Tag Archives: Slave Shack

Leg Cuffs

Slave Shack hand props

A week and a half ago, I wrote about the set props for Slave Shack, a show I prop-mastered at the Algonquin Theatre. Now that the show has closed, I can talk about the hand props (the hand props give away several key plot points, which is why I held off until the show closed). There were several interesting challenges with the hand props for Slave Shack

Slave Shack, end of Act One
Slave Shack, end of Act One

Handcuffs

Leg Cuffs
Leg Cuffs

The “handcuffs” actually needed to be leg-cuffs, as you can see in the first photograph. They also needed to be trick cuffs, with the ability to come apart without a key at any time. We couldn’t find any leg cuffs with that ability, so we had to invent them. The first thing we tried was grinding down the teeth; this would allow¬† Candice LaGia Lenoir, the actress who played Janice, to pull the handcuffs apart as easily as they could be pushed together.

During the play, however, Janice jumps out of her seat a couple of times. When she did this, the handcuffs would pop open. My first idea was to rig some sort of latch on the handcuffs, which could hold the handcuff jaws together. This created more problems than it solved, as Candice needed to undo the handcuffs in the dark and get off stage at the end of Act One. It introduced a whole lot of fumbling whenever the handcuffs needed to come on or off.

I got another set of cuffs which still had un-ground teeth. I put the key in the hole and covered the slot so the key remained inside permanently. I then cut the end of the key off and replaced it with a less visible lever to operate it. Basically, I turned the leg-cuffs into a set of trick cuffs. This seemed to work for the most part.

Chair

Swivel chair on pedestal
Swivel chair on pedestal

The play called for a large sofa in the middle of the office. Jack handcuffs Janice’s leg to one of the sofa’s legs. There is a line about the sofa being so heavy “it took five guys to carry it up here.” The implication is that Janice cannot simply lift the sofa and slide the cuff out from underneath to free herself.

Unfortunately, the stage at the Algonquin is 12′ by 15′, and a sofa of any significant size would fill the entire set. Natalie (the set designer, and my wife) designed a swivel chair with a heavy pedestal as pictured above. Unfortunately, such a thing does not exist; the only chairs close are designer mid-century pieces which cost thousands of dollars.

We found the top part of the chair on Craigslist, and was able to get it delivered. It originally had a rolling base. I removed that and replaced it with the base you see above, which was taken from an outdoor pedestal table. It was extremely heavy, which was good, since we needed to sell the idea that Janice could not simply sneak off with the entire chair, and also so the chair would not tip over during the violent scufflings which occurred throughout the performance.

Monkey

One of the major plot points of Slave Shack involves a racist monkey cartoon which appeared on a company brochure to depict Africa. Jack Blake, the main character was held responsible for it and forced to retire. During the play, Warren, his underling, gives Jack a going-away present – a stuffed toy which resembles the racist monkey cartoon described earlier. Debra Whitfield, the director, wanted something creepy-looking, like the cymbal monkey toys from the 1950s.

original monkey toy from eBay
original monkey toy from eBay

I found a significantly creepy version of this toy on eBay; it was fairly cheap, as the moving parts were broken. I removed the clothes and added a grass skirt, feather headdress, a bone in its nose, and some decor around his neck.

monkey toy used in Slave Shack
monkey toy used in Slave Shack

I had to add some additional fur as removing the clothes revealed the metal skeleton underneath.

Breakable Statue

You may recall my earlier post on how to make a breakable glass. When we tested it in the space, it was still too dangerous. The space is so small that any breakable item had the potential of throwing shards into the audience. The space was also completely enclosed, so no matter how you blocked the action, the pieces would eventually ricochet off a wall and head toward the audience.

A breakable wooden statue
A breakable wooden statue

The only safe alternative on our budget (short of cutting the moment) was a wooden statue which could be pre-broken and reassembled with hot glue every night. Once again, Natalie decided to carve one herself rather than buy one. Though more labor-intensive, this gave us one distinct advantage. We cut the block of wood into five pieces and reassembled it with hot glue before carving it. This gave us nearly invisible break lines. If we cut a statue that had already been carved, the kerf, or thickness of the cutting blade, would have kept the seams from lining up completely.

Jack Blake's desk in Slave Shack

Slave Shack set props

Slave Shack, at the Algonquin Theatre, opened this past Monday. It is my first off-off-Broadway Props Master credit, as well as the first off-off-Broadway scenic design credit for Natalie Taylor Hart (my lovely wife). It is directed by Debra Whitfield and stage managed by Elizabeth Salisch, with lighting designed by Deborah Constantine. Today, I’ll be looking at some of the set props and dressing and what went into this show. Once the show closes, I’ll examine the hand props; as of now, just showing them will give away too much of the story line.

Scenery for Slave Shack
Scenery for Slave Shack

As you can see, the stage is tiny – around twelve feet by fifteen feet. The setting is the corporate office of a senior executive vice president in Manhattan. Natalie did an amazing job capturing that grandeur in such a small space. My advice to her was that since the furniture pieces couldn’t be grand in scale, they would need to exquisite in construction and appearance. Everything in this photograph was built, found, modified, and painted by the two of us.

Jack Blake's desk in Slave Shack
Jack Blake's desk in Slave Shack

I originally built the desk so it could be taken apart for easier transport up to the theatre, but we were able to get a large enough vehicle from Zipcar. I built the structure out of 3/4″ plywood that was left over from the Public Theatre’s Bacchae and was headed for the dumpster. I covered it all in Masonite which was literally being carried out to the trash; the smooth surface saved me a lot of time in sanding and filling. The metal surface is from an off-cut piece of sheet metal I’ve saved for a few months. I worked over it with a wire wheel brush hooked up to a drill to give it that pattern.

The bar and decanter in Slave Shack
The bar and decanter in Slave Shack

I built the bar the same way I constructed the desk. The Masonite already gives you a fairly smooth and neutral surface. For added smoothness, I put on two coats of primer, sanding in between each coat.

The decanter on top was a tricky find; all the scotch decanters we could find were either too expensive, too ornate, or had the word “scotch” engraved on them, which we didn’t want. Natalie finally found the perfect one on Etsy. I knew Etsy sold handmade objects, but I was surprised (and pleased) to discover they also sell vintage items.

Ethnic artifacts in Slave Shack
Ethnic artifacts in Slave Shack

We needed a number of artifacts to dress the set. Natalie did not want to limit the artifacts to Africa, and asked for artifacts from other places where Jack Blake, the lead character, mentions he has traveled. In addition, she did not want any of the objects to be functional, so all of them (save for the jar on the left, which was needed for a bit of stage business) were figures or instruments. The large woman statue is from the Harlem Market, while the foo dog and other creature is from Pearl River. The drum is from the director, while the jar is from Natalie.

Fertility Goddess in Slave Shack
Fertility Goddess in Slave Shack

Debra, the director, wanted a fertility goddess statue placed apart from the rest of the artifacts. We could not find an appropriate one within our budget. Natalie collected photographs of a number of fertility statues, and working with the director, developed her own design which she then sculpted out of foam.

Stay tuned for next month when I can discuss the hand props. Until then, keep coming back  for your normal dose of prop news and stuff you can use!

A glass smashed after sprayed with Plasti-Dip

Making a Breakable Glass

I’m props mastering a show called “Slave Shack”, at the Algonquin Theatre in the Gramercy Park area. One of the scenes calls for the actress to fling a scotch glass against the wall, where it breaks.

I decided to buy a number of thin glasses and spray them with Plasti-Dip. It’s a rubber coating which sprays on, and it comes in a variety of colors, including clear.

A glass smashed after sprayed with Plasti-Dip
A glass smashed after sprayed with Plasti-Dip

The rubber coating keeps the pieces of the glass together when it is smashed. If any pieces do break loose, they are not as sharp. I made a video to illustrate the process a lot more succinctly:

The obvious disadvantage of this method is that the glass ends up looking frosted. Also, you cannot use this method when you are breaking a bottle or glass over someone’s head. You can use it to coat glasses and bottles which are being thrown or dropped, but you should not have shards of glass, even coated in rubber, flying around an actor’s eyes and mouth.

The advantage? I bought three dozen (36) glasses for about $50 at a restaurant supply store. The Plasti-Dip is around $7-8 a bottle, and I only needed two bottles for this.

Smash Plastic, your other alternative, gives you a clear product, but it costs around $200 a gallon. You also need to make a mold (and buy molding supplies) and spend the time casting all of your glasses.

Sugar glass is great for films, but it degrades too quickly for theatre. Unless you want to be cooking up a fresh batch every night before the show for the next 2 weeks, or however long your show runs, it’s not a very viable alternative.

Glass dismissed!