Tag Archives: glass

Breakaway Window Pane

A few months back, I did the props for Arms and the Man at Triad Stage. Set during the 1885 Serbo-Bulgarian War, the first scene revolves around a Swiss soldier breaking into the bedroom of a Bulgarian woman. The war rages around them, and at one point, a bullet shatters through the glass of her balcony door. That’s a prop.

We not only needed to make a breakaway window pane that would fit the decorative transom, but I had to come up with a way to break it. Obviously, we couldn’t fire a bullet through it; we couldn’t fire any projectile through it because it was facing the audience. I needed something that could be triggered from offstage and remain hidden both before and after the trick. Luckily, the audience could not see the upstage side of the door unit. The video below shows the mechanism in action.

Essentially, I took a mousetrap and tied a nut to it. When triggered, the mousetrap flung the nut into the window, breaking it, and then it hung out of sight. The rest of the mechanism is simply to keep the mousetrap secure so it will not trigger prematurely, but also to make it easy to pull the string when the cue is called.

The Bedroom, Act One
The Bedroom, Act One

The photo above shows the window in the context of the set. Somehow this is the best photo I could find.

Glass mold
Glass mold

The window pane itself was made from isomalt, a sugar substitute which works a lot better for breakaways than traditional sugar glass. I get mine from Make Your Own Molds, but you can find it at many baking and confectioners shops since it is used for sugar sculpture on cakes.

For the mold, I cut the shape of the pane I needed out of a sheet of silicone rubber, and placed it on a silicone baking pad.

Breakaway glass pane
Breakaway glass pane

Above is one of my first attempts. The panes became a little clearer and smoother as I made more of them and experimented with the process. Below is a behind the scenes video put out by Triad Stage for this production. It has a bit of footage showing me making the breakaway window panes.

The effect was eventually cut during tech. The scene was rather dark, so the audience could not see the glass breaking. The setup and cleanup of the effect was not worth the little it added to the scene, so it was replaced with a sound and lighting effect.

Friday Fun-o-Rama Links

Dug North has started a series on working with brass, and in the first installment, he shows several ways to cut brass. Whether it’s brass rod, tube or sheets, he knows the tools to use.

This is pretty great: the “Women in Leadership” column at the Guardian has highlighted Hayley Gibbs, a prop maker in the UK. It’s heartening to see a news outlet acknowledge that people who work with their hands and make things can be leaders too.

Here’s a quick little tip for making windows look broken without removing or destroying the glass.

This is quite the extensive interview with Puppet Kitchen’s Michael Schupbach.

Formal Dinner Settings

Understanding formal dining settings can be important to the prop master who strives for historical and cultural accuracy. If a play, film or television show calls for characters to dine in a formalized setting, the amount of plates, utensils and glasses involved are numerous and often not laid out in the script. Following the conventions of formal dining settings help establish the time and place and flesh out the characters (not to mention giving the actors something to do in the scene). Many audience members will recognize when proper formal dining procedures are not followed.

Below is an image of a “typical” formal dining setting. By “typical”, I mean a contemporary style used in Western/Anglo-Saxon cultural settings. It can of course vary depending on the food being served and the level of formality, as well as by cultural and regional specifics. Nonetheless, the basic style presented in the picture below is relatively standard from the Edwardian period (1901-1910) to the present.

Formal dinner setting
Formal dinner setting.

Careful research is always needed for recreating any sort of historical dinner settings. Before 1900, table settings differed much more between the countries of Western Europe, though formalized dinner settings in general have been practiced as far back as medieval times.

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!