Author Topic: PROPS: Weapons on Stage - Safety and Legality  (Read 7072 times)

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RobertMillsSM

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PROPS: Weapons on Stage - Safety and Legality
« on: Apr 10, 2007, 06:44 pm »
HELP!!!

I am currently SMing a show that involves the use of a knife. Unlike many prop knives, this one has the needs to be real and sharp enough to cut. It is used to stab a table, picture, and fabric. The knife that my director would like is one that can be operated using one hand, such as a switchblade.

I have done my research and discovered that "any knife that has a blade which is forcefully projected from the handle by means of a spring-loaded device or explosive charge...[and] any knife that has a blade released from the handle or sheath thereof by the force of gravity or the application of centrifugal force, that when released is locked in place by means of a button, spring, lever, or other device...[and] any knife [where] the blade of which opens automatically by hand pressure applied to a button, spring, or other device in its handle" are illegal within the entire state. Simple posession of a knife like those described constitute a claas 5 felony or class 1 misdemeanor based on the exact knife in posession.

Both myself and the Artistic Director have concerns with placing an illegal weapon on stage. However, the director is very persistent about this knife and doesn't like the fact that we are concerned with this issue. As the SM for the production, what can (or should) I do with this issue? My utmost concern is for safety, followed by the legality of the issue.

Any help is greatly appreciated. I'm even open to any other knife ideas that could be used to satisfy the directors wish and not bring a possible criminal charge. Please HELP!!!
« Last Edit: Apr 03, 2016, 04:56 pm by Maribeth »

KMC

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Re: Weapons on Stage - Saftey and Legality
« Reply #1 on: Apr 10, 2007, 08:48 pm »
Weapons are always tricky, especially when they are real weapons.  If I was in your shoes, for safety concerns I'd pass the buck on approval of this up to the artistic director or equivalent.  If they okay it, find a good certified fight choreographer.  They'll be able to work with the actor to control their body and the weapon appropriately.

As for the legality issue - since it is a real weapon I'd contact the local police and get the go-ahead from them.  A few years ago friend of mine had a similar situation in a show she was SMing, except it was a shotgun.  The shotgun was not a stage gun, it was an actual shotgun.  The local police (University Police) insisted they keep the gun locked at police HQ at all times, since the theatre was on University property and no weapons were permitted.  Every night one of the ASMs went to the police station to get an officer, the officer brought the gun and blanks to the theatre and stayed there until the gun was used.  After the gun was used the officer took the gun back to the station.  Quite a bit of riggamarole (spelling?) but something that was necessary given the circumstances.
Get action. Do things; be sane; don’t fritter away your time; create, act, take a place wherever you are and be somebody; get action. -T. Roosevelt

BalletPSM

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Re: Weapons on Stage - Saftey and Legality
« Reply #2 on: Apr 10, 2007, 09:06 pm »
I would never, ever, ever, put a sharp knife on stage. What if the actors hand slipped?  With a dull blade, yeah, someone might get a bruise or bump, but they're not going to get cut. 

I SMed a show in college where the lead actor had to use a dagger in the final scene to kill someone.  The fight was choreoraphed such that he pinned the other actor on his back on the ground, then brought the dagger down and "stabbed" him by stabbing the stage deck basically.  Well, one night he decided to "really get into it" (his words) and as he raised the dagger over his head, it flew out of his hand and THROUGH the huge doors muslin door behind him, just a couple feet away from the heads of one of the guards.  His parents were in the audience that night; he was trying to play everything up because of them....and got completely carried away.  This would ahve seriously injured an actor if it had hit them, but it would have injured them every worse had the blade been sharp. 

I would try to find another solution to the other business that has to happen -- you can stab the knife into a table or picture without it being sharp, and perhaps the fabric could just be rigged as breakaway fabric -- so that it's just velcroed (I know, nobody likes the noise, but there is some lo-grade velcro out there that's not so bad) so that it appears as if the actor is cutting it but is really just pulling it apart? Without knowing the show and the business its difficult to offer solutions.

And I think by law, all weapons must remain under locked with limited access only when not in use on stage.  Or maybe that's just any kind of gun.  I'll have to look into that.

Stage managing is getting to do everything your mom told you not to do - read in the dark, sit too close to the TV, and play with the light switches!

Mac Calder

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Re: Weapons on Stage - Saftey and Legality
« Reply #3 on: Apr 10, 2007, 09:51 pm »
If you absolutely need to use a real knife, of any sort, this is the sort of process I would go through:

First things first: You need to risk assess - and I would document this all on paper. The basic ones are how you will prevent injury from the knife whilst A: On stage and B: Off stage.

B is largely solved by having the knife kept under lock and key whilst not on stage (to prevent it being fiddled with) and A is a rather complex issue.

Then, I would go to your local authority - being the police/sherif/whatever and talk about your situation. If they veto it, it is back to the drawing board. If they say Okay, chances are they will impose some restrictions upon you. You need to document these as well - and get the police to sign it as well.

Basically, you need to be able to prove to a court of law (should worst come to worst) that due care was taken on your part, and on the companies part to prevent injury/death, to obey local laws and to keep a safe work environment.

Someone will have to take responsibility for this knife - and it will be someone who is there for every show, and will most likely end up being you. If you do not feel comfortable with using a real knife, then your answer MUST be no. The actor must also be completely comfortable with the use of this knife. The producers too. Only then, should a real knife be considered.

MatthewShiner

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Re: Weapons on Stage - Saftey and Legality
« Reply #4 on: Apr 10, 2007, 10:55 pm »
I think the answer is make the knife dull and then rig the effects for everthing else.

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Anything posted here as in my own personal opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of my employer - whomever they be at a given moment in time.

RobertMillsSM

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Re: Weapons on Stage - Safety and Legality
« Reply #5 on: Apr 10, 2007, 11:19 pm »
With the way the knife is used in the show, I am confident that the safety of anyone in the theater will not be an issue. Thanks for all the ideas to make the show safe, but with the size of our space (very small) pre-rigged fabric would look and sound like pre-rigged fabric.

My concern is how to deal with the law (which says no) and the director (who says yes). I have already asked the theater for secure storage. When do I just say no, or step out of the situation? Are there any other knife options?

I'm trying to abide by the law, and keep the director as happy as possible.

ljh007

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Re: Weapons on Stage - Saftey and Legality
« Reply #6 on: Apr 10, 2007, 11:38 pm »
If your Artistic Director also has a concern with the use of the knife, then I think this discussion is between the Director and AD.

It seems there are a laundry list of reasons not to use a real knife and only one reason in favor of the knife (that it's what the director wants).
I would never ever use a real sharp knife onstage. There are a lot of convincing ways to rig the prop knife and scenery for the desired effect. To me the issue here is safety, as always.

kaitlinmarie

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Re: Weapons on Stage - Saftey and Legality
« Reply #7 on: Apr 11, 2007, 12:12 am »
I just SMed a show last quarter in which we had to have a knife onstage that could be used to cut an apple, shirt, and also be dull enough to be held to someone's throat without causing injury (and by held to someone's throat I mean slicing action and all). It was supposed to be a switchblade, but they're illegal in Ohio (and most places I believe). So, we used a pocket knife type of knife that had one of those release buttons that you pressed as you sort of swung/popped in open. I hope you all kind of get what I'm saying...it gave the illusion of being a switchblade without breaking the law, and was dull enough that it still did it's job (the fabric wasn't prerigged, but it didn't kill my actor). Plus, we also skirted dealing with law enforcement more than we had to.

If you are concerned, at all, about the actors onstage, put your foot down and say NO. I've had numerous Professors tell me that one of the main jobs of the SM is to be an advocate for the actor, and this is one of those situations where you can't compromise safety for an effect.

Show Control

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Re: Weapons on Stage - Saftey and Legality
« Reply #8 on: Apr 11, 2007, 04:16 am »
It seems fairly clear you said your law enforcement said "no" correct? Then the answer is no! This is now up to the AD, Producers and Director to find a compromise they have thier legal answer. Remember to document everything.....you dont want it coming back to misinformation on your part....

j-la

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Re: Weapons on Stage - Saftey and Legality
« Reply #9 on: Apr 11, 2007, 01:43 pm »
I've used a similar knife as described below by kaitlinmarie "It was supposed to be a switchblade, but they're illegal in Ohio (and most places I believe). So, we used a pocket knife type of knife that had one of those release buttons that you pressed as you sort of swung/popped in open. I hope you all kind of get what I'm saying...it gave the illusion of being a switchblade without breaking the law, and was dull enough that it still did it's job ". We dulled the blade and it did the trick. I agree with MatthewShiner - dull the blade & rig the effects and tell the director now- sooner is always better than later. If you can find this kind of knife- it will give him the effect he needs. Hopefully, it will make him amenable to the dulling & rigging.
If not- in this situation, your job isn't to make the director happy- it's to abide by the law and keep your cast & crew safe.

avkid

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Re: Weapons on Stage - Saftey and Legality
« Reply #10 on: Apr 11, 2007, 03:16 pm »
With a couple of hours of practice any knife that flips open can be operated with one hand.
Philip LaDue
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IATSE Local #21 Newark, NJ

zayit shachor

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Re: Weapons on Stage - Saftey and Legality
« Reply #11 on: Apr 11, 2007, 04:38 pm »
A few years ago friend of mine had a similar situation in a show she was SMing, except it was a shotgun.  The shotgun was not a stage gun, it was an actual shotgun.

A little off-topic, but why on earth couldn't they have just used a stage gun?

KMC

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Re: Weapons on Stage - Saftey and Legality
« Reply #12 on: Apr 11, 2007, 05:56 pm »
A few years ago friend of mine had a similar situation in a show she was SMing, except it was a shotgun.  The shotgun was not a stage gun, it was an actual shotgun.

A little off-topic, but why on earth couldn't they have just used a stage gun?

3/4 round space that was pretty intimate combined with the fact that it was a period piece and the director had an exact gun he wanted.  At least I believe this was the case, I didn't work on the show myself.
Get action. Do things; be sane; don’t fritter away your time; create, act, take a place wherever you are and be somebody; get action. -T. Roosevelt

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