It only takes one person to spoil things for everyone. Most people have the basic common sense to get through a day unscathed but then there are the special folks who just don’t get it. These special people are the reason that the Styrofoam coffee cups from McDonald’s say “Caution: contents are hot”. They’re the reason that contraceptive jelly packaging has a warning that the product should not be eaten. They’re also the reason for a lot of the announcements I have to make every time a production moves into the theatre.
Over the years I have refined the list of announcements I make on the first night onstage. Most of them seem really obvious: clean up after yourself in the green room, make sure you stay where you can hear what’s going on onstage, do not play with props that aren’t yours, or play with props in general. Of course some of the announcements are unique to this company, and some are unique to each show. For example, on this show we have several guns including two which fire blanks on stage, so there was a lot of extra weapon safety stuff to talk about.
But most of it is common sense, even if it is new information. Yet on every show someone manages to do something during tech which leaves me shaking my head, wondering if anyone ever actually listens to the things I say. What happened this past weekend might be the most perfect example of this situation I’ve ever seen.
We were halfway through the day on Saturday, and had just stopped for dinner break. I saw the actor who is playing the Sheriff walk onstage to talk to the Production Assistant. I noticed he was holding his hands in front of him oddly, but I was updating some paperwork so I wasn’t paying very close attention. Then I clearly heard the PA say, “Why would you DO that?” and I took a closer look at the stage. Our Sheriff was standing there with his hands handcuffed together in front of him.
The handcuffs had hung on his belt as costume dressing; in the action of the play they were never used. They existed only to make him look more Sheriffy. Apparently he had gotten bored, and decided to play with his props. And he had handcuffed himself fully before he realized the cuffs were not quick release.
The PA clicked her headset on to talk to me, and explained what had happened. “Why?” I asked. She just shook her head. Then she asked whether I still had the handcuff key that had been given to stage management at the beginning of rehearsals. I originally had a key because there is a pair of handcuffs in the show that are part of the action. But we had converted those to elastic (hidden by the pink fuzzy covering, they’re supposed to be a sex toy) so we didn’t have to worry about keys or anyone possibly getting stuck. And I had therefore returned said key. Even if I still had it, there was no guarantee it would fit these cuffs.
Now it was dinner break, and several of us were stuck trying to figure out what to do next, instead of being able to leave. The actor was still in costume, and really couldn’t leave the building dressed as a sheriff and handcuffed. Calls were placed to the props and costume departments to see if anyone had a key, but no one had checked their messages yet. At this point we were wondering if the planned run through could still happen that evening, since he needed his hands free to do his blocking. Hell, we wondered if he could drive himself home while handcuffed.
Now for the multiple choice quiz. What do you think we did?
A. Decided that the instantaneous karma retribution for being a dumbass should not be undone, and left him like that.
B. Figured the props master did have a key and would be there for the evening session of rehearsal, so told him to hang tight and not get any dinner on his costume.
C. Sent the technical director to cut the chain holding the cuffs together so at least the actor could move freely, even if he was left wearing pretty silver bracelets.
D. Cut off his hand so the cuffs would slide right off.
E. Took turns trying to pick the lock until someone got it right.
The correct answer is C. I wasn’t backstage at the time but apparently the sight of the tech director walking into the men’s dressing room with a portable band saw and a slightly maniacal grin on his face was disturbing; even more so when the saw started up moments later.
People have been surprised that no one in the theatre happened to have a handcuff key on them, or could pick the handcuff locks. Once we hit the beginning of the break most folks scattered so it’s entirely possible that someone with the correct knowledge or key had walked out without knowing we needed them. Or didn't want to admit to their coworkers that they carried a handcuff key or could pick the lock on a pair of cuffs.
It turned out that someone had reached the props master and keys were on their way, but that information hadn’t gotten all the way back to me before I made the call to cut him out. If it had, I would not have felt bad leaving him to his fate for 30 minutes while I went out to dinner. But as it was, it seemed rude and cruel (if deserved) to leave him sitting in the dressing room handcuffed while the rest of us went about our break. Many people have said they would have left him like that; apparently I’m too soft-hearted.
However, I do have a new announcement to add to my list for the first day onstage. Future casts will sit in the house wondering why I am bothering to make a point of something that is so completely obvious. “Do not lock anything if you do not have the key to unlock it.”
Also, I need to learn how to pick the lock on handcuffs. Who knew it could be such a vital skill?
***This is my entry of LJ Idol. This week's topic is "the caged bird" and when this happened on Saturday it seemed like the universe was handing me my topic. Or, the actor is just an idiot. I'll post a link to the poll later this week. Thanks for reading!***