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Safety Onstage

Safety starts before an audience ever sees the first performance. When set designs are being formulated, costumes being ideated, props being postulated, when a director has a vision that includes discussions about physics… this is the time the seeds of what safety will look like in any production are sown.

I’d like to focus, though, if you’ll indulge me, on the safety of a door. I know it seems rather small and mundane, but a door represents a common piece of a set that could have implications for actors, props, costumes, and light interaction. And doors are in A LOT of scenic designs.

Things to consider when designing a door in no particular order:

  • Which way the door is hung: left or right?

    • Make sure the actors & SMs know before

    • Make sure lighting designers know before, it will affect lighting and possibly where instruments will/can be hung

  • Whether the doors swings onstage or off

    • Same as above

    • Make sure sight lines are factored in, do we need scenery “offstage” to continue our illusion or might the door obscure action onstage?

  • How tall is the door?

    • How tall is the tallest actor?

    • Does this affect lighting and maybe also where instruments can be hung

  • How wide is the door?

    • Will the swing radius clear other parts of the set/furniture/audience?

Things to consider when installing a door (which, by the way, is one of the most difficult things to do in theater. Rarely is anything square or plumb or initially braced enough to hang a door properly the first time through, especially when you reuse materials.):

  • Do we have to make a jamb or is one included with the door?

    • If we make one don’t forget the hinge mortises, latch mortise and the stop rail

    • Is it flush against the onstage edge of the flat for molding install?

  • After the jamb is installed are ALL of the nailheads and screwheads installed below the surface of the material? It’s better to have to fill with spackle than rip a costume or an actor’s finger.

  • When hanging the door, do we need new mortises on the door itself?

  • Does the door move smoothly? We don’t want it to be so out of plumb that it swings open by itself or closes by itself. Unless, of course, either of those actions are part of the design. Does it scrape any anomalies in the deck?

  • Does the door actually, fully and easily, close? When actors are “in the moment” we want to minimize technical distractions.

  • What is the latch mechanism? A real latch or a friction latch or a magnet? Each has pros and cons to safety and actor interaction.

  • What are the handles like? Not only are they matching the design as close as possible, but do they turn smoothly? Are they likely to get caught on a costume or a prop? If they actually control the latch action, does it work smoothly?

  • When installing molding, does it interfere with the door action? Have the nails been fully set?

 

Things to consider after the door is installed:

  • Do we need glow tape on any part of the door onstage or off so actors or stagehands don’t run into it.

  • It will need constant attention – by the stage managers and technical director, to ensure an injury-free run from start to finish.

 

That’s just a door. Every inch of a set – the parts you see and the parts you don’t – factor into the safety equation. This doesn’t even include the safety of those installing the door.

About the author: 

Chad Sweet worked professionally as an actor, director, and designer in theaters across the country and in Mexico for a decade before moving to Reno in 2004. After taking a hiatus to start a business and paint full time, he returned to theater in 2010 first acting then making the leap to Producing Artistic Director of Good Luck Macbeth for three years until landing at RLT. Some highlights of his career include FOLLIES at Paper Mill Playhouse (1998) working with Stephen Sondheim, Ann Miller, Jerry Mitchell, Donna McKechnie, and Tony Roberts among others; touring the U.S. with educational theater shows for over two years; and spending many beautiful summers at Cortland Repertory Theatre, The New London Barn Playhouse, and The New Harmony Playhouse. He currently serves on the Marketing Committee for the Reno Arts and Culture Commission.

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