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A theatrical property, commonly referred to as a prop, is any object held or used on stage by an actor for use in furthering the plot or story line of a theatrical production, as well as giving the scenery, actors, or performance space specific period, place or character. Smaller props are referred to as "hand props". Larger props may also be set decoration, such as a chair or table. The difference between a set decoration and a prop is use. If the item is not touched by a performer for any reason it is simply a set decoration. If it is touched by the actor in accordance to script requirements or as deemed by the director, it is a prop.
Props will sometimes have crossover requirements, needing to be addressed by the different departments.
The history of props began when small acting troupes were formed during the renaissance and travelled throughout Europe. These "companies," functioning as cooperatives, pooled resources and divided any income. Many performers provided their own costumes, but special items: stage weapons, furniture or other hand-held devices were considered "company property," thus the term "property," which eventually was shortened to "prop." The first known props were stylized hand held masks, called Onkoi, used by performers in "Greek Theatre" and have become symbols of theatre today, known as the "comedy and tragedy masks".
The term has readily transferred to television and motion picture production, where they are commonly referred to by the phrase movie prop or film prop.
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