are going to basically a full year of just exploring floral techniques through history, which is going to be really interesting, and doing them both live and fake. What else have we done?
ASHLEY: That’s really interesting.
KRIS: Yeah, it should be really cool. So we had an independent study in horror props. We had a student who was working haunted houses every year, and she got really into it and she built a manual for dragon skin and gore, just for props, and like some hydraulic and special effects- so yeah, there’s a lot of room for students to take other classes but the core is really craft-skills, scenic painting, and furniture construction, and management for us.
ERIC: And then I think one of the things that’s different from a lot of other grad programs is the thesis project. Usually what it is is you’ll do the show. So if you’re a props person, you prop master a show, and that’s your thesis, and so- But at UNCSA, you do a research project?
KRIS: So we- the problem with that here is that we do shows all the time. Every student pretty much has a show assignment from the moment you walk in. We run our shop pretty much like a commercial shop, where everyone- where every show has a lead or a project or show manager, and then all the artisans are basically shared, but in your third year, you pick a topic- like a research topic- and you explore that in-depth for an entire academic year. So, next year we have a student doing foley props and foley construction, how to do that. I think for my thesis, it was forced-perspective and counter-raked props for theatre, for the props-carpentry, just looking at techniques for how to work with a rake and what the safety guidelines are for different unions. And just different techniques. How to use basic tools to get you the angles that you need. There was a fake food thesis many years ago by DeDe Farrell which everyone refers to. Someone did a weapons-forging one; I think someone once did paper props as a thesis? And it got into the whole history of postage, which is really cool. [ERIC: Oh yeah.] Yeah, so it’s really taking a topic and running with it.
ERIC: Right. And what’s great is that these- they’re actually published and bound and any of the students can check [KRIS: Check them out.] any thesis that’s been done in the past. So, it’s like, “Oh, I want to learn about postage. Well, a student did that ten years ago.” And you can look it up.
KRIS: Exactly! And that’s kind of how we structure the thesis too. It’s like, “What’s a resource you think other students will eventually use? How can you share that and publish that with other prop makers?” So, we actually have a whole section of the library that’s really design and production theses from every concentration of all twelve concentrations, which is really cool.
ASHLEY: That’s awesome.
ERIC: So, besides theatre, what fields are the prop students eventually going into after graduation? Because you kind of cover a broad range of non-theatrical prop building and management.
KRIS: So, I’m just thinking within the last five years where our current alums have gone. A lot of them go on tour. I know that’s what I did. Some of them go into opera. A lot of them go into theme and entertainment in theme parks, so- or shows in theme parks, so we actually have a couple of Imagineers in our alum-base. I’m trying to think. Window-displays. One of my students from a couple of years ago does New York window displays for a lot of the big department stores in New York. Food styling. Television, film- I had a student who is on the crew for Orange is the New Black, a Netflix show. That was really recent after graduation, and I was like, “Whoa. You landed that pretty quick. That’s pretty awesome.” So yeah, they kind of have jobs everywhere. You could literally pull up any movie or tv show or Broadway show and you’ll find an alum from our school. I think a lot of students also start their own businesses too. There are a lot of entrepreneurs in our students. You know that whole self-motivated thing sort of usually turns into a business. So yeah, a lot of them freelance. One of them- one of my housemates who was also a Props major, she did- she does photo styling actually for Bloomingdales and a couple other corporate clients. So, I mean, they’re all over the map. “A prop is a prop is a prop” is a thing a lot of the instructors here will say about the program. So we teach sort of across the board; that way they have a broad scope of what things- how things can apply- how their skills can apply to other areas. Cosplay also. We have an alum who has one of the biggest cosplay companies in Florida. Oh, and the two biggest East-coast prop houses are run and founded by alums to the program as well. So, Eclectic Props in New York City; She’s an alum of the program. And then also Nola Props is also founded by a School of the Arts alum in props.
ASHLEY: That’s awesome!
KRIS: Yeah. They’re kinda everywhere. They’re hard to track down.
ASHLEY: Now, at UNCSA, are you able to take classes as well, or are there specific classes that you would want to teach that aren’t there? Or well- explain a little bit about that.
KRIS: As a teacher?
KRIS: Yeah. I mean, actually, funny enough, I think either one of my first or second years teaching- cause I’m going into my fourth year officially- I’m pretty sure either last year or the year before that, I audited all of Bland’s classes. Because there were definitely things at school- When I got back as an instructor, I was like, “What is this?” Like they have a makerspace that has, like what, five 3D printers and a laser-etcher, and I was like, “Where did this come from? I need to take a class in this.” So I started auditing, and it’s actually really fun. I would sit in on a lot of the scene painting stuff, cause that was something I really loved, especially before Howard Jones retired last year, so I would definitely crash his classes and sort of sit in and watch his demos over again. But yeah, I’ve taken- what do they call it?- 3D advanced modeling, which is basically how to use the 3D printers and laser-etchers; I’ve sat in on that class quite a bit. And I sat in on all of Bland’s new special topics classes, in special effects and in set dressing- was something that we added. So we have a whole artillery of new classes that I’ve sort of been trying to take notes on. If I could, honestly, I would probably take more prosthetics with Wigs and Make-up. Because when I was on tour, my roommate was my classmate at School of the Arts, and he was always a Make-up major, and I was like, “I need to learn a new skill. I can’t just be on tour and not keep learning, so teach me how to ventilate,” and he taught me how, but it was really fun because it had nothing to do with any of the skills that I’d done in props. It’s kinda like crocheting into mesh with a mini- like a teeny-tiny little hook, and so it was actually really fun. I would probably take more classes in that. And since we’re looking at starting new concentrations, I’m kinda more interested in definitely brushing up my metal skills, maybe some small electronics classes, or sound, and soldering.
ERIC: That. Well, it’s interesting that this kind of stuff seems to be getting more popular, despite computer graphics in film, and despite all this kind of- like the makerspaces and things like that. It’s almost like because it’s become so cheap and easy to fabricate things custom, everybody wants custom things. You can’t just go out and buy something. You have to have it 3D printed. You have to have something custom, and so you have to- there’s a whole generation of people that need to relearn all these skills because you can’t just sit at a computer and punch it out.
KRIS: Yeah, well, it’s weird too, because I still treat it as just another tool in the shop. It’s not meant for everything; it doesn’t solve the problem. It’s not going to replace anyone’s job. You still have to know where it fits in the puzzle of what you’re trying to make. Cause I know a lot of people go like, “Ooooh, Ahhh”, like “Check this out.” But when I see 3D printed stuff in peoples’ portfolios, I have to ask the question, “Did you find that on Thingiverse and download it, or did you model that in 3D?” Because that’s going to determine my- how impressed I am [ASHLEY: There’s a difference.] with your skills. Did you hit print, or did you actually render something? You know what I’m talking about?
ASHLEY: Oh yeah.
ERIC: That’s basically like one step away from buying a toy and cutting a part off of it.
KRIS: Yeah, exactly.
ERIC: It’s like, look at the piece I found.
KRIS: It’s probably a lot faster to do that, and it didn’t cost you the printer.
KRIS: So yeah, that’s kind of how I feel about those kinds of new tools. I mean, of course it’s always going to be useful to keep up with technology, but I’m a die-hard, old-school technique kind person. If there’s a student who’s like, “I wanna bring back everything hand-done.” I’m like, “Okay, I’m all for it. Show me your hand-drafts.” People don’t even want to do that.
ERIC: Speaking of that, is there anything you come across in young props peoples’ portfolios or resumes that you wish you did not see?
KRIS: Did not see?
ERIC: Yes. A word of advice for people putting their portfolios together. What should you not be putting in there?
KRIS: There’s so many pet-peeves that I come across in peoples’ portfolios. Oh my god, where do I even start? Like you know that fine line that people tread between being really quirky and individual versus tacky and almost campy? You know what I mean?
ERIC: You mean like with the design of their portfolio?
KRIS: Yeah. Like not even how it’s laid out. First of all, people need to learn how to use a page, like the whole page, and how to use photo editing programs, because it’s no longer an excuse for people to just pop a thumb drive into a Kinkos xerox machine and just print them out and then cut them out. Like, think of the quality of paper? Because for me, at least when I look at someone’s portfolio, I’m looking at the whole package. So think about what kind of binder it is. When people come to me with a three-ring binder, it’s like, “Okay. This is a great first step.” But when I think about professionalism, it’s like, get a nice book and get something that you can actually throw extra pages in. And also, don’t show me things from twenty years ago when you were in middle school doing this play with cardboard and acrylic paints from Michael’s. Show me your best work and also show me your best process, because people are either trying to show you too much or too little. It’s like, you have to give me a balance of both. And also, I don’t want to read a million paragraphs, but that’s also my particular taste, because, usually when I am looking at someone’s portfolio, I want that to come along with their personality. So if you write everything out, then there’s nothing to talk about, and I’d rather have a conversation with someone who’s an artisan and get to know them in person, rather than a straight-forward portfolio. That’s totally different than if you’re going to go online, because you’re curating for an audience that you don’t know how to anticipate. It could be open to the public.
ERIC: Well you should be able to tell a story with your pictures-
ERIC: Just like with props, you need to be able to tell the story with the objects.
KRIS: Exactly! Yeah, you should treat your portfolio like a prop: with detail and care. And that’s the thing. The story is you. So everything about it, as much as it comes down to the margins around your photos, I think should be given care and attention. Fonts even. If they don’t print well, why is that your font?
ASHLEY: There are millions of fonts out there.
ERIC: And then how do you feel about people putting a non-prop or non-theatre related artwork in their portfolio?
KRIS: I kind of love that, especially for incoming students, cause those are the ones I see the most. And we do a portfolio review here at school every single year. No one is immune, really. It’s a requirement, just to see where students are at. A lot of times, I love seeing the outside things because I want to know that the person has an interesting life as well, and that they’re not just their career. Because as much as I love people who are passionate about the work that they do, I also want to know that they’re engaged in the world around them. And so, having other skills, to me, represents an interest in other things. So if it’s like bookbinding or like you do service with a community organization. You know, everyone has that one thing that is not just their job that makes them a full-fledged person, and I like to know who that is. You know, my classmate Lisa, she was really into fabric, and she would make jewelry and do like beaded objects all the time, and she was really fantastic at it, so those were the most interesting things in her portfolio. It’s like, dude, you make jewelry; this is awesome! Yeah, I love seeing things that are not strictly props. I think half of mine for a long time was scenic painting.
ERIC: Right, yeah. Especially starting out, I mean, there’s only so many- it’s like, well here’s the two props I did.
KRIS: Right. Here’s the piping on this one cushion that I did in one show that was in one scene for five minutes.
ASHLEY: I agree. I think it’s very important to show just everything. You never know what you’re going to need. So just everything.
ERIC: I think when I was applying for grad school, I had one show from undergrad, maybe one or two assisted, a few class projects, like one or two props, and then I had a small comic book that I had drawn and illustrated, and I put that in, and I think that is why I got the majority of my interviews, was because they were like, “Okay, you’re semi-competent at theater, but we can actually see you have some artistic talent from this, not from putting fake labels on beer cans as an undergrad. Whoop-dee-doo.
KRIS: Well, I lucked out. I was actually living with a scenic paint graduate from School of the Arts, and half of my coworkers, up until I applied- I hadn’t realized that half of my friends from theater went to School of the Arts until I was about to apply, and so one of them stuck around and actually told me how to make a portfolio, because I had no idea what I was doing. And she was like, “No no, he’ll really appreciate this. Like, you should put some scenic painting in there. You should put some carpentry. You should put some sewing projects.” And to round it out, I worked at a fabric store that whole year before grad school, so I got to actually be an upholstery consultant for an actual store. It was an independent fabric store, so it was really cool. But yeah, I measured fabric all day and learned so much from old ladies who wanted to teach me about quilting and different sewing machines. Yeah, it was pretty cool.
ASHLEY: Yeah, and I think people like to see different artistic abilities in your portfolio other than just props to kind of show that you’re wanting to learn more things, you like doing more things out of work. You want to go beyond them just, “Oh, this is what I did at work, and then I went home and did nothing.”
KRIS: Right, yeah, I’m not one of those people that goes home and does nothing. I’m usually reading six other books. I’m in at least one book club at all times.
ASHLEY: That’s amazing.
KRIS: Yeah, at least one. I’m trying to get into a second one right now, actually.
ASHLEY: That’s intense.
KRIS: Yeah, and I read a lot of things that have nothing to do with theatre. That was kind of the thing that I brought to grad school with me. Cause my classmate- like I was living with a guy that I started grad school with- we actually met at ACT in San Francisco. He was the TD and I was the Props Intern, and he ended up being a TD grad student here, and he brought all of his manuals and drafting books and engineering books, and I literally brought everything but theatre. I was like, I’m going to bring some of this poetry and some of this critical theory, some art history, maybe a little bit of architecture, but like, I want to build my library here. I don’t want to start with books I think I need. I’m just going to collect really cool books from here on out.
ERIC: You want to be able to get away from theatre at some point.
KRIS: Yeah, I mean, it’s exhausting. When you live it, you don’t need to live it.
ASHLEY: Give yourself a little break. Remind yourself that you love it; it’s not a job.
KRIS: Yeah, yeah. And the other thing is too: how do we make theatre that means something? You have to be a part of the world. That’s usually the thing that I have the hardest time with students at a conservatory is that they’re working so hard, they don’t actually know what’s going on around them sometimes, and so you’ve kind of got to wake them up like, “Hey, when’s the last time you saw a movie? Do you know what movies are out there?”
ERIC: Cause the theater audiences aren’t the same people making the theatre. They’re all the people who aren’t making theatre.
KRIS: Right. Like when’s the last time you read the news? Or when’s the last time you watched a tv show that wasn’t something on Netflix you used to watch in your childhood? Like, watch something new.
KRIS: So yeah. I think that’s more interesting, is to have a life outside, and to do projects that are non-related to theatre.
ASHLEY: Well guys, we’re out of time for today, but don’t worry. We’re going to finish up this episode next week. Thank you, Kris, for joining us today.
KRIS: Thank you for having me.
ASHLEY: It’s been a wonderful talk and we’ll finish it up next week. This has been Silk Flowers and…
ERIC: Papier Mache Hearts. And I’m your host Eric Hart.
ASHLEY: And I’m your other host, Ashley Flowers. Make sure to follow us on Twitter at @SilkMache and you can send us some emails with questions and some thoughts or topics you want us to cover at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ERIC: And you can subscribe to us on ITunes or GooglePlay.
ASHLEY: Alright, we’ll see you guys next time. Bye!
Transcription by Alex Wade.