The Art of Nonexistent Props: Advanced Guide

The events of Duo, Humorous Interpretation (HI), and Dramatic Interpretation (DI) throw many trials at performers. Lack of direct contact, an inability to move from where one stands, popping between numerous characters, transitioning into multiple scenes with a partner all are givens pending on the event and regional rules. However, one equalizing constant exists: no props are ever allowed. This does not mean though that characters will never need to throw a ball or hand a pen to another character. What this does mean is that performers have to be crafty in how they use a “prop.”

Know the Object

The only way to use a “prop” properly is to utterly grasp the object, pun intended. A performer has to have the audience suspend disbelief and accept that the imaginary object a person is interacting with is actually there. This is far harder than what one would anticipate. Though an object might be used everyday, that does not mean that when the physical presence is removed that an accurate depiction of said object will happen. Therefore, grab hold of a real, physical version of a needed prop and practice with that. Begin by running a scene a few times using the real prop. Get a feel for the piece. Then, take some time to examine the prop. Mentally store the weight of the object, how a hand has to mold to fit around it, the gestures and manipulation of the body needed to use the prop. Know everything. Gradually begin to try removing the physical prop (using it until muscle memory settles in) so the imagined “prop” begins to emerge.

Use a “Prop”

Knowing the “prop” alone is not enough to realistically use it. Everything stored into the mind (weight, holding, manipulation, everything) must become apparent with “prop” use. Ideally, an audience should be able to name the object being used by a performer without being told verbally. “Prop” use is part of visual storytelling, and mastery of a “prop” is one more painstaking detail that showcases a Duo’s, HI’s, or DI’s expectation of being exceptional.

For starters, if an object is heavy, when a performer picks it up their hand should lower due to weight. When using an item the performer should “interact” with it honestly. This means that if changing a light bulb, for example, it should not be as easy as a flick of the wrist and in five seconds it is done; unless that is the whole point of the sequence, to be absurdly fast. Usually a person has to turn the light off, find something to stand on, twist the bulb free, insert a new one, twist that one in, flip the power back on to see it the new bulb works, and then the item used to stand on is put away. At least, that would be a realistic way to change a bulb. Obviously the style and tone of a piece dictates how precisely a “prop” is used. But more often than not being detailed is better.


Sharing a “prop” between characters adds yet another dynamic. Exchanges need to be clean. As an item is passed, the weight must be shown leaving the hand of one as it passed to the other with them showing the new weight. If an item is passed at a certain height, say at the waist, then who is seen taking it should grab the item at the appropriate height. An object must be shown to have the same mass and manipulation between partners and characters. Even the timing of an exchange in Duo needs to be perfect--there can be no unscheduled delay or rush when handing another an object. Thus, it might be of some benefit, pending on the situation, to use a real object to practice exchanges with as well. Further, if one character places an object in a certain place in the scene, then it stays there. Matter cannot disappear and reappear elsewhere for convenience; unless that is the joke. Using the example of changing a light bulb described earlier, if a character forgot to return a stool to where it is kept it could become a gag to show someone tripping over it later. The rules of physics apply in Duo, HI, and DI. Conservation of mass is always present unless explicitly stated.

The Sound Advantage

An interesting idea to play with in Duo for “props” involves using a scene partner. (This can be done in HI and DI as well. Though, it is not as stealth.) Imagine having one partner standing with their back towards the audience and thus not “in” the scene. As the performing partner makes use of a “prop,” the one turned away could make sound effects imitating noises that item would make. Or if a Duo, HI, or DI were to have a sword fight, or lightsaber fight, characters should create vocal effects to add layers to the “prop.” Remember, the little touches are what elevates a good performance into a fantastic one.

“Props” do not need to be thrown away visuals. Understanding a “prop” through and through is essential for successfully allowing an audience to suspend disbelief. An audience should not be alienated from embracing a humorous or emotional scene due to the failed use of a “prop.” The proper use of a “prop” adds additional depth to a scene that further pushes a piece to high ranks.