He is a sculptor, painter, teacher, animal handler and firearms expert. He scours junkyards and thrift shops for materials that bring stories to life. He’s an ex-military man who owns a boa constrictor named Daisy.
Jim Bussolati is a prop master.
“A prop master must have many qualities — resourcefulness, artistic training, and broad knowledge of artistic and organization aspects of the theatre, and most of all, the ability to understand and translate the director’s vision into reality,” said Laurence Kaptain, dean of the College of Music and Dramatic Arts.
Bussolati joined the LSU Theatre Program in 2003 after receiving his bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi and his MFA in Design and Production from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.
“The best part about my job is the creativity I get to use,” Bussolati said. “We use anything we can to build the props you see on stage. … I can spend three days on a piece that is only used in production for five seconds.”
Whether he is carving an elaborate throne used in a production of “King Lear” or scraping and stuffing a dead coyote, Bussolati is always busy finding and producing a variety of objects.
“Most people think that the props we used are bought, but we actually make almost everything used on stage,” Bussolati said.
In addition to furniture and smaller items, Bussolati is also a firearms expert. He spent three years in the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army as a medic, which allowed him to gather experience with an assortment of weaponry.
Bussolati not only handles props, but also leads one of only six Property Management MFA. programs in the country.
“Professor Bussolati is perhaps one of the few members of the entire LSU faculty whose job includes searching junk yards, visiting consignment shops, passing through jewelry stores and other businesses in search of physical objects that transform and extend the message of the playwright and the vision of the director,” Kaptain said.
While he functions professionally as a properties master, Bussolati is also a professional-in-residence, teaching students to follow in his footsteps.
Bussolati often serves as properties master or designer for local productions. Recently, he has worked on productions such as “Sister’s Christmas Catechism,” “The Magic Flute,” “Hansel and Gretel” and the Krewe of Iduna’s Mardi Gras Ball scenery. He has also worked on Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre’s production of “The Nutcracker — A Tale from the Bayou” every year since 2003.
“Professor Bussolati has a wide range of skills, including woodworking, furniture building, sculpting and painting,” said Kristin Sosnowsky, associate professor and chair of the Department of Theatre and senior associate dean of the College of Music and Dramatic Arts.
“Some of the more memorable props that Professor Bussolati has created include a life-sized replica of a penguin which was sculpted from Styrofoam and used in our production of ‘Heist!’ and a version of the Mae West lips couch.”
In addition to working within the school, students studying props have the chance to benefit from the University’s direct association with the professional equity theater company Swine Palace.
“Props should be regarded as a profession rather than an afterthought,” Bussolati said. “A set is floor and walls. We’re everything else.”