Design and Fabrication

Benjamin Gray also runs a design and fab shop

I design and build props for theaters. I’ve built set pieces, signs, the front half of a car, and many other things, too. I did the full stage design for a production of Bare in Milwaukee. My specialty though is SFX props. I love questions like, “Can you make a singing bird that explodes in every performance?” “How about a gun that shoots out an umbrella?” These are my favorite to say yes to because I usually have no idea how I’ll do it.

I love the collaborative nature of theater productions, so in addition to the prop-building-for-hire, I also donate my time and skills to local community theaters. Most of the time these groups are working with no budget, but because I enjoy a good challenge, I work with them to design something that outperforms their expectations.

You’ll find a few examples of my work below. If you’re interested in more behind the scenes content, I post in-progress photos of whatever I’m working on to my Instagram account.

That cathedral window was about 14′ tall and is actually made up of about 10 parts that are held together with magnets! A giant puppet broke through it every night and the crew could snap it back together.

The “Bird Cannon”

The show required a ‘singing’ bird that could explode and be put back together for the next show. I designed a puppet controlled by a cable and spring mechanism for the singing. For the explosion, I put the puppet on a home-made air cannon. When the cannon goes off, the bird flips back into a hidden trap door and feathers fly out of the barrel. Check out the video to see it in action.

pencil sketches of a bird puppet
Design Sketches and Parts List
Bird Explosion Test

The Umbrella Gun

The classic, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff, has a scene in which the husband pulls a rifle on his wife. To everyone’s relief, only an umbrella comes out. I built a prototype using a modified Nerf gun, but ultimately it didn’t work out. I then designed an air-powered system using mini CO2 tanks. That didn’t work out either. Ultimately, I designed an air system using a refillable home-made tank that I hid inside a custom-built rifle stock. I designed a collapsible umbrella that fits into the barrel as well.

A rifle stock that I carved, getting a coat of Danish Oil. That tube in the background is the air tank that hides inside and powers the umbrella.

I’m available to help you bring your ideas to life for the stage as well as for film and TV production. If you need anything, even just an answer to a question, don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can contact me (and follow along as I build things) at