Friday, November 9, 2012

Tech Tip: Don't Murder your Actors!

In today's Tip we'll be looking at Commandment Three of the Set Building Ten Commandments. In this commandment we'll learn how to not kill your actors with your set. It's a real easy thing to get really excited in the design process and you start building the thing and until it all comes together right before tech rehearsal you may not know how well it's going to work until you get some one to walk on it. But you are in a theatre setting and there are a lot of dangers out there. Here's a short, (not exhaustive by any means), list of all the dangers on any stage.

Onstage Dangers!

  • Structure failure: Something that you built falls out from under an actor or falls on top of them.
  • Flammability: Either a misused pyrotechnic or a piece of the set catching on fire.
  • Fumes: There are plenty things in the shop that give of fumes. And dry ice and fog effects give off some noxious fumes.
  • Accidents with moving scenery: This can be scenery on casters and wagons that run actors over and pipes and curtains that take people out as they come down.

Why do we make Unsafe Decisions?

Like all of the things that can screw good theatre up it all comes down to the same four things.

  • Time: You didn't have the time to make the safe choices.
  • Money: Doing the safe thing costs more money.
  • Manpower: You don't have the qualified staff that it takes to do the job safely
  • Management: You either don't have the qualified staff or the safety procedures in place.
So what are the ways that we can avoid all of these dangers? And these are real dangers, not just for the actors. An unsafe work environment can get your theater shut down. Also if a very bad accident happens on your stage you or the crew member that did it can be held criminally liable for the damages. So what can we do to make a safe environment that will make everyone happy? Here are some tips!

Keeping your Actor's Safe!

  • When in doubt brace-brace-brace! There is no law against going over board with your cross bracing or putting more screws into something. Double your legs that support the structure. Minimal doesn't mean better sometimes.
  • Fireproof everything! There are several fire resistant additives that you can mix in with your base coat of paint on any of your flammable set pieces safe. Ask your local fire marshal for any special rules that they have. Again there's no rule against going above and beyond the fire code to stay safe.
  • Keep Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for all of your materials. Many of these are available from the manufacturer. In fog effects please read the safety directions, have ventilation, and wear safety equipment where available.
  • Drill your actors and crew on safety procedures and routines when moving scenery. This can mean making "safe zones" where the actors stand offstage while scenery is moving, or making hard hat areas while pipes and curtains are being brought in. Your deck managers on both sides of the stage are your captains in this area.  Give them the specialized training and hold them accountable.  When you get the right deck manager they'll make it work.

One Last Thought...

Like the best safety on a gun is not the mechanism by the trigger but the person's brain it's your brain and experience that will keep your people safe. you should be the one getting the most training and experience in this field and spreading that knowledge down to your apprentices. And trust your gut, if you don't know how to be safe doing something or if you know you don't have the capability to do something safety then don't do it. What you don't attempt won't kill you.

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