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Impaled by a Sword

Exhibit No.9

By Kalen Larson and Mathew Willett

Michigan Technological University

he Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 by John
Bishop requires a number of murders onstage
the second of which happens when Producer
Marjorie Baverstock is stabbed through the stomach
with a sword during a power outage. Sergeant
Michael Kelly discovers she has been impaled by the
sword and removes it from her stomach. Normally
this is accomplished with the back of the chair facing
down stage and the sword sticking out toward the
audience. This only makes the assumption that she
was impaled. Our director chose a more challenging
effect of having the front of the chair face down stage
with the sword being pulled out of her stomach in
full view of the audience.

bend. While the sword is simple in concept, it took

many prototypes to develop the proper techniques to
build a working model. We also found that magicians
put a collar with a guide track, two or more inches
thick, around the assistant where the sword enters and
leaves. We determined the track has two functions;
first to flatten and collapse the sword; second to route
it around the body. Because we were creating an effect
that had to look realistic, we decided that any visible
collar needed to be eliminated. In an attempt to limit
the thickness and visually eliminate the track we
decided it should be something which would remain
flexible in order to stay tight to the body.

Building the Sword

We began by researching how magicians typically

pass swords through their assistants. While magicians
don't like to give up their tricks, we found that one
technique is to use metal, curved in a fashion similar
to two tape measures, facing each other, as the blade
of the trick sword. The curved exterior and hollow
interior of the blade allows the sword to change from
being rigid to flexible when flattened, allowing it to

To build the sword blade we started by cutting two

pieces of a tape measure to the length needed for the
blade. (Fig. l)Then we created the point; because the
tape measure is so delicate we found the best way was
to sand it into shape, this also helps to limit sharp
edges. Rather than paint the sword with metallic paint
and risk paint coming off in the track, the original
paint on the tape measure was sanded off to expose
the raw metal. Now the two pieces were sandwiched
together with the convex sides facing out to create

Figure 1 - Tape measure cut to make the blade.

Figure 2 - Blade in track.


Biennial Theatre Technology Exhibit 2013 !27

,~:+Tech EXPO

Figure 3 - Sword in Marjorie from audience perspective.

Figure 5 Sword removed.

Figure 4 - Side view showing sword partially

removed and exposed end of track.
the blade. To attach the two pieces together we found
clear packing tape worked the best, having enough
strength to hold them together while the blade bends.
Any bubbles that formed in the tape were worked
out with the help of a heat gun on low. Finally, we
attached the blade to the hilt; we bolted ours to a hilt
that was removed from an existing prop sword.

Building the Track

Our track was built of vinyl siding, a material which
is stiff enough to guide the blade but also flexible

281 United States Institute for Theatre Technology, Inc.

enough to wrap around the actor. Using a matte

knife, we cut the siding down into two strips twice
as wide as the blade and slightly longer. Our blade
was almost three feet long, so friction against the
track was a problem. To resolve this, we replaced
the section of track nearest the actor's body with
'lit inch-wide strips spaced approximately 2 inches
apart along the length of the track. (Fig. 2) At the
end of the track where the blade is inserted, we
reshaped it so that the sword could be pulled out
perpendicular to the actor's body. We did this by
using a heat gun to reshape the vinyl into an 80
degree turn with a % inch radius. All the track
pieces were then gaff taped together.
To effectively hide the track we worked with the
costume designer to make it part of the costume.
The costume designer added a belt slightly thinner than the track to the dress at the height where
the stabbing occurred. We then put the track in a
fabric sleeve identical to the belt. When the power
outage happened the actor then put on the second belt, preloaded with the sword, directly over
the first. We were able to accomplish this effect in
some light rather than a true blackout by creating
a diversion on the opposite side of the stage. See
figures 3 through 5 illustrating how everything
looked on stage. il!i