Put away your big scary knife

July 10, 2008

I’ve been reading a new blog written by a NY theatre producer. He offers insight and opinion on all sorts of topics but my favorites are the ones when he gives us the blow by blow of what’s going on in his experience. So in that spirit (and since I haven’t written about theatre in a bit) I offer a glimpse into the trials of a stage manager from when I was putting out fires for “Once on this Island” a year ago.

  • Friday mid morning during rehearsals I receive this email from the Vice President of the Theatre that was copied to all the production staff and most of the Board of Directors:

Erin, et al:

I have heard word that a 6″ knife being used as a prop in “OOTI” was found this morning left out on a table in the house, posing a possible injury and liability risk. Though the likelihood of an accident may be slight, the possibility is none the less real and worthy of consideration.

I’ve two thoughts to share on this subject. If any of my assumptions are wrong, please feel free to point them out, as I’m still in the VP-P learning curve :

1. The Stage Manager and Director are ultimately responsible for the safety of cast and crew. I think this responsibility also extends to visitors to TLT where it relates to any direct tie to a current production, as is the case with this knife.

2. Nothing beats having real weapons in a show, when it adds to the production. I stage managed “Deathtrap” with both sides of the stage literally packed with working weapons. In that and subsequent armed productions, a props person was designated as a “weapons wrangler” and it was the duty of this person to pay PARTICULAR attention to the use, handling and storage of the weapon(s).

I’d suggest dedicating the care of this item to one particular person.

3. Have you someone involved in the production who knows how to train cast members in the proper stage use of weapons (to include handling and storage)? I ask because in my experiences associated with any sort of staged violence, a “fight choreographer” was employed, whether that covered a beating with a stick, fisticuffs, stage pistols, or a working cross bow.

Just some thoughts.

At the least, I would hope this prop be accounted for at all times, LOCKED in the prop room when not in use, and never left unattended or accounted for.

Thanks, (VP of Production)

  • So after I had been at class all day and had no response from the director who was also TLT Executive Director and since the letter was addressed to me, I responded:

(VP of Production), Thanks for your prompt attention to this matter. Let me fill in some details.

Our Director is certified in stage combat and has been in charge of the weapon. Until last night it has always been in her possession while not on stage (and put away by her as well.) To my knowledge the weapon in question has a blunted cutting surface (although still posses puncture risk.) I want to assure you that the knife was not left in the house out of negligence. We (Our Director and I) locked up the building and were the last to leave. Our Director left her materials in the house to be ready for rehearsal today or her to return to pick them up in the morning. I don’t necessarily want to speak for her, but I imagine that her assumption, (and mine as well) was that TLT staff would be the only ones in the building before her. And that no one would be in house to disturb her materials. And she and I would arrive for rehearsal before any of the cast. On second reflection I am aware that this whole ordeal could have been avoided by locking up the knife. But again I wanted to let you know that we have been diligent about safety and that this was just a choice that was made that we assumed would not carry any risk. I do agree with you about responsibility for safety falling on the director (in conception) and stage manager (in execution) and as such I will follow up on this issue by insuring that the knife is put away every night (although Our Director will still be responsible for its care until we hand over to the Assistant Stage Manager who will be in charge of props during the run.)

Thanks for all of your help, Erin

  • So what had shaped up to be a big scandal was cleaned up by a little “it’s my fault but it’s not my fault” sidestepping. The Director never did respond to this except to thank me for responding. If I only knew this was going to be the least of my worries.
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