Tag Archives: accidents

Prop-a-palooza

Butcher John Wildenborg has become a meat expert for Hollywood. He started with providing meats for Fargo and evolved into becoming an on-set butcher consultant. He now supplies meat and meat-related props to a number of Hollywood films and shows.

Speaking of butchers, two high school students were hospitalized after having their necks cut with razors during a performance of Sweeney Todd.  As with most news stories of prop mishaps, the details are confused. It appears they were using real razors that were filed down and wrapped in duct tape. These stories are always presented the same way; a spokesperson gives all the reasons and excuses why this shouldn’t have happened. They list all the precautions they took and safety measures in place. But the simple fact that an accident did happen points to a problem somewhere. But no one ever reveals what those problems are.

Miss USITT this year? Stage Directions has a lengthy roundup of the conference, along with tons of videos. A lot of them have to do with lighting and sound, which is true of the conference in general. Hey, props may have the skills, but lights pay the bills.

Speaking of USITT, they released a statement on the surprise HB2 bill that recently passed here in North Carolina. They join SETC, who released their own statement last week. SETC is actually headquartered in North Carolina, just down the street from me, and will feel the effects of this horrendous piece of legislation. They did not go as far as Stephen Schwartz, who has banned productions of his musicals (such as WickedPippin, and Godspell) in North Carolina while the bill is in place.

Speaking of bad musicals, Syracuse.com has a great piece on the chandelier in the touring production of Phantom of the OperaIt rocks, it crashes, it has pyro, and it sucks in silks. They have a great diagram of the massive prop, but the image is too low-res to make out the text. Luckily, you can head to the webpage of the diagram’s artist, Jeff Hinchee, to see a bigger version.

Shooting at the OK Corral

This past weekend saw another accident with guns used during a performance, this time at a Wild West reenactment during Tombstone’s Helldorado Days.

According to Tucson News Now, “One of the Vigilantes arrived late and did not have his gun properly inspected. He then accidentally shot another member of the Vigilantes.” The show was stopped immediately, and it turns out the shooter’s gun had been loaded with six live rounds, and five of them were fired.

Yikes.

We could talk about all the things that “should have” happened. They should do a gun check before every show. They should have an armorer in charge of all the ammunition. They should cheat their aim away from other actors. They should, they should, they should.

But it sounds like they do that. The Tombstone Vigilantes have been performing reenactments since 1946. They do several shows a month. Collectively, they have probably fired off more blank ammunition than most of us have even seen. And they have done it without an accident for 69 years.

So what happened? I don’t know. We may never know. But the important thing to take away from all this is that weapons safety protocols are important no matter how experienced you are, or how many times you have done a show. No matter how much training you have, or how qualified you become, you can never skip over proper safety procedures.

Learning about proper weapon safety isn’t like a vaccine, where once you learn it, you are protected from future accidents. It only works if you follow it each and every time weapons are used on stage. There is no new procedure or protocol we can invent that will imbue us with perfect safety; we already know all the proper procedures, we just need to follow them.

I recently ran across the following passage from an 1874 issue of Harper’s Monthly Magazine. We’ve had safe weapons procedures for a long, long time; it goes to show that accidents only happen when they are neglected:

“A careful property-man keeps his ramrod attached by a cord to the wall, so that he may not by mistake leave it in a gun-barrel after loading the weapon. Accidents have arisen from a neglect of this precaution, and also from the improper or careless loading of weapons, as was the case a short time since in Washington, where a young man was shot and killed on the stage of a variety theatre by a too-heavy wadding, which entered his head from the gun of a horrified comrade. Paper wads are very dangerous; among the other accidents possible through them is that of their setting fire to the scenery; hence in well-regulated theatres a special wadding is used, made of hair, and which will not communicate fire to surrounding objects.”

Friday’s Rehearsal Notes

The Food Network gives some credit to the shows’ prop master (or design director). Wendy Waxman is responsible for decorating and accessorizing the sets of all the shows filmed at the Food Network’s studios at Chelsea Market.

Congressman Das Williams has introduced legislation to make flesh or proximity detection technology mandatory in all table saws sold in California after January 1, 2015. I have mixed feelings about this. I think safety is important, and I feel in a lot of situations, companies will put out unsafe products until forced otherwise; this is more true with chemicals and toxic substances. But this kind of feature on a table saw is expensive and unwieldy. The vast, vast majority of table saw accidents happen on untrained home hobbyists. 1 This law would make trained users pay for a safety feature that’s more needed for untrained users. Not only that, but job site saws and contractor saws are far too small and light to utilize this technology; I’m only guessing, but I would imagine these kinds of saws are more likely to be used by home hobbyists. Why stop at the table saw? Why not legislate these features on band saws, planers and circular saws? Is it just because a table saw is statistically more dangerous? Because if we’re looking at statistics, a door causes just as many finger amputations per year as a table saw; why not require flesh detection technology on all doors? Anyway, it will be interesting to see how this plays out in the coming months.

Speaking of dangerous tools, AnnMarie Thomas makes the case to let kids use real tools to build things, and not those cheap toy versions. She mentions how an engineering professor asked his class of 35 first-year students whether anyone had ever used a drill press before, and not a single hand was raised. Looks like props people are single-handedly preserving manual-arts training in higher education. Maybe if kids were taught to use tools, we wouldn’t have so many table saw accidents (the majority of which are sustained by men in their 50s; age does not make one safer, only training does).

I’ve wanted something like this for awhile, but never actually sat down to plan one out. But this adjustable sanding jig for a disc sander looks like it’s the perfect design.

The Studio Creations website has a nice tutorial on vacuum forming plastic. Don’t have a vacuum forming table? No, problem, they have a tutorial on how to build one of those as well.

Notes:

  1. Popular Woodworking analyzed the injury statistics for table saws put out by the CPSC last year.

Weapon Safety is Nothing New

As a reminder that accidents with stage weapons are nothing new, I have two brief stories of mishaps from over a century ago. The first comes from The San Francisco Call, September 27, 1896:

A few weeks ago a tragic accident happened in London. The actors had to fight a duel on the mimic stage. They did not rehearse with swords, but on the night of the first performance the property-man gave them their weapons, which they used so realistically that the delighted audience wanted to give a recall. Rounds of applause came again and again, but the man who had fallen did not get up and bow before the footlights as dead actors are in the habit of doing. He was dead in real earnest, killed by a thrust of his comrade’s sword. When the horrible truth dawned upon his comrades the curtain was lowered and the audience dismissed from the play, which had ended in an unrehearsed tragedy. The next day the papers were full of lamentations over the sad event and blame was given to the management for the carelessness which had permitted sharp swords to be used without first testing them thoroughly at rehearsal.

No training, no rehearsal, weapons that should have been dulled… these are the exact same reasons accidents happen today.  This isn’t new technology or unknown knowledge; we know, and have known for well over a hundred years how to prevent accidents from stage combat weapons, yet they still happen.

The second comes from The New York Times, September 12, 1907:

Maz Davis, 30 years old, of 434 West Thirty-eight Street, a property man for David Belasco, was injured on the right hand last night by the accidental discharge of a stage gun, the “wad” of which pierced his hand, while the powder burned both his hands and face. Just before a rehearsal of the “Girl of the Golden West,” he was examining a revolver when he accidentally pulled the trigger. He was taken to the Roosevelt Hospital.

Ouch. Remember, stage guns are still dangerous, even if they are only “blank-firing”, “powder” or “toy cap” guns.

Friday Links

Happy March 3rd everybody! Wait, it’s March 2nd? Did an extra day sneak in there somewhere? Anyway, I hope you enjoy the following websites as much as I did.

This brief article is about Adrienne Call, the only (undergrad) theatre tech major in props at SUNY New Paltz.

Here is a collection of the 50 most powerful images from the Civil War. There are a lot of illustrations and some photographs too.

The Wood Database, as would be expected, contains pictures of over 300 species of wood and ways to identify them. Many of the woods have multiple photographs showing their grain patterns as well as items constructed from them, and information on working with them and safety considerations (some wood is poisonous or toxic).

Basketry: this lengthy article talks about the history of basket-weaving and basketry, the materials used, the different methods of manufacture, and where basket-weaving techniques are used. There are a lot of pictures, but (unfortunately) no step-by-step instructions on making your own baskets. Still, it’s very informative for anyone having to deal with baskets and wicker work.

There are No Accidents” is a series of public service videos by Prevent-It, a Canadian occupational safety organization. Most of the videos show a worker getting in a horrible (and often gory) accident, than recovering and explaining how workplace “accidents” are often the combination of employers pushing the limits, supervisors not maintaining machines and following policies, and workers doing something they know is dangerous.

Finally, not to get political, but the title alone of this next article is so apt for prop people: You Actually Can Put A Gun Rack In A Chevy Volt, Newt Gingrich.