The weekend is upon us again. It’s a holiday weekend; for those of us in the theatre, that means we have to go to work despite all the stores and banks being closed. It is also the unofficial end of summer. But don’t worry; I have some fun links below!
Curtains without Borders is a fascinating-looking project. It aims to record and restore all those hand painted theatre curtains found in town halls, grange halls, theaters and opera houses. It is mostly preserving those painted between 1890 through 1940. The site itself has some photographs (albeit of a small size) from across the country showcasing these valuable pieces of our theatrical history.
The National Park Service just completed a huge project. Thousands of images from their collections across the country are searchable and viewable online. These objects and specimens give a wide range of information from America’s history and are great for research.
Here are some pretty cool vintage ammo boxes. Unfortunately, none of the images are dated, but the enterprising prop master might be able to use them for further research. And while we’re at it, the whole Accidental Mysteries blog where this came from is filled with interesting vintage stuff and historic oddities.
Here is a funny item I found a few years back while cleaning out a theatrical props shop:
Once you stop laughing, you should realize it’s not actually funny. It’s serious: deadly serious. A container without a proper label can potentially contain any number or combination of hazardous chemicals, and should be treated as such. If you are just a hobbyist or sole proprietor of a shop, you should follow the proper labeling of chemicals for the reasons I give in the last two paragraphs of this article. If you work in a company with more than ten employees in the United States of America, then you are legally obligated to follow the OSHA regulations on Hazard Communication, which have strict and well-defined rules for labeling of products. You should know these whether you are the employer or employee (technically, as an employee, your employer is required to make sure you know these rules and train you if you don’t). The ten employee–rule does not apply just to the prop shop; the whole company is counted. If you count up the employees in finance, literary, scenery, marketing, lighting, box office, casting, etc., you will probably find that most theatres employ way more than ten people.
Part of the OSHA regulation on Hazard Communication (1910.1200) states what is needed for labeling:
“Labels and other forms of warning.”
The chemical manufacturer, importer, or distributor shall ensure that each container of hazardous chemicals leaving the workplace is labeled, tagged or marked with the following information: Identity of the hazardous chemical(s); appropriate hazard warnings; and name and address of the chemical manufacturer, importer, or other responsible party.
You can read the entire Hazard Communication (1910.1200) regulation if you like. It further defines what is meant by all of its terms, such as what constitutes a “hazardous chemical”, where to find the appropriate hazard warnings and other information of this type. Like many government regulations, the language can seem heavy, the wording verbose, and the overall tone threatening. Here’s the thing; in order for a manufacturer or importer to sell these products, they are the ones who need to abide by these rules. If you buy properly-labeled products from legitimate manufacturers in the United States, then you are already following the labeling requirements. If you remove or deface the label, or transfer the product to an unlabeled container, then your employees can no longer see what hazardous chemicals are present and you are in violation of the Hazardous Communication regulation.
During Hazard Communication training with Monona Rossol this past July (part of the 2010 S*P*A*M Conference), I learned an interesting caveat. If you purchase a product from another country, you become the “importer.” You are now responsible for making sure the labeling requirements are properly followed, and because US requirements differ in subtle ways from other countries, a foreign product will not necessarily have the right label. It also means you are the one responsible for creating the MSDS. What this all boils down to is that if one of your employees becomes adversely affected by the chemicals in that product while employed by you, you can be legally liable if the label and MSDS do not follow OSHA’s regulations for properly warning the employee of the health risks. If you find a product from a foreign company that you like and want to use, you need to find a US distributor of that product and only purchase it from them.
The regulation does have some allowances. You do not need to label the container if, according to the regulation, “the container into which the chemical is transferred is intended for the immediate use of the employee who performed the transfer.” Suppose you are mixing a two-part RTV silicone to make a mold. You pour each part into a cup to measure it, then you pour these into a third cup to mix it. These cups you are using do not need to have a label for RTV silicone on them because you are the one who poured the stuff in, and you are using the stuff immediately.
If you do not use it immediately, you may forget about it, and years later, someone else digs up a bottle marked “Kerosene?” I hope by now, you realize this is in gross violation of the labeling requirements. Because it is mislabeled, we do not know what hazardous chemicals are present, and thus, we do not know what we need to protect ourselves. Do we need to wear gloves? If so, what kind? Do we need a respirator? If so, what kind? Is this flammable? Acidic? Also, without a manufacturer’s name and address, we have no one to contact to get an updated MSDS.
We have a secondary problem; how do we dispose of this? Depending on local regulations, dumping many kinds of hazardous chemicals down a drain is illegal. Even without regulations, there are certain chemicals that should not be dumped down a drain regardless. Without a label, we can’t be sure. The same is true for disposing of chemicals in the dumpster or garbage dump. Not knowing what chemicals are in this jug essentially make it “toxic waste”, with no easy way to get rid of it. It is quite a headache just because somebody did not feel like properly labeling or emptying that container when they were through using that product.
Ephemera can be some of the hardest props to research and produce accurately, but thanks to the falling prices of bandwidth, storage, and digitization technologies, we see more and more scanned images of ephemera online everyday. It can be daunting to go through all the galleries and collections, and search engines are still less than ideal for finding the perfect image. Here are some sites I’ve discovered to help aid your search for the minor transient documents of everyday life. A lot of sites post a ton of links to other sites, but it can be frustrating as many places do not post images online, their images are unusable, or the navigation and search are just too complex and esoteric to use. Remember to search my blog in case you don’t see one of your favorite sites listed; I may have listed it in an earlier article.
The Ephemera Network has a lot of images uploaded by users. Because it is a community, there is also plenty of discussions and interaction concerning other places to track down ephemera. If you are a die-hard fan, you can even join in and share your interests or ask questions with other members.
The Ephemera Catalog has a very large and very varied selection of ephemera for sale. The great thing about sites that sell ephemera is that they offer high-quality scans to entice buyers. The site also has a fantastic selection of ephemera links which should give you a few hours of entertainment.
Quadrille Ephemera shows a rotating selection of what they offer for sale. The shop specializes in more hand-written and personal ephemera, like invitations, checks and holiday cards.
Scott J. Winslow specializes in selling American historical memorabilia, mostly from the nineteenth century. The images on the site are pretty high-resolution.
Sheaff: ephemera has a lot of great images in a variety of interesting categories. Be sure to check out the “links” on this site; you’ll never leave the internet.
Beer Labels has nearly 5000 beer labels. The images on the website are watermarked, but they say they can email higher-resolution files without watermarks.
This huge collection of Wine Labels is organized by subject as well as brand.
The Ad*Access Project has over 7000 American and Canadian advertisements from 1911-1955.
A Nation of Shopkeepers is a collection of trade ephemera from 1654 to 1860. Check it out if you need business-related items from old-timey Britain.
Scrapbooks are great because they preserve many types of ephemera of lesser importance and pedigree that would normally be passed-on by collectors, but are nonetheless vital to adding detail to the world of the play. Heritage Scrapbooks has images from 21 scrapbooks of various ages. You can also check out Marion’s Scrapbook, from a young woman during her college years of 1913-1917.
If you’re interested in medical and surgical imagery, you can browse several thousand images at the History of Medicine.
Arms, crests and monograms began to be used on stationary in England in the 1840s. They replaced the wax seal in many cases, which is oh-so-popular as a theatrical prop device. For the prop-maker obsessed with utmost historical accuracy, you can browse crests organized by topic to add to the stationary in your show.
Like stamps? Who doesn’t like stamps? Though images of stamps aren’t terribly difficult to search for, you can save time with this comprehensive index of stamps from around the world. Browse by country or topic and narrow your search by year.
Dying Speeches & Bloody Murders is an interesting collection; in 18th and 19th century Britain, broadsides were sold at public executions with an account of the crime or description of the criminal. They’re like an old-timey (and more gruesome) version of a program at a sporting event.
Similarly, the Roscommon Historical Research site has ephemera from County Roscommon in Ireland. They do not have many examples online, and the pictures are too small to print directly, but they have such a great range of items that are often overlooked at other sites.
If you are interested in learning more about ephemera rather than merely looking at it, the articles at the Ephemera Society of America delve into the histories of all sorts of fascinating categories and subcategories of printed paper materials.
As always, one of my favorite sources for ephemera is Flickr. Do you have any favorite sites or sources? Leave me a comment and let me know!
For our upcoming production of The Book of Grace by Suzan-Lori Parks at the Public Theater, we need beer. Technically, we need about ten beers per night.
Unfortunately, in most legitimate theatres, you cannot have the actors drinking beer during a performance. You need to figure out a way to have a beer can filled with water or something equally innocuous. One way to do it is by emptying a beer can and refilling it. This can be tricky if you also want to crack the lid as part of the stage action; the sound is made because the contents are under pressure, and unless you re-pressurize the can when filling it, you’ll lose that satisfying crack noise. Your other option is to cover a can of non-alcoholic liquid with another label. You can either cut the label out of a real beer can, or manufacture one out of paper. We’ll take a brief look at both methods.
To cover one can with the label off another, you need to start by cutting off the top and the bottom. Aluminum cans cut easily with an X-Acto blade, snap-off blade, or box cutter. You don’t want to use a power tool like a band saw or jig saw, as the movement of the blade will shake the can and tear it uncontrollably. Once you remove the top and bottom, you can slice down the side to make a flat rectangle of metal.
Once you have the label cut out, it’s time to attach it to your other can. Many actors prefer not to drink soda or anything too sweet during a show, as it snots up their throats. They may also have special diuretic needs that may preclude using certain drinks. Your best bet is canned carbonated water. Whether you choose seltzer, club soda, tonic water, or sparkling water depends on personal preference, but also on what the cans look like. The club soda I’ve used here has a very non-descript can that does not make itself known after it has been covered.
Budweiser cans have the advantage of using white as a background color; you can use white electrical tape to attach the label. If you use a different brand, you need to experiment with other types of tape. Clear packing tape is a great option if you want to avoid a colored line along the top and bottom. Make sure whatever tape you use is strong enough to keep the sharp edges of the aluminum from cutting through.
Wrapping a can of carbonated water with a paper label is another way to go. This is a good idea if your printing costs are less than the cost of acquiring beer cans. The most difficult part of this is generating the artwork. Photographing or scanning the labels can leave unrealistic shading. If you are uncomfortable using a computer graphics program to assemble and even build parts of the labels from scratch, this may not be the route for you.
You can use tape to attach the labels on the paper ones as well, or an adhesive on the back (please excuse the messiness of the tape job in the photograph below). You may find the paper label is a lot duller than an aluminum one, so you can spray it with your favorite glossy or semi-glossy clear coat.
Whichever method you decide depends on the specifics of your production. There are many variables which can effect the look of the can from the audience, such as the lighting or distance to the stage. The production may have other peculiar blocking that will affect your prop choice. If the actors crush the cans, you may not wish to cover it in a second layer of aluminum, as it may make it harder or even more dangerous to pull that off.
Just remember, whatever your show needs, you “can” do it!
Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies