(Before I begin, for those who do not know, a "prop" is a handheld object that actors have onstage in a theatrical production, such as a baseball or a torch)
Pass the Prop is a game employed by actors in the middle of a theatrical production, often unannounced to the audience or stage crew.
Pass the prop was created out of boredom. When a traveling theater group has been on the road for 5 or 6 months, doing the same show over and over every night begins to get a bit monotonous and annoying. Therefore, a game was invented that the actors play by passing a prop around on stage to keep them interested and amused.
Usually, a prop is picked that is supposed to be onstage near the beginning of the show, and also small enough to be handed off clandestinely. A torch or a hat is too large to be handed around without the audience noticing. Something small, such as a piece of fruit or a watch on the wrist, is perfect.
Then, the cast must decide on a major character to be in charge of passing said prop around. They must be on stage often enough that they can hand it to each other actor. A narrator usually works best. The aim is to have the prop pass each actors' hands once before the show ends.
An Example of Pass the Prop: (using a generic show setup)
Act 1, Scene 2: Girl and her father onstage.
- Beginning of Act 1: Narrator and girl are onstage alone.
- Narrator: Subtly removes a button from his pocket, and drops it on her lap as he passes in front of her.
- Girl: Takes button offstage with her at the end of the scene.
Act 1, Scene 3: Girl's Father and Boy's Father on stage.
- Girl: Sings her song, and then clasps hands with the father as usual. She pawns the button off in her hand to his.
- Girl's Father: Keeps button with him until the end of the scene.
- Girl's Father: Starts the scene in the back of the stage in song (upstage, in theater terms), and as he moves toward the front, he passes a piece of scenery. He stops for a second next to it, and places the button on top. He continues the song, and moves to the front of the stage (downstage).
- Boy's Father: Walks behind the scenery, and as he comes around the front of it, he picks up the button. He puts it in his pocket, and keeps going with the scene.
This will continue the entire show, with the button always being onstage somewhere. The trick to doing this is being creative- the actors must keep doing their regular routine, and just become a vehicle for the prop.
Sometimes, this game is played with a coin if the show does not have any small props.
Side Note: I recently was a spotlight operator in a production of "The Fantastics", and the actors decided to take a plum (one of the props in Act 2) and hand it around before it should have appeared throughout Act 1. The crew noticed, but the audience never did.