Theatre technicians, overlooked and fearless magicians of blackout, set, backstage, are people you want on your side. They fade into the background, often, their work done out of the dazzling lights, but they work hard, and they don’t take kindly to not being acknowledged.
(It’s hard to tell when technicians go missing sometimes. The changelings are often very similar to the human they replace.)
Make allies of the costume shop—most costumes have at least some hand-stitching, and if you’re polite and friendly, they’ll make sure to knot their thread with three loops around a needle, and to tie it off in three neat motions. The costumers believe in threes, and their ability to ward off the Gentry. It’s not steel or iron or salt, nothing so powerful. It’s a little more insurance, a knot to tie you to earth.
Mostly, they do it automatically. Technicians are a practical and time-starved lot, and no one wants to frantically re-fit a costume at the last minute. But don’t push them. Go too far, and the threes will stop being a priority for their clever hands. They can’t and won’t make sure that you’re taken. But they can stop helping to protect you.
Among technicians, it’s carpenters and props people who are Taken the most often. Both groups are a special kind of strange, and they work with their hands to bring beauty out of nothing. Give a carpenter two pieces of plywood, some two by four and a mission, and they’ll overcomplicate it to impossibility and pull it off anyway. Props people are the kind who look at scattered scraps and trash, and see what could be, not what is. Swords of cardboard, fine chocolates of clay, embossed leather armor from foam. Illusion, for a props person, is king, and it’s no wonder the Gentry find them fascinating.
(Props has sent people onstage with bona fide magical objects, lost to the prop room years ago. It’s the ruthlessness in them, the mercenary way of taking whatever works.)
Electricians are safest, the ones who are closest to the technology of it all, who spend hours on high, calling information back and forth in a code unintelligible to the uninitiated. They chatter, and they clamp and tighten and connect and swear, and suddenly there is light, and color, and glitter. The Gentry are amazed, but do not understand. What you do not understand is best left alone.
(Still, some electricians go missing. Maybe they sing, or they see, or they’re thoughtlessly kind or cruel—no one is safe, here. This is the theater, liminal, filled with Gentry even on a good day, and being safe is so often at odds with doing things fast that it’s not unheard of for electricians to climb precariously, thank thoughtlessly, or strip off iron jewelry.)
Designers bargain most often, sometimes thoughtless and sometimes with clever words and clever research and a clever friend who knows contract law. Sometimes it’s for inspiration, which often goes badly—those are desperate people, and the Gentry are not kind to the desperate. Sometimes it’s for persuasiveness, or money, or, most precious of all, time.
(I need more time, is the motto of the department, the guiding light of a program always living under a deadline. Give me more time.)
Elsewhere University’s stage managers, the ones who make leaving stick, are good. Really good. Flexible, punctual, smart, good with names and at ironclad paperwork. They’re capable of corralling even the most difficult personalities with charming words and a refusal to back down, and that makes them valuable. But they never break old habits, of opening night gifts made from rowan, and closing night gifts of iron and silver, and they’re deeply superstitious.
(The fines, for touching props that don’t belong to you, are a serious business when an EU alum is stage managing.)
The few who learn to weld and build with steel from the metalworking students are safest, with steel shavings scattered in their clothes and hair, on their skin. They’re still not safe. All too often, they’re carpenters too, and it just takes one day, when the steel has finally washed away, and the rings have been yanked off to avoid losing a finger, or they ask, criminally careless, for help building or learning or understanding.
A good handful of technicians go missing every year. Most of them will make it back, better, or at least stranger, than before.
After a semester or two of working in the theatre shop, or a show or three, most technicians will go to Cat Eyes. Most of them, by the time they graduate, have a distinctly odd pair of safety glasses, never far from them. Theatre is about syncretism, about everything working, and if you can’t see it all, if you can’t see if the costume really matches the actor’s skin tone, or if the light is unflattering on half the ensemble, you can’t make it right.
With those glasses on, it’s never about seeing anyone. It’s about looking at costumes, light, paint, props. Nothing else matters.
(Technicians remember the most about The Play when it’s performed. The costume shop remembers the way the fabrics slipped through their fingers, bright and silken and gorgeous. The carpenters remember building, the lumber straight and clean and lovely. Tech is a blur, and no one remembers who stage managed, but it’s better than other shows. You don’t think about it in the moment—it’s just another six-to-ten tech, and you bring your coffee and your bagel and don’t think about the paper your history professor wants tomorrow. After, though. After, you realize it was The Play. Some few students can’t bear to give that seamless beauty up. The department faculty has to come from somewhere.)
A last word of advice: When the show is on, always be polite to whoever you meet backstage. You never know who they really are—Gentry, ghost, short-tempered technician who will spend two hours unpicking every single three-loop knot in every one of your costumes—and if you say the wrong thing, you’ll regret it. And pay attention to the show. Actors have gotten lost before, the crossovers stretching on forever, lost eternally in the moment right before their entrance.
1 & 2) M42 “Duster”. American SPAAG built for the US Army from 1945 until December 1960 and in service until 1988. Production of this vehicle was performed by the tank division of GMC. It used components from the M41 Walker Bulldog and was constructed of all-welded steel. Although designed for the AA role, it was highly effective against unarmored targets in Vietnam. Photos from armourarchive.co.uk
3 to 5) Schneider CA1. French AFV developed in France during the WWI. Although not a tank in the modern sense of the word, not being a turreted vehicle, it is generally accepted and described as the first French tank. It’s development paralleled that of the British. It was armed with a short-barreled 75mm howitzer and two 8mm MGs.
6 to 8) St. Chamond. The second French heavy tank of WWI, with 400 manufactured from April 1917 to July 1918. Born of the commercial rivalry existing with the makers of the Schneider, the Saint-Chamond was an underpowered and fundamentally inadequate design. Its principal weakness was the Holt tracks. They were much too short in relation to the vehicle’s length and heavy weight. Chamond’s had a tendency to get stuck due to its heavy nose.
9 & 10) ARL-44. French tank produced just after WWII. Only sixty of these tanks were ever manufactured and the type was quickly phased out. The ARL-44 was an unsatisfactory interim design as the “Transitional Tank”, the main function of which was to provide experience in building heavier vehicles. The main lesson learned for many engineers was that it was unwise to construct tanks that were overly heavy, something you’d think they’d have learned from the Char 2C.
Ben loves to play Magic, and when he accidentally lost his dice bag it was the perfect opportunity for me to make him some! He loves using them in his tournaments.
Each die is cut to size from some square stock steel rod. Then they were ground to their smooth finish and each dot was drilled in by hand. I had no idea that there was a specific order to the number sides, but now I have it memorized after making all these! This was a fun project.
To answer this question I have selected excerpts from “Swords: How they are made and something about curious ones” by Frank Lamburn, Pearson’s Magazine, Vol. 2, July to December, 1896, which details how Wilkinson made swords.
The early stages of the process are essentially similar in a
broad sense to those passed through by most other pieces of cutlery. The steel,
of Sheffield make, is drawn into strips, equal in length to two blades, cut in
half, heated in a furnace, and hammered out until it resembles roughly a sword
An iron tang, designed eventually to receive the hilt, is
welded on to the steel and the blade is tempered. In tempering, each blade is
made hot singly, plunged into a bath of tepid water containing certain chemical
ingredients, drawn out–at this stage it is glass hard, being so brittle that
if dropped it would break in a dozen pieces–and slowly heated over the fire
until sufficiently tempered.
This operation can
only be performed at its best when the day is bright. During the winter month,s
on account of the poor light, the average time available for hardening is only
two days a week.
Beyond this point the blade may not again be worked in the
forge; further heating would decarbonise it. In converting blades from one
shape to another they are reheated, with the result that too great a quantity
of carbon is extracted and the steel becomes soft and of inferior quality.
After the blade has been cut and trimmed to the regulation
size, it passes to a man at one of the enormous Newcastle and Leeds stones
constituting the grinding department. During this operation five or six ounces
of metal are removed from the blade before it is finally brought down to
correspond with the rough gauges of thickness and width. Although the stone is
particularly hard, the steel causes it to fly off in thin, wet streams, and
wears it away to a degree that results in a stone seven feet in diameter being
reduced to two feet in diameter in about six months.
When the blade comes from this room it is a dull bright, and
requires to be polished, but it is never sharpened before it leaves the factory
unless in compliance with a special order. Before going on active service, the
bayonets and swords of all the soldiers and officers ordered away are returned
to Enfield to have a cutting edge put on them.
Before the hilt and guard are fixed to Government blades,
they undergo a number of severe tests on the premises at the hands of a
Government inspector. So far as the blade is concerned, the polished blade is
laid in a trough–a length of solid, three inch thick steel, with the exact
shape of the blade cut in the surface–and it has to fit this at every point
along its edge.
Next, the blade is bent round a semi-circular sheet of steel,
covered with a wire netting to protect the operator in the event of breakage,
after which it is placed in a machine that causes it to strike with its edge a
block of oak with a force of 160 pounds, and on its flat sides a sheet of iron
with a force of 80 pounds. In another machine it has to bear a vertical
pressure of 180 pounds without bending. When the handle is fixed, the weapon is
struck by hand on a solid block of oak, and the operator can tell by the ring
whether the blade is sound and if the grip is securely attached.
In testing cavalry swords, the blade is struck under the
same conditions as the bayonet, is placed in a machine and pressed on the top
while in a vertical position, until it is shortened four inches, and must bear
a 28lb vertical pressure without bending. As the result of a scientific
investigation instituted by the Government, it was recently discovered that in
pressing on a blade so that it bent first on one side, then on the other–a
common practice among infantry officers–the fibre of the metal was injuriously
strained; when, therefore, the vertical pressure test is applied and the blade
sprung, a small cross is stamped on the convex side to denote that the sword
may be sprung only on that side.
The sword-grip is automatically carved from a block of hard
Italian walnut. A block of wood is placed in the machine and left for three
minutes, when it is taken out in its completed form. This grip is covered with
the skin of a Japanese fish–the only suitable material–and bound with silver
wire after which the guard, stamped or cut, according to the quality, from a
flat sheet of metal is attached.
Although the average weight of the British officer’s sword
is only a pound and three-quarters (this is heavier than the French and United
States sword, but lighter than those of other nations), it is quite possible
for him to avert a blow delivered from a heavy tulwar, provided he catches it on
that portion of the blade nearest the hilt, and is sufficiently skillful in the
art of fencing. It is essential, of course, in a case of this kind that the
steel should be of the finest possible temper, and for this reason British
blades are sent out to the Indian Army, where they are fitted by regimental
armourers with hilts of regulation pattern.
The fate of old swords is very ordinary. Those belonging to
officers are, as a rule, preserved in the family, being handed down to father
and son; and in order to assist in carrying out this custom, the Wilkinson
Company keep a record which enables them to return the sword of any officer
killed on active service to his relatives at home. The swords of privates, when
returned to the Government Stores, are retested, and, if serviceable, are again
issued, or if unserviceable, are cut in half, the proof marks effaced, and sold
as scrap. They are then sent to Belgium, where they are welded together again
and returned to this country and offered for sale.
Below: Making swords at the Wilkinson Sword factory.
Still making them as they were made in the 19th century!
Additionally, here is an account of how swords were made at Charles Reeves’ Toledo Works factory in Birmingham, from England’s Workshops by Dr. G.L.M. Strauss, Charles William Quin, John Cargill Brough, Thomas Archer, William Bernhard Tegetmeier, and William Jeffery Prowse, London, 1864.
The steel from which the swords are made is supplied (by Mr.
John Sanderson of Sheffield) in long pieces somewhat tapering at each end, and
having a square portion in the middle, which being cut through, leaves material
for two blades, the bisection of the square leaving a shoulder at one end to
receive the iron “tang” by which the blade is afterwards fixed into the handle.
The manufacture of these blades is almost entirely effected by the forgers, who
hammer them into the required shape upon the anvil, a mould running down the
centre of which secures the hollow which in swords extends for about two thirds
of the length from hilt to point. In a little street of smithies the musical
clink is being sounded by a score of stalwart arms, either forging the rough
steel into form or hammering the formed blade into perfect shape and symmetry,
an operation which requires it to be kept at a certain heat lest the embryo
blade should be injured in the process. Once perfected as to proportion, the
hardening commences, and the blade is thrust backward and forward into the
furnace until it has acquired a proper and uniform heat, at which point it is
removed and instantly plunged into cold water. This process, which has
obviously suggested the Turkish bath, renders it hard indeed, but at the same
time so extremely brittle that we whisperingly suggest the propriety of
contracting to supply our enemies with weapons and neglecting to carry them
beyond that particular stage of preparation when they may be snapped with the
fingers. Carefully supported, however, the blade is again subjected to the
fiery ordeal until it attains a slaty-blue colour and a beautiful and elastic
temper, which has been partially secured by the previous hammering. By the
process of forging it has become about six inches longer than the pristine
steel shape, and by the tempering it has attained a springy strength which
enables it to be bent in a curve sufficient to bring the hand five inches
nearer the point.
There is yet another operation before the blades are taken
to the finishing-shop, one of the most important, too, since it is no other
than grinding, a process which secures an exact and uniform thickness, and
increases their elasticity.
We are standing at
the open end of a long, vast, and gloomy shed-like building, supported by iron
pillars. On each side through the entire length a series of enormous
grindstones spin round amidst sand and water and the mud from both. Seated
astride the bodies of wooden horses, whose heads seem to have been transformed
into these wheels, the grinders seize upon the blades, and each fearless rider
rising in his stirrups–or what looks much the same standing tiptoe till he no
longer touches his saddle–throws himself forward and presses the sword,
matchet, or bayonet on the wheel, at the same time guiding it deftly with his
left hand till its whole surface has been smoothly ground.
Along the whole line of whirling stones fly the lurid red
sparks; and as the grinders, with squared elbows, seem to curb the struggling
and impetuous wheels, we think of the wild dreams of Callot or Dore, and fancy
a double rank of riders bestriding horses strangely foaled by some hideous
After polishing, which is completed by wooden wheels bearing
a coating of leather covered with emery, the swords and matchets go to receive
handles, and the bayonets locking-rings. The handles of swords are made of
walnut-wood covered with the skin of the dogfish, while the hilt and guard are
formed from a plain flat sheet of steel, in shape not unlike one side of a pair
The Opening Scene to The Lego Ninjago Movie (I hope)
There was a light breeze in the bamboo forest as an elderly man slowly made his way through the moss. The sun beamed from above, filling the forest with light and therefore creating little shadow. There were no sounds of wildlife, in fact it was deadly silent-except for the beautiful shrill notes performed on the flute by the old man.
Step by step the old man trailed through the trees with his eyes shut, trusting that there was nothing endangering his internal peace.
His flute haltered when a quick breeze brushed by him and then vanished. The breeze flew through the trees as they waved and cracked, like the breeze was alive.
With one last deep breath, the master finished his little tune, and then snapped his eyes open.
Within the little shadow of the forest birthed a figure that lunged straight for the old man.
In an expert move, the elder flipped over the back of the newcomer and used his flute to wack him to the ground. He flopped to the ground with a “UMPH”.
As if the first figure was a leader, more masked warriors kept from what looked like no where towards the master. He readied his flute and leapt into action.
He struck the first one with his leg and she flew into a bamboo tree with a crack. The second one he used his flute to rebound him into the air and then flipped and kicked him into the mossy mud. The third came from behind but he masterfully punched him right in the face, and the last one he flipped and twisted over before using his flute as a javelin and striking his head.
The elder gently landed on the ground, his worn down robes fluttering around his legs. He quickly looked around the clearing and counted the defeated enemies before pausing. He quickly whipped his straw hat off and threw it into the tree tops without a glance. There was a pause, but sure enough there was a loud crash as one last enemy dressed in white hit the ground a little behind and next to the master. As the hat fluttered back down the ground, the last enemy in white muttered a muffled but emotionless, “Ow.”
“Alright,” the elder man commanded as he plucked the hat from the air and placed it back on his head. “Get up, all of you.”
Slowly, each of the masked figures rose off the ground, holding their arm, head, or stomach. A sleeveless warrior picked up the flute, brushed off some dirt, and then handed it to the old man. “Was that a new song? I’ve never heard you play it before.” The sleeveless warrior commented, followed by a wink from the master.
“Line up,” the master continued. The six warriors slowly made their way to form a very loose line in the moss. One by one, they pulled their masks off to reveal that they were actually only teenagers.
“Kai,” the old man pointed his flute at a red cloaked spiky haired ninja. “You struck too low. I was able to flip over you and leave you vulnerable. Remember, when you are on the offense-”
“I’m at eye level. Sorry, Master.” Kai looked at the ground.
“Jay,” the master turned to a curly haired teenager sporting a blue suit with freckles peppering his face. “Good idea coming from behind, but you were not quick or intense enough. You need to build confidence when you strike.”
“Yes, Master.” The teen squeaked, glancing at the girl standing proudly next to him.
“Nya,” the master continued to the spiky black haired teen with a samurai styled skirt. “You threw me off guard with how strong and fierce you attacked me.”
“Thank you Master-” she started, but he put his hand up, cutting her off.
“However, you need to harness the strength-not use all of it at once. With a simple move I counterbalanced your effort, but you put so much into it you couldn’t recover.”
“Oh,” she said quietly as her eyes dropped. “Of course, Master.”
He continued with a blonde haired blue eyed teen that wore all white and a frown. “Zane,” the master started.
“My bow string alerted you to my location.” The teen began.
“Uh, yes.” The old man spoke with an eyebrow raised. “Next time make sure you-”
“Pull back the string when there is combat so the enemy won’t hear me.”
“Exactly. Well done Zane.” He said with a small smile. “Now, Cole-”
The sleeveless teen raised an eyebrow.
“I know you like my music, but you can’t let it distract you. I easily caught you mid jump.”
Cole’s eyes drifted downward. “Yes, Master Wu.”
The master nodded then stepped in front of the last ninja. His green eyes gleamed in the sunlight and his blonde hair reflected the sun so he looked like a heavenly teenager in the bamboo forest. “Lloyd.”
The teen stood a little straighter. “Yes, Master?”
Master Wu narrowed his eyes as he stared at the teen. “Your form was good, your camo was excellent, I only detected your presence once.”
The teen cracked a smile.
“However,” he continued. The smile faded instantly. “You fell for the easiest trick in the book. I had a weapon and you-”
“Did not! Of course,” the teen face planted. “I needed to disarm you, not go for the surprise blow.”
“Correct.” Master Wu said as he slipped his flute onto his back. “Ninja,” he called out as he addressed the full team. “I hope you learned a lot from this no-weapon exercise. You must rely more than welded steel to take down your enemies. Your weapons are only an extension of a trained arm and a sharp mind.”
The team all bowed together. “Yes, Master,” they all said in unison.
The master glanced at the sky. “Speaking of a sharp mind, it looks like the hour has come. Training this morning is complete. I look forward to seeing you all at twilight on the Bounty.”
They all nodded then took off into the bamboo forest. Lloyd glanced at his watch. “Aw, crap! Master only left us 10 minutes to get to school! We’ll never make it to first period in time!”
“Well, we could!” Kai snorted as he dashed side by side Lloyd. “Except I don’t think Master Wu would appreciate us showing up at school in our ninja attire.”
Nya joined his side. “Speak for yourself,
bro. I actually think my suit has the punk style I wear to school.”
“Your suit looks great, Nya…” Jay called from behind.
“See, even Jay appreciates it.” Nya smiled as she high-fived the curly headed ninja.
“But Master Wu said we were never to wear our ninja gear in public for the endangerment of our identities.” Zane warned.
“Zane, we are joking.” Cole laughed as he nudged him mid-stride. “Lighten up, dude-we are gonna change.”
“Too bad our ninja suits don’t fit under our school clothes,” Kai said with a smirk. “I guess I’ll never live up to feeling like a true superhero!”
“Besides your only superpower would be your unmatched skill with styling your hair!” Nya snorted. The entire team burst into laughter at Kai as he frowned and said that his hair was “super fly” and “worth the hour of styling every morning.”
As the others laughed, Lloyd mumbled to himself, “I wouldn’t mind wearing my suit to school. Everyone would see me as a hero instead….” he chucked. “But then again, they would never believe that Ninjago’s worst enemy’s son is Ninjago’s greatest hero, wouldn’t they?” He shook his head, then waved his hand to his team. “Alright guys, if we hurry, we might make the second bell!”