Buyer beware. And what doing props taught me. And puppy shot!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Today, between applying coats of primer to the Ikea bookshelf shelves which I really um, didn't get far on, I was poking around the internet, shoppin'.  

Mostly for shelf brackets (lie), although funny, I did accidentally come upon the motherload of vintage house plan books (jump ahead).   I wasn't even looking!  (lie)  I'm a tad hesitant to share it with you but I will because I can be nice.  Only drag was that most books started at $30.  Sad face.

But I was over on eBay,* looking at zillions of brackets when I came across one that someone was selling, had made, but it was a plain ol' angle iron made of flat stock steel.   And then they were asking $18.  For one.  Plus $11.50 shipping.  For a bent piece of metal with two holes.  (And in this day and age, how come there isn't a "filter by ugly" option on eBay?!)

Which reminded me of another time I was poking around eBay and came across some light fixtures that were obviously made by the seller but they were claiming they were vintage, jumping on that steampunk/industrial runaway money train.  And then charging hundreds of dollars, even one or two in the thousands.

Or the other day when I saw someone on Craigslist selling a light fixture from Ikea for $50.  And you can still walk in the store and buy it for $25.  He was claiming he spent more.  (Have you checked out the Ikea PS 2014 collection?  Some neat stuff.)

Or the "reclaimed wood" tables and such on Craigslist that are obviously made of new pine and stained.  For $500+.  Sheesh.

Or when I'm at a thrift or antique store and there's a piece that appears to be old but isn't and it's tagged an antique with a price to match.

As you can tell, it irks me when folks blatantly try to rip other people off, hoping customers won't be terribly educated about what they're shopping for.   I know, it's a story as old as buying and selling.  Doesn't mean I can't still be annoyed.  Heh, it sincerely bothers me.  I almost emailed the Ikea light guy but stopped myself.

When I was doing props, I ran into this quite often since I was out shopping on a daily basis.  Before you think doing props is fun and easy and all you do is shop all the time, nope:

Many times my budget for a show was $100, or $200.  Or if I was very lucky, $500.  As if that wasn't hard enough, my prop lists were generally 3-5 pages long of scripted items, including furniture.  Not including set dressing or all the stuff that will get added during rehearsal.  

All of these items were very specific too so it's not like you can just run out and buy x, y, and z and call it done.  Sometimes I could -- when I was at Steppenwolf and had budgets of $5000-6000.  That made it easier but very rarely, even with that level of funds.  You have to make the money you have work extremely hard for you, and it can be tough when there are folks out there trying to scam.

Being a prop person, you will really really really really learn how to budget and allocate time and funds.  

Deadlines are absolute.  Stage managers will harass you.  So will actors, the director, the production manager, the scenic designer, the artistic director.  Budget budget, less is best.  Work the phone.  Research.  Build it or buy it?  Make that thing do something it wasn't meant to do.  Fake Food Making King!  Find that Can of Anti-Matter!  Research.  

Meetings meetings, discussions discussions discussions.  Study, research.  Research.  Did I mention research?  Organization, priorities, accounting, master of keeping track of miles and eating in the car.  You will spend more money working on a show just working on the show than you will earn.

You will memorize what thrift stores in town are best for what, who will work with you and who won't.  Who prices fairly and who doesn't.  Who is scamming and who is honest.  

You learn furniture history, history in general, be a buff on multitudes of countries, know when UPC codes were invented, or fridges, or plastic, when pencils became yellow.  

You become a walking encyclopedia, a dictionary, a librarian almost, a cultural wizard.  Oddly, the highest praise I could receive is if no one noticed the props and people forgot to thank me.  It is one heck of a hard job and definitely not for the faint of heart.

But as you can see, it taught me a lot.  Understatement.  Now you can see where I get my mad budgeting skills from.

Back to buyer beware though.  Do your research.  If you're going to spend your money on a particular thing, anything, educate yourself first.  

You've seen those Antiques Roadshow segments where someone bought some big fancy what's-it, spent a ton of money hoping to cash in, only to find out it's a fake.  Know what you're buying, and know you're not being taken.

I read a thing online yesterday (though I can't find the link again, sorry) about thrift store shopping tips.  One of them was bring your smartphone so you can educate yourself about what you're looking at.  Clearly the list was written when smartphones were just coming out.  But still, good tip.  

Even more so at antique stores.  That can also apply to regular retail stores as well.  Oh this fancy who's-a-what's-it is from wherever random country and is 500 years old!  Can't you just feel that patina!  Even when you're internet shopping.  I mean, jeez, you're right there on the internet already, right?  Do a little research.

Huh, no photos today.  Well, I suppose that's a stellar excuse to share a cute puppy photo then.

Hailey at three months old.

*The eBay link is an eBay affiliate link.  Mwah, thanks!  Please see the "boring stuff" tab for more info.


  1. Awwwwwwwww! She's still a beauty her Mommy!

    Oh, and great advice!


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