A cappella group performing on stage
The A Cappella Blog

The Dramatic Use of Props

Absurdist A Cappella

This time we discuss the dramatic use of props.

Setting the Stage: Lots of a cappella groups have attempted the use of props in a cappella performance. The problem is that most of these groups do so in a half-hearted fashion—usually as a joke (let’s break out the appropriate Village People headgear for YMCA) or half-heartedly such that the props are just silly or distracting from the rest of what’s right about the performance. This is where the good, dramatic use of props can result in brilliance.

Song Selection: You need to pick a song that, itself, isn’t anything to write home about so that the emphasis can rest on your use of props. Let’s take John Mayer—most of his catalog blows. For the purposes of this exercise, we’ll explore performance of “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room.”

Setting: The dramatic use of props is all about theatricality, so this is a good time to stage your performance in a traditional theatre setting to set the mood. There’s the old fashioned stage, such that everyone has a good opportunity to see what you’re doing. You can pick a black box style theatre, so you can have more control over setting the tone, working from the blankest of canvases.

Choreography: While it’s not choreography per se, the visual presentation of a prop-centered song is key. For a literalist interpretation of “Slow Dancing” you can have members of a co-ed group slow dance as they sing, perhaps while the soloist sits on a chair, smoking a cigarette, thinking of love lost. This can lead to a climactic moment in which the soloist casts that cigarette to the ground, which, little does the audience know has already been doused in gasoline. And so, there you have it, a group slow dancing in a burning, capturing the fullest meaning of the song in its visual representation through the use props so simple as a cigarette, a Bic lighter, and some petroleum.

Other Notes: In the above example, there are, of course, some safety concerns, what with the fire you’re starting. This could easily turn deadly for your group and its audience, so you’ll likely want to pick a performance space that’s easy to evacuate and/or that’s equipped with a good sprinkler system. Either way, as those fire trucks pull up to the building, the fleeing audience becomes a part of the performance art. Talk about connecting with your audience—welcome to the big leagues!

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