Talking Props with the Master

Ken Ryan, master of properties at SF Ballet, explains that for an art form without spoken word, like ballet, props are not just window dressing, but instead vital to the storytelling. Read on to find out more about what Ken’s job entails, his unique definition of a “prop,” and what he loves about Nutcracker.

SF Ballet in Tomasson's Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson

What constitutes a prop here at SF Ballet?

Ken Ryan: At SF Ballet, a prop is anything a dancer handles, including some furniture. In Nutcracker for example, props range widely in scale and material: from the snow and the Fabergé eggs that the Russians jump out of, to the small Christmas tree the boys carry in Prologue and all of Drosselmeyer’s “party” tricks.

Tell us about your favorite Nutcracker props:

KR: Well, of course there’s the snow.  Each snowflake (paper confetti) is about the size of a piece of paper from a hole punch. In total, I have 36 20-gallon garbage cans full of “snow” and each year we purchase about 150 pounds to replace what we’ve lost the previous year.

There’s also a prop that you may not notice—the photos above the fireplace in the Party scene. It’s actually of the Christensen brothers—the founders of SF Ballet—as children with their parents and as adults. I thought it was important for all of us to have a constant reminder of how this world-class ballet company got started. I smile to myself every time I see it.

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