Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Greenware breakable dishes

It is an old theatrical trick to use "greenware" when plates or other dishes need to be broken onstage. Greenware is essentially un-fired pottery.

I had a bit of trouble tracking some down in Chicago, but was eventually able to speak to a manager of a "paint your own pattery" store, who was able to order them directly from his supplier when he went out for his weekly pickup. I needed enough mugs, plates and bowls to smash one set every show for ten runs (Four perfomances, plus 6 rehearsals).
I was able to get the pieces for $3 each, which was about what I was expecting. For a long running show, this would have been a serious portion of my budget, but for this short run, the price was reasonable.  
It did take much longer than expected to track down the pieces and then to get them from the supplier. Next time I will already have made the contact (if I am here in the city) but I still will make sure to start the process from the moment I have a hint of needing breakable objects, to make sure we have them in plenty of time.
Once we determined that the pieces worked during tech, the biggest problem was that they seemed obvious. As soon as the actor picked up the dish of the shelf you could guess he was going to break it. The simple grey color was begging to be smashed. So we decided to add a pattern. The first thing I tried were some wide artist's markers, but the not-quite-dry clay soaked up the ink, dried out the markers and gummed up the tips. It looked great, but was time consuming and wasteful of the nice markers. 
 I took a trip to Blick Art supplies to find a solution, and the man there recommended I try oil pastels. They worked perfectly. I was able to trace lines smoothly and quickly on the surface of the dishes, and a coat of spray sealer over each dish kept the pastel from rubbing off when I was finished. 
 Best of all, the design achieved the desired effect. From a distance the dishes looked so nicely designed that seeing them smashed was much more shocking. 
 I have very few photos of the smashed dishes. They crumble easily (which is the point), but since the scene continued with 20 more minutes of very physical comedy after the plates were smashed, the pieces onstage were basically dust by the time we hit a break. 
This photo shows the sharpest point I could find on the smashed plate I was able to photograph. I was able to run my finger back and forth across this point without any pain. In fact, the only damage done by rubbing my finger across it, was to the plate, which became more worn down and rounded each time I dragged my finger across. 

One safety concern we did have to consider, as actors continued to walk back and forth on the smashed dishes in the scene, the dust go on their shoes. They tracked that dust around the stage, which caused things to get very slick and slippery. Once we realized the problem, we were able to mostly guard against it, and the stage crew made sure to be extra diligent when they cleaned at intermission, but it is something to be aware of and plan for if you can. 


  1. Replies
    1. In Chicago, I went through a "paint-your-own-pottery" place called Gazed Expressions, they should be easy to google. If you are located elsewhere, you should be able to find a similar type of store in your area.