Tag Archives: gun

Umbrella Gun

The umbrella gun scene in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is one of the most visually memorable in the play. George, tired of his wife Martha’s insults in front of their guests, exits offstage. He sneaks back wielding a shotgun aimed at her head. The guests see him and scream as he pulls the trigger. Instead of the loud report of a bullet, though, a brightly-colored umbrella emerges from the barrel. Hilarious, right?

The original production was written to use a trick umbrella they already had in stock, but every production since has given the props master a headache as they try to figure out the gag. I initially checked with other theaters who had done this show, but theirs had either broken or been disassembled. The rental options out there were either too expensive or looked unrealistic. I decided I needed to build my own.

Drawing the stock and fore-end
Drawing the stock and fore-end

I needed a pretty thick barrel to fit an umbrella inside. It would look out-of-proportion if I just stuck it on a regular shotgun body. I scaled up the stock and fore-end to cut and shape out of oak.

Chainsaw disc shaping the wood
Chainsaw disc shaping the wood

I bought a chainsaw grinding disc for this project because I had always wanted to try one. It was amazing; it acted like a wood eraser. I just pointed it to the wood I didn’t need and it made it disappear. I will never attempt wood carving without one of these again.

Scaling the receiver to match the stock
Scaling the receiver to match the stock

The receiver would need to hold all the parts of the shotgun together and hide all the mechanisms inside of it I cut out several pieces of flat steel stock to weld a hollow container.

Welding the receiver from steel
Welding the receiver from steel

With just a welder, angle grinder, and belt sander, I was able to fabricate a decent looking receiver.

Spring mechanism for umbrella
Spring mechanism for umbrella

I took an existing umbrella from stock which had its own spring mechanism to make it pop open. I cut off the handle but left the hollow shaft in place. I welded a steel rod to the shotgun that the umbrella could sleeve onto and travel back and forth. To minimize binding, I put a bit of UHMW rod on the end of the umbrella that was slightly smaller than the inner diameter of the copper tube I was using for the barrel. I used copper tube because it was the most rigid tube I could find with the thinnest walls.

Pieces of the trigger mechanism
Pieces of the trigger mechanism

I drew up a full scale trigger mechanism in cardstock to figure out what would fit within what I had built. It was just two pieces: a trigger that rotated on a pin, and a long lever with a latch on the end that held the umbrella against a spring until the trigger was pulled. I traced the pieces to steel and cut them out. I slipped a small piece of spring into the fore-end to return the trigger after it is pulled. I slid a long spring over the metal rod in the barrel to actually propel the umbrella after the trigger is pulled.

Finished trick shotgun
Finished trick shotgun

I painted the barrel to match the receiver and stained the wood pieces darker before sealing them. I coated all the static pieces of interior and exterior steel with shellac to prevent rust. Any pieces of steel which moved against another part was coated with dry lube. I built the gun for easy disassembly in case any future users needed to fix or replace a part.

Umbrella Gun

I have a video which shows all the parts as they are assembled. You can see the various inner mechanisms in more detail if you are interested in how it all works, and if you wanted to see it actually fire.

 

 

 

 

Blood Cannon Video

For our production of Teresa Rae King last spring at Triad Stage, we ended the show with a murder-suicide. The director asked if we could have a blood cannon to create two gunshot exit wound splatters on the transparent walls. Of course I said yes, and then immediately went away to learn what a blood cannon was and how to build one.

Now that it is complete, I put together this video showing how it worked.

Blood Cannon

May the Props Be With You

First, a couple of upcoming deadlines. The deadline for the 2018 Grants for Early Career Prop Professionals is May 15. If you have an upcoming internship/apprenticeship in props, you are eligible to apply for one of two $1000 grants offered by the Society of Properties Artisan Managers.

If you are going to the Maker Faire Bay Area later this month, check out the The First Annual Maker Faire Prop Contest. The deadline is May 17th to have your prop judged by an all-star team of internet-famous props people.

Han Solo’s Episode VI blaster up for grabs (VIDEO) – Yes, it’s on a site called “guns.com”; sorry about that. But they do have a load of information about the original Star Wars prop, along with a few videos of various replicas being built.

Prop Master April Laird on “Hold the Drama” – The latest episode of the “Hold the Drama” podcast talks with April Laird, who has worked in the props department of shows like DexterGrey’s Anatomy, and New Girl.

Make a Marking Gauge for Curves – Chris Schwartz demonstrates how to build a quick marking gauge that allows you to follow a curve to mark an inset.

Building a Portable, Collapsible Workbench – Elisha from Pneumatic Addict shows us how she built a simple workbench that folds down to take up minimal space.

Friday Links

Priceonomics has an amazing story on Gregg Barbanell, one of the few remaining Foley artists in Hollywood. Barbabell uses hundreds of props, shoes and fabric to add sounds to a movie or show. It’s the kind of job that has resisted digitization and prerecorded audio, because so many variables go into recreating the sound of a character walking.

Eddie Aiona, prop master for Clint Eastwood, has died at 83. Aiona was part of the Clint’s backstage team which he employed on every film, starting with Magnum Force in 1973 until The Bridges of Madison County in 1995.

New York Dot Com has the 5 Essential Broadway Jobs You Never Knew About, and guess what? Props Master is one of them.

Check out this extensive build log of a Light Rifle from Halo 4. It is constructed entirely of steel and copper, and has a working trigger and lots of internal lighting effects.

Finally, this isn’t really props, but using a cloud tank to create practical effects is a pretty cool idea. Follow the link in the post for instructions to construct your own. And who knows, maybe some prop master out there will realize they can adapt a cloud tank to solve some props problem on stage.

When Prop or Player Fails, 1919

The following excerpt comes from a 1919 New York Times article titled, “When Prop or Player Fails.” The article describes mishaps on stage due to missing or malfunctioning props, a problem which has plagued actors since theatre began.

One of the most familiar and most absurd stories of histrionic presence of mind is concerned with an old-time melodrama which called for an actor to file his way through prison bars, only to be shot dead later as he stood on the wall of the prison, about to escape. The file had been brought carefully into the plot, so that the audience was fully aware that the prisoner had it in his possession. On the night in question, as he stood on the prison wall after sawing his way through the bars, the gun of the prison guard failed to go off when the trigger was pulled. The actor, however, fell from the wall as he was accustomed to, but instead of lying where he dropped, he staggered down to the footlights.

“My God!” he gasped, to the audience. “I’ve swallowed the file!” And dropped dead.

The gun which fails to go off is one of the most frequent causes of embarrassment to an actor. There is the long familiar story of the actor who pulled the trigger as usual one night, in a scene in which he was supposed to murder another character, only to be met by a click instead of the customary report. The other man, however, fell down as usual when the trigger was pulled, so the first player did what he could to save the situation. Looking from the revolver in his hand to the man prostrate on the floor, he remarked, “These Maxim silencers are certainly wonderful things,” and the play went on…

Arthur Byron of “Tea for Three” tells of a melodrama in which he was supposed to shoot E. J. Henley, only to find that the gun would not go off. He made several attempts, and then Henley whispered “Stab me! Stab me!” Byron, unfortunately, had nothing with which to stab him, so he brought about his demise by clubbing him over the head with the revolver.

Originally published in The New York Times, January 12, 1919. “When Prop or Player Fails”, author unknown.