Prop Emergency & A Drag Queen To The Rescue
Theatre professionals read lots of scripts that make them laugh out loud with scenes written with great gags, pratfalls, and slapstick. One of my heroes is the great Christopher Durang. He twists the familiar and the ordinary into a jaw-dropping and a mind-bending reality that is as shocking as it is amazing.
We were doing a new show of his called Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them. The set was designed by the brilliant David Korins who managed to fit seven locations on a stage with a turntable, a feat that only the talented mind of Mr Korins could do. At the top of Act II was one of those moments that makes everyone laugh out loud, but makes the prop master go “OH MY GOD ARE YOU KIDDING ME?”.
The situation reads simple enough. A woman is walking on a poorly lit street waiting for her counterspy contact; he surprises her out of nowhere and before he can tell her who he is, she pepper sprays him in the face for about a minute. She is so scared her granny panties fall to the ground and she can only escape in a “penguin waddle” as the man falls to the ground in abject pain.
I needed to provide a pepper spray. My mind was racing through the list of things that would work.
Could they mime it?
No, they want to hear a spraying sound.
Maybe canned air like you use to clean a computer keyboard?
Nope, they want to hear it and see something come out of the can. Plus if they spray canned air on someone’s face for more than 30 seconds their face would freeze.
A cheap water-based hair spray?
No, the aerosols and chemicals would just be too much and what if they opened their eyes?
Those oil sprayers that you hand pump filled with water?
Nope, you can’t get enough pressure in them to last a full minute.
I was at a complete stand still. That is until I spoke with my brother Steven, who is also a Drag Queen up in P-town. P-town is the name many use for Provincetown, a city at the northern tip of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in the United States. We were chatting on Skype and he asked me what was wrong as I wasn’t my usual perky annoying self. I said it was a work problem that he wouldn’t understand. “Aww come on now, tell Mama…maybe I can help,” he said. Finally, I told him the situation and the first thing out of his mouth was:
“Honey it sounds like you need a can of Evian Facial Spray. I use it to set my makeup.’’
Steve showed me the can and I said it was a great idea but it was too big. As if by magic he reached in his purse and held up the travel size. “I never go out without protection,” he concluded.
My jaw dropped and I ordered 2 sets of cans from Amazon to test it out. They were perfect! At the time I used black gaff tape to make the white can look black and just made up a label in Photoshop and covered the label with clear packing tape so it wouldn’t smudge. If the idea ever passed my way again I would use a heat shrink wrap for the can, but in the dark scene it looked great and to hear the audience laugh and know I was part of making that magic happen was pretty exciting.
By the way, thank you again, Steve.