A View from Backstage

by Peter Carrozzo

“Safety Pins and Fishing Line and Shims…oh my!”

Is that a shopping list for my next trip to Raindew? No. These three random items are the unsung heroes of the theatre. In this issue, I would like to take the time out to salute them. I’m convinced that it would be utterly impossible to stage any production—from a kindergarten Christmas pageant to the Broadway production of Phantom of the Opera—without these three items. And let’s not forget chicken wire. Although it’s not integral, it deserves mention somewhere here.

All costume persons know that safety pins are an essential tool of their trade. Just this year at graduation at St. Andrew’s, a mom asked me if I knew where she could buy safety pins for her dress. I told her to give me two minutes. I went down to Andrean Hall, climbing over scenery in my suit (the back room being in its usual condition of anarchy) and took out a safety pin from my secret stash, thus averting a clothing crisis. Safety pins have saved many a costume issue. In addition, the safety pin is also the best friend of curtains, teasers, and backdrops. Recently I put an extra box of safety pins in my car because, inevitably, when traveling around to other theaters, I find myself in need of a safety pin or two. Will the safety pin ever be unseated from its position of importance by another simple but essential item? If so, my vote would be for binder clips. But the safety pin still rules supreme.

Fishing line rivals the safety pin in importance in theatre. I own and travel around with a few roles of fishing line, but I have not gone fishing in twenty years (and the last time I did, I turned green for eight hours.) Do you need to hang a picture, a poster, gossamer, a curtain, keep a door or window closed? Then all you need is some fishing line, a scissor, and ten minutes before curtain and you’ll be fine. Fishing line is like an ant that can carry ten times its weight. I am confident that I could hang a bowling ball with fishing line.

Will safety pins or fishing line not fix whatever problem you have with your set? Reach for a shim. I have conquered many a wobbly flat and crooked wall with a shim or two…or five. Door won’t close? A shim placed between the frame and door will do the trick. But beware! Whereas one shim might lead to level perfection, two shims might lead to set disaster. A delicate balance must be achieved when using a shim. It’s more art than science, more prayer than plan. You may ask why not build your scenery in such an expert manner that shims are unnecessary? Well that wouldn’t be very much fun.

Really, it’s unfair to single out these three items and christen them the ultimate saviors of theatre when there are so many other worthy candidates. After all, chicken wire and plaster or Great Stuff (the insulating gooey stuff that we spray in windows, cracks and crevices) can create walls, rocks, and Roman ruins. I have seen duct tape hold entire sets together…in fact, I’ve even considered using duct tape to hold casts together. And I could probably write a book about luan…but I will save that for another issue. Today I single out and salute safety pins, fishing line and shims for all the times they’ve saved me in the early morning hours before opening night. Maybe they are unsung but it’s my job to make them unsung no more!

 

The safety pins in my car.

 

 

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