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But I'm a pacifist...

posted by prop shop on Fri, Feb 13, 2009
in Prop shop

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You know that precious few minutes of sleep you get when you hit snooze or set the alarm for another half an hour before going to work...ahh...  And do you know when it goes horribly wrong and you have a mini-nightmare, only to wake up ten minutes later wondering why didn't you just wake up when you were supposed to...??  Now you haven't gone to the gym and are stressed out before the day has even begun...  Well that happened to me on the morning we opened In the Next Room.  No, I wasn't having anxiety dreams about vibrators (or nice snoozy dreams either!) 

In fact, I had already mentally moved on beyond all the hard work that went into producing that show, and beyond the show presently in rehearsal, Crime and Punishment, which, although it caused me to suffer as a teenager (in the way that good books draw you into a different mental state while you read them), was not causing me to loose sleep yet, ax murder aside. 

I was dreaming, quite elaborately, about buying guns for The Lieutenant of Inishmore


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So I decided it was time for me to really focus on acquiring these guns. I forced myself to spend the better part of the day researching and reading through all the information I had on the guns for this show (after a last-minute vibrator repair, of course).   

I've actually always tried to be as hands off as possible when it comes to stage weapons. Inevitably, I have to get them, but I leave it to the fight directors and backstage crew to deal with handling them. I don't like guns, real or fake, and I admit, I'm not excited about doing a show that is all about guns and blood. That said, I have known since this summer that I would have to suck it up and get in gear for this show (that is to say, I had no choice). I had half-heartedly started this process then, but not with the focus I needed to spend to get over my mental block against dealing with the weapons.  

I've talked a number of times to Jim Guy at Milwaukee Rep, who in the theater prop world is the Prop Weapons Guru. I think I talk to/email with him every time I use a weapon on stage. He's awesome and incredibly knowledgeable--and one of those guys who is a natural teacher and a great storyteller (so, fun to chat up anyway). So of course, this summer at S*P*A*M*, the annual prop masters conference (yes, we have a conference too, which maybe I've mentioned in previous blog posts?), I chatted him up, as well as a lot of my counterparts around the country who have worked on other versions of this show, and whom all had great advice

Everyone had something to say about the process and had information to email me. Props people are really giving, interesting, creative, and intelligent folks (which makes me sometimes wonder how I've stayed in this business so long...?). Nathan at The Alley was super-helpful and entertaining. And Kelly at St.Louis Rep was amazing. She was budgeting the show at the time and had all her paperwork with her to work on in the spare moments we weren't conferencing. St. Louis Rep did the show a few months ago, and I was able to go see their version. She arranged for me to watch the show from the audience and also from backstage. I took pages of notes and hundreds of pictures. And, most importantly, my fear of blood and guns had been mildly relieved. What I thought to be the impossible can actually be staged live. 

I also came back with a glowing review of Steve Tolin, the special-effects person they hired (and whom we will, thankfully, be using even though we could do this in-house--there is so much to do, and he has his process down to a science). Les Waters, who will be directing our version, also went to see the show at St. Louis, and Tom, our production manager, had already seen The Alley's production and taken pictures as well.  So we all knew what craziness we are getting ourselves into....

I then spent a few months getting caught up in all of the giant, prop-heavy shows we have been putting on here at Berkeley Rep...until the morning of the opening of In the Next Room, when I realized that I do indeed have to actually acquire weapons for our production. My dream didn't include background checks or firearms permits which we do have to get, even to use fake weapons. 

"Fake" guns have been re-manufactured only to take "blank" charges--fake bullets, but still incredibly loud and potentially damaging at close range: the "charge" shoots out of the top, not the barrel. So there is still a fair amount of caution to take when handling and shooting these guns, and I don't take this lightly at all.  I've actually spend a lot of mental energy on this since the summer.  I have been reading up on gun safety while waiting in line at the permit office and in various airports. 

Obviously, I'm in favor of gun-control laws even if it means we have to take a few weeks to get these permits and jump through various hoops to rent the guns we need. I am trying to get the most reliable, safest ones possible. Even with the permits and special procedures, there are always terrible news stories about freak theatre or film accidents that have happened which other prop people share with our group email list. I read these even though I don't want to. Knowledge is important, but sensationalism isn't what I'm after. And if you are one of those like to watch the train wreck sorts, I'm sure you could find all these awful stories on-line, but I won't link to them here.   

These stories fill me with dread that people can actually get seriously hurt playing with guns even if they are fake. Theatre is not worth dying, or even being injured for--it s the worst thing that could possibly happen, and why I'm terrified of the responsibility of even renting prop guns. I have wanted to avoid having our theater actually own fireable guns. I won't even get into all the bad things that can happen if the weapons aren't properly locked up...But today I ordered half the guns and continued on the process of renting the other half, though that is the harder, permit-requiring part. And, I'm sure the show will be just great.

I much prefer prop dead bodies to live ammo. I'm looking forward to meeting Steve in person when he comes in next week to do the life casting of a few of the actors, which you know I will definitely be blogging about, so stay tuned...

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