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ON THE USE OF PROP FIREARMS:
things every actor should know
You will soon be given responsibility for a prop pistol or rifle for use in rehearsal and performance of a theatrical production. Some firearms can actually fire blanks and some are purely for show but may have working parts which can allow an actor to simulate the real action of the weapon. .
Actors try to mimic the moves that they see in the movies, but they forget that guns constantly break down while on a film set. Film studios can afford to have several duplicates and a gunsmith on stand-by – theatres cannot.
While by all means we want the actor to feel comfortable working with the prop on stage, these cautionary points are prudent to keep in mind today and until the end of the run.
¨ First and foremost - Never point it at anyone at any time. I cannot more strongly stress the importance of developing sound firearms safety practice among this nation’s actors. Always treat every prop gun as though it were a true and loaded gun, and if necessary to give the illusion of pointing the weapon, aim upstage of the other actor. The audience will never know the difference, and perhaps slowly we can all work together to prevent more senseless tragedies from occurring. This can only start with each and every person who sees any weapon, real or fake, to simply assume that it is loaded, white-hot, and ready to kill.
¨Second - Do not "dry-fire", which is pulling the trigger when there is no blank in the chamber. Most guns break in rehearsal from actors dry-firing (playing) backstage. No gun, prop or real, is designed to be handled in this fashion. If it is necessary to the play that the gun dry-fire, then by all means rehearse as needed. But otherwise, why risk costly damage?
¨Third - Don’t take it out of the theatre. Police respond with extreme seriousness to any possible incident involving firearms, and merely displaying a replica outside of a theatre can be charged as a felony in most states. Any use outside of a theatre (including any film-work) requires prior notification and consent of the local police.
¨Fourth - The prop is not part of your costume. It is to be picked up from the stage manager just before your entrance, and returned immediately on your exit.
¨Fifth - Perform a "chamber-check" with every hand-off. The person handing over the weapon to the actor opens the gun to show that there is no bullet or blank in the chamber or magazine, or some other proof that the prop is harmless. When the actor returns the gun, the chamber check is repeated.
¨Sixth - Don’t drop it. Real or replica, these are delicate props, and simply can’t survive aggressive action. If the gun must be tossed or dropped, we suggest that you purchase several for the run of the show, for they will break. For the same reason, don’t "twirl" the gun or force the working parts.
What about blank firing guns? What about cap guns?
The danger comes from both the sound and from any discharge. When using, always fire with arm fully extended and at a safe distance from any other person. Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction before, during, and after firing. NEVER point any firearm at any person or animal.
That being said, some prop guns that fire are safer than others. In order from most to least safe:
1) non-firing props (use your sound system for the noise)
2) block-barreled guns designed for theatrical use
3) block-barreled guns designed for film use
4) "non-guns" (follow this link for more info)
5) percussion guns (follow this link for more info)
6) toy guns or "cap guns" (follow this link for more info)
7) unmodified or open-barreled guns
Only the first three types of guns should ever be considered for use as onstage noise makers. Please note that cap guns are less safe than blank guns. Cap guns put the shooter at grave risk of eye and hand injury. The last three choices put everyone else at grave risk of all kinds of injuries
When a blank is fired, very hot gases quickly expand and move away from the gun, sometimes down the barrel, sometimes to the side of the gun, sometimes towards the floor or ceiling. Each blank-firing gun style might be designed differently, and some of the gunpowder continues to burn as it leaves the gun, so find out where the gases go and keep that area clear. There has never existed a “safe” distance from a blank-fire discharge. The louder the blank, the more dangerous the discharge.
GUN SAFETY BASICS:
READ THIS ALSO - All weapons must be cleaned and lubricated after every performance. Failure to do so puts the user at great peril and leads to the destruction of the firearm.