Author Topic: Help me keep my temper- talking about prop weapons in a theater...  (Read 4148 times)

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LadyStormwing

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Notice: The following contains discussion regarding prop firearms as they relate to the events at Newtown, CT, last December.

Background (Apologies in advance for the length.)
I sit on the Advisory Board at our local community theater, where I have been involved in all manners of production for the last fifteen or sixteen years. Early this summer I will be directing another show in our annual One-Act Festival, a farce about an armed robbery. Like all plays that we put on, the play was reviewed and approved by the Board in general before the rights were finally purchased in late February. FWIW, the rights/royalties and the scripts are nonrefundable.

The producer for the shows (we have five shows as part of the Festival, he is producing all of them) used to be a very active member of the theater, but circumstances forced him away for several years and this is the first production he is back for. So he is a member, but does not (as of now) have a vote on the Board, although any theater group member can come to meetings and speak. My show has some technical aspects that were taking some time to figure out how to put them into play on the stage- among these, a working prop gun. (Think starter pistol, but one that looks more like a real firearm.) Because of the way it is used onstage, the effect could not be pulled off with a toy and sound FX. Producer and I were going back and forth for several weeks on this, trying different ideas, before agreeing that the best way to do it would just be to either borrow or purchase a blank-fire pistol.

About a week later, I received (in group-email format) an email from our Chairwoman to the entire Board that "someone" (she did not specify who) had a concern that one of the props being used in one of the shows was a handgun and that this person felt this was "not a good thing". Further, this person had taken it upon himself to "conduct an informal poll" of a few people and was getting the same response. She (the Chairwoman) wanted to know our (the Boardmembers') opinions on the subject. I felt pretty blindsided by this whole thing and as a result, furious, as I have always felt that I was pretty accessible to concerns and questions and would have been happy to talk to someone or go over the script with anyone who wanted to. Beyond that, this was coming up AFTER the show was bought and paid for (and royalties and scripts are not cheap), the show was casted, and I was two weeks away from starting rehearsals. So now, before I even knew what the heck was going on, everyone and their brother is chiming in on whether or not a gun should be allowed onstage, whether or not it's insensitive (we live only about 90 minutes from Newtown and many on the board, including myself, are teachers, so that was a huge factor), etc. It finally boiled down to "we'll discuss it at the meeting".

The long and short of the meeting- the person with the concern was the producer. This irritated me even more because he and I had already been engaged in dialogue regarding this very prop, so, as I saw it, if he was concerned, why didn't he say something to me directly instead of essentially going behind my back? It became one of those situations where many people, including the producer, suddenly decided they had a problem, but absolutely no solution. More than willing to continue to just say, "No. Bad." and keep complaining. I had a really nasty headache at the end of the meeting. I suppose you could say I "won", because the play, with the prop, will continue as planned. Rehearsals start next week.

/BG.

So here's my dilemma. I'm not exactly excited to be working with Producer for fear of what monkeywrench he could try to throw at me next. I don't think he would actively sabotage my show, but I doubt he's going to make this easy, either, especially when it comes to getting the money from him to order the prop in question. (And as he is the producer, he controls the pursestrings.) On the bright side, I do have the Chairwoman and the group's Treasurer on my "side" and they might be willing to act as buffers, but overall, I would like this production to go as smoothly as possible. When pushed though, I can get snarky and/or sarcastic fast. (Put it this way- Producer's viewpoints are very mainstream in my state. Mine are decidedly not. Thoughts on how I can make this easier for everyone? I especially don't want to get my cast caught in the middle, especially since one of them is my brother, and he will "side" with me, "others be darned". (Direct, if paraphrased quote from him. Nice kid.)

WillyNilly

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Re: Help me keep my temper- talking about prop weapons in a theater...
« Reply #1 on: April 17, 2013, 10:09:42 AM »
I think going forward, just treat him as you would have otherwise. let this be water under the bridge. By not holding a grudge or treating him differently he'll be put more at ease. As far as getting the budget for the gun, I think you need to calmly stick to a stance of "well what is your solution? This was discussed at the meeting and at that time everyone agreed we'd get the prop. What is your alternative proposal?" Often putting the problem back onto the complainer gets a complainer to back down, because they don't have an alternative solution.

Hmmmmm

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Re: Help me keep my temper- talking about prop weapons in a theater...
« Reply #2 on: April 17, 2013, 10:35:57 AM »
I agree that you should just look at it as water under the bridge.

I don't know theater structure, but I can see in other situations where someone may poll a larger group to get input before raising an issue.

Let's say a parent had a concern about a novel being studied in school. It's one that has been approved by the school board. Instead of going to the teacher first, the parent might ask some other parent's their opinions on whether her concern is justified or whether she is doesn't understand the subject matter as well as others might. Once the parent gets input and finds a few other parents also have concerns, she goes to the principal to discuss, not the teacher because the teacher is just following approved school guidelines. This would seem reasonable path to me, especially if the teacher had previously indicated this was a favorite work.

So just think of it as the producer doing some up front due deligence instead of just raising the issue with you. Because it sounds like he knew the two of you would not agree so might as well go to a wider group who would have the authority to make the final decision.

RebeccainGA

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Re: Help me keep my temper- talking about prop weapons in a theater...
« Reply #3 on: April 17, 2013, 10:46:23 AM »
Oh the perils of the prima donna producer! I've been there... it's rough.

Treat him politely, but keep it all business as much as possible. When it comes to buying props, why don't you ask for some 'petty cash for props', to be followed by receipts, and try to add that one in with ones for more 'benign' props for the show? That way you don't have to worry as much up front, and since you've got the support of others for the purchase and use, you'll hopefully avoid any craziness when "Bob's Big House o' Guns" shows up as a vendor.

*inviteseller

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Re: Help me keep my temper- talking about prop weapons in a theater...
« Reply #4 on: April 17, 2013, 10:57:15 AM »
I would treat him with the same courtesy but be on my guard.  What he did was sneaky.  Instead of coming to the people responsible for getting this play approved he hides behind anonymous.  I am going to be blunt...I don't like guns and s the mother of a first grader, that tragedy just shook me deeply, but this is a play!  Do we stop all movies and plays and tv shows because a pivotal part of the play involves a gun?  If this was about a mass shooting, yes he would have a point but all his concerns should have come up before money and time was used.  I would schedule a meeting with him and the other board members to hash this out, in a non confrontational way and ask him what his solution would be.  I also might start looking for a new producer.

SingActDance

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Re: Help me keep my temper- talking about prop weapons in a theater...
« Reply #5 on: April 17, 2013, 10:59:17 AM »
If he tries to give you grief, just state matter-of-factly, "Producer, this was already decided in the meeting. The actors need to start getting comfortable with these props, so we need to purchase this week."

Sidenote: Sounds like I'm fairly close to you, and now I want to come see this show :)
Most people look at musical theatre and think "Why are those people singing and dancing in the street?" I'm sort of the opposite. I see a street full of people and think, "Why aren't they?"

lurkerwisp

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Re: Help me keep my temper- talking about prop weapons in a theater...
« Reply #6 on: April 17, 2013, 11:28:45 AM »
I think SingActDance hit the nail on the head there.

And you can turn it into a safety concern - blanks can be dangerous if fired too close to a person, so as a safety precaution the actors should be practicing with the real thing as soon as possible to be able to get their positions correct.

SingActDance

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Re: Help me keep my temper- talking about prop weapons in a theater...
« Reply #7 on: April 17, 2013, 12:42:17 PM »
Exactly. And it takes time to get accustomed to hearing the gun go off. We had to use a blank pistol when I did Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and the first thing the director did was get us all onstage to listen to it being fired.
Most people look at musical theatre and think "Why are those people singing and dancing in the street?" I'm sort of the opposite. I see a street full of people and think, "Why aren't they?"

I'mnotinsane

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Re: Help me keep my temper- talking about prop weapons in a theater...
« Reply #8 on: April 17, 2013, 03:34:15 PM »
I agree that you should just look at it as water under the bridge.

I don't know theater structure, but I can see in other situations where someone may poll a larger group to get input before raising an issue.

Let's say a parent had a concern about a novel being studied in school. It's one that has been approved by the school board. Instead of going to the teacher first, the parent might ask some other parent's their opinions on whether her concern is justified or whether she is doesn't understand the subject matter as well as others might. Once the parent gets input and finds a few other parents also have concerns, she goes to the principal to discuss, not the teacher because the teacher is just following approved school guidelines. This would seem reasonable path to me, especially if the teacher had previously indicated this was a favorite work.

So just think of it as the producer doing some up front due deligence instead of just raising the issue with you. Because it sounds like he knew the two of you would not agree so might as well go to a wider group who would have the authority to make the final decision.

This situation would be fine but I don't think it is a good analogy for what happened.  I think an accurate analogy might be if a teacher discussed an issue with his/her department head/vice principal/principal and decided on a course of action together.  Then the superior polled some parents and publicly criticized the teacher's course of action.

Jloreli

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Re: Help me keep my temper- talking about prop weapons in a theater...
« Reply #9 on: April 17, 2013, 04:31:24 PM »
My DH does special effects of the "make things go boom" variety for the movies and also serves as an armorer .....as in he provides/rents firearms and blank ammo for them as well. Part of that service often includes his presence on set to make sure that they are used in the safest manner possible. Proper hearing protection, safe handling, etc. Perhaps it would calm the waters if you found someone with some knowledge of safe firearms handling to be the babysitter of the firearm....maybe an off duty LEO? They could be in charge of securing the firearm when not in use, discharging when appropriate and making sure no one got up to any foolish shenanigans with it. You might even find someone who already owns an appropriate firearm for the job so you wouldn't have to purchase one that may not be used very often.

EllenS

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Re: Help me keep my temper- talking about prop weapons in a theater...
« Reply #10 on: April 17, 2013, 04:41:43 PM »
Actress/producer here.

I would go with "treat him like nothing happened", with a caveat.

Very, very quietly find an alternate producer.  This has to be someone you trust to say nothing unless called upon, and it is purely for your own peace of mind.  That way Mr. Anti FakeGun gets in a snit, you can be supremely gracious and offer, if he does not feel he can fulfill his committment to the show *as approved by the Board*,  to let him out of his contract, because you totally understand his feelings and would never, EVER want him to feel like he was being forced to do something that made him uncomfortable.

magician5

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Re: Help me keep my temper- talking about prop weapons in a theater...
« Reply #11 on: April 17, 2013, 11:36:36 PM »
...I can see in other situations where someone may poll a larger group to get input before raising an issue.

I've encountered a number of frustrating situations in which someone goes behind my back and polls everyone else like this: "You agree with me that this is an awful, bad thing don't you?" And of course the result is nothing like democracy ... as if democracy was actually called for.
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LadyStormwing

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Re: Help me keep my temper- talking about prop weapons in a theater...
« Reply #12 on: April 18, 2013, 12:20:36 AM »
Perhaps it would calm the waters if you found someone with some knowledge of safe firearms handling to be the babysitter of the firearm....maybe an off duty LEO? They could be in charge of securing the firearm when not in use, discharging when appropriate and making sure no one got up to any foolish shenanigans with it.

That's me, actually. I have a theater degree, and we covered weaponry as part of our studies. I've used blank rounds in various shows numerous times, as has the actor who will be firing it. He and I will be the only two who will have access to the gun, which will be kept in a padlocked locker between shows (per state law) and I will have the key. Additionally, the actor who will be firing the gun onstage is a police officer and uses the real thing (thank god, only on the range so far) rather frequently. He and I both have our state licenses to use and carry the real thing and will be conducting a safety course with our actors as soon as we have the prop. When we start running full dress rehearsals for the Festival, we will be inviting all the actors and staff involved into our rehearsal to hear the "boom"s, and a disclaimer will go in the program.

I will mention the idea of having another producer on hand to our Chairwoman just in case. I very much like the "I would hate to ask you to do something you're uncomfortable with..." line of thought should it be necessary, as well as turning the problem back on the complainer. Thank you all very much for your wisdom!

Sidenote: Sounds like I'm fairly close to you, and now I want to come see this show :)
The festival is in June. Feel free to send me a private message if you'd like more details! We love audiences, and I'd love to meet someone from E*Hell!

RooRoo

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Re: Help me keep my temper- talking about prop weapons in a theater...
« Reply #13 on: April 20, 2013, 02:33:39 PM »
Did he know what play this was, and that it involved gunfire, before he agreed to produce it? If so, he has no right to try to change things now, especially when the money has already been spent.

If not, then I have some sympathy for him. But not much. He agreed to produce five plays, "sight unseen." He should have stated up front that he didn't want to produce any play that involved guns.
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EllenS

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Re: Help me keep my temper- talking about prop weapons in a theater...
« Reply #14 on: April 20, 2013, 05:54:59 PM »
) Because of the way it is used onstage, the effect could not be pulled off with a toy and sound FX. Producer and I were going back and forth for several weeks on this, trying different ideas, before agreeing that the best way to do it would just be to either borrow or purchase a blank-fire pistol.


The producer not only knew about the play and the prop - he specifically discussed and agreed to using the prop

That is what makes his end-run to the Board so nutso and PA.  I really hope you can find someone else as backup, because my spidey-sense tells me he is likely to either back out at the last minute or try to tank the show in some way.  Hope I'm wrong.