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Throwing limbs is not easy: I don't have good aim

posted by Sarah Moser on Thu, Jun 25, 2009
in Backstage buzz

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YN limbs

You may recall a moment during You, Nero in which newly severed bloody limbs come tumbling out of the sky, falling at the feet of the stunned Scribonius and Batheticus.  I hate to kill any theater magic, but these limbs aren't real.  They look eerily like severed limbs and are made out of super-cool, Nerf-like material.  They even have a steel rod or some other kind of skeletal substance inside to make them feel like real limbs.  It’s pretty rad.  These limbs get chucked from the back of the theater onto the stage by yours truly (and by the great Maggie Mason and Donnie Hill).  A seemingly benign task, we flitted through rehearsals without a care in the world, happily throwing our limbs onto the rehearsal room floor, hitting our target every time. 

But then we moved into the theater, and things changed.  We realized that not only do the limbs have to make a much longer journey to their target, but also there was the added obstacle of AUDIENCE MEMBERS’ HEADS to consider.  Sweaty palms yet?  Soon, we were each imagining situations in which limbs were ricocheting off of audience members, causing us to be banned from Berkeley Rep forevermore, never again able to work.  But our stage manager, the great Julie Haber, reassured us that we were up for the task. Were we?

Well, in the last week of the run, it seems like we’ve done fairly well – only a few missteps along the way.  I have very bad aim. When my P.E. teacher forced me to play kickball in elementary school, I nearly had a panic attack.  Inevitably, I would either miss the ball entirely (no matter how hard I kicked), or I would take out a kindergartener. You can imagine that all of my fourth-grade anxiety came tumbling back when I realized that my aim and athleticism were once again important. 

I developed several ways to combat this anxiety:

  1. Practice throws.  This is essential.  Warm up your arm, remind yourself what it feels like to throw a severed limb.

  2. Calisthenics.  Works every time.  Knee-high body twists remind my body that we’re about to do something athletic.  Gets the heart pumping.

  3. Take off the gold bangles, momentarily.  Rid yourself of any heavy jewelry that might get in the way of the perfect shot.

  4. Aim for Jeff McCarthy (Scribonius).  It’s like magic.  When I try to hit him, I always do.  He and Mike McShane (Batheticus) are really good at deflecting limbs.  I bet they were good at dodgeball way back when.

  5. Listen to Susannah Schulman (Poppaea).  She mentors us to get into a Zen frame of mind.  If you don’t think about hitting an audience member, you definitely won’t.

And that’s that.  Of course, Donnie Hill was on the varsity track team in college, so he throws the severed head (the coup d’etat, if you will) with incredible skill and artistry every night.  And Maggie’s all over that wee little severed hand that has a tendency to bounce.

Overall, a little anxiety goes a long way.  Or at least we hope it does, and not into your lap.

Photo by Kevin Berne
Mike McShane (left) as Batheticus
and Jeff McCarthy as Scribonius recoil
from the throwing of severed limbs in
You, Nero.


This is really the big dilemma of theater acting. Bad or unexpected things happen sometimes and cannot be reversed since this is a live performance. Trying to foresee possible problems would just cause anxiety and would keep on bothering you until the performance is over.

Ivy's views on anxiety | Tue, Aug 3, 2010

I’m always researching things that cause anxiety, but throwing severed limbs is a first for me! Still, I must say, nothing worthwhile is ever done unless it’s outside your comfort zone, stretching makes us become more confident and perform under pressure. Cool stuff!

Panic Attack Symptoms | Wed, Aug 11, 2010

Those limbs look like wooden tree branches, yet very disturbing nonetheless. O.O Yes, it is probably wise to practice throwing as I'm sure if an audience member was hit, they'd ask for a refund of the ticket. That wouldn't be good theater magic I'm afraid. Throwing severed body parts may very well turn into its own art form one day. Heads up!

D Hist

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TaxRefundGuarantee | Wed, Jan 5, 2011

Thanks for sharing,i will follow your suggestions

Max | Tue, Feb 8, 2011

If there is one thing that would give me a panic attack, a shower of severed limbs would be it! Thank you for describing the composition - nerf and steel rods - that just makes it even more real. Sounds like quite a play. Wish I could see it - or maybe not - I dislike nightmares.

StoppingAPanicAttack_org | Tue, Aug 23, 2011

This is extremely the massive state of affairs of theatre doing. unhealthy or the wonderful happens typically and can't be changed since this can be a stay show.

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