pageok
pageok
pageok
Yale Bans Realistic-Looking Onstage Swords:

The Yale Daily News reports:

In the wake of Monday's massacre at Virginia Tech in which a student killed 32 people, Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg has limited the use of stage weapons in theatrical productions.

Students involved in this weekend's production of "Red Noses" said they first learned of the new rules on Thursday morning, the same day the show was slated to open. They were subsequently forced to alter many of the scenes by swapping more realistic-looking stage swords for wooden ones, a change that many students said was neither a necessary nor a useful response to the tragedy at Virginia Tech....

Brandon Berger '10, who plays a swordsman in the show, said the switch to an obviously fake wooden sword has changed the nature of his part from an "evil, errant knight to a petulant child." ...

Do Yale students have a hard time telling theater from reality? Are they so emotionally fragile that they would be traumatized by seeing a realistic sword on stage?

Is the administration contemplating some weird scenario in which a cunning and patient mad killer-actor decides to kill people by substituting a real sword for the fake one (and would be stopped by this rule from bringing a real sword, or a real gun, in a bag)? Is it afraid that one of the actors will run off-stage waving a fake sword, and lead the police to shoot him for fear that it's a real sword? Or am I missing some other, less far-fetched, justification?

Thanks to Instapundit and Power Line for the pointer.

UPDATE: Commenter Nikki points out: "I wonder if Dean Trachtenberg realizes that elsewhere, the university encourages sword-wielding psychos to practice their craft." Let's make them use wooden swords, too.

FantasiaWHT:
If anyone would honestly be traumatized by the sight of weapons, why would they voluntarily go to a play involving knights?
4.21.2007 11:36am
SMatthewStolte (mail):
Do Yale students have a hard time telling theater from reality?


Goodness gracious, no. But that's not the reason. The reason is that the administration has a hard time telling theater from reality. So, you see, it's perfectly justified.
4.21.2007 11:42am
David Maquera (mail) (www):
What a stupid policy. Its bad enough when productions try to make my beloved Shakespeare plays contemporary. Now, if MacBeth or Henry V is every staged at Yale, there will be a bunch of morons running around the stage waving broomsticks.
4.21.2007 11:48am
Joshua:
Is the administration contemplating some weird scenario in which a cunning and patient mad killer-actor decides to kill people by substituting a real sword for the fake one (and would be stopped by this rule from bringing a real sword, or a real gun, in a bag)? Is it afraid that one of the actors will run off-stage waving a fake sword, and lead the police to shoot him for fear that it's a real sword? Or am I missing some other, less far-fetched, justification?

Risk management decisions aren't just about the probability of bad things happening; the consequences of making the wrong decision are also a factor.

Yale's overreaction makes them look like overweening dolts. On the other hand, if they didn't do this and one of those "weird scenarios[s]" were to actually come true, they would come off looking much like VT's administration does now; that is, much, much worse than overweening dolts. Given the importance of a university's public image, it's no surprise that they chose a self-inflicted but minor PR hit over the remote odds of a catastrophic one (not to mention the liability risk on top of that).
4.21.2007 11:54am
The Cabbage:
but...but... what if this stops just one person from committing some horrible and senseless act? Wouldn't that make it worth it? Don't you care about life? or do you just want to run around with your swords, no matter the cost?
4.21.2007 12:12pm
Nikki:
I wonder if Dean Trachtenberg realizes that elsewhere, the university encourages sword-wielding psychos to practice their craft.
4.21.2007 12:22pm
John (mail):
Has anyone paused to wonder what psychological disorders impel people to act this way? When one's response to reality is inappropriate to what is, er, real, there is surely a psycho-name for this.

What ultimately lies behind this sort of bizarre overreaction? Uncontrollable fear? An inability to cope with pressure of any sort? Simple stupidity?
4.21.2007 12:27pm
Paddy O. (mail):
Rather than whining they should have fun and playfully mock the rule. Wooden swords? Why not plastic lightsabers, or sticks from outside, or something else that is itself over the top. Whining actors is just that much more pitiful. They should see this as a cue to creativity and their own social commentary. Pick the most violent play possible and use absurd props. Get people to laugh at the policy. Think, for goodness sakes, don't whine. Make the administration look silly and show there's something to theater critique after all.
4.21.2007 12:35pm
Jacob T. Levy (mail) (www):
I know someone who was once prevented from bringing a toy lightsaber on board a plane, using the "toy weapons can convincingly threaten people because they might be real weapons" rationale. The error in reasoning is left as an exercise for the reader.
4.21.2007 1:04pm
John Armstrong (mail) (www):
You'd be amazed how silly and stupid Yale is, from students to administration.
4.21.2007 1:07pm
JB:
But something must be done! We have to prevent violence at all costs!
4.21.2007 1:11pm
Dave N (mail):
Paddy O: Spot on--a great way to show how absurd Yale's policy is.

Becky Trachtenberg clearly needs to take a class in Common Sense 101.
4.21.2007 1:13pm
tarheel:
Swords and schools don't mix. Period. I would point out the wooden faux-swords might be dangerous as well. Splinters, possible fire...the trees....my god, does Yale not even care about the trees!!
4.21.2007 1:15pm
Patrick McKenzie (mail):
Actually, a wooden sword will kill you just as dead as a metal one if you're not wearing a helmet when it hits you in the head. Kendo has a higher fatality rate than theatre.
4.21.2007 1:27pm
R Gould-Saltman (mail):
this is just Python-esque.

I gotta ask: I assume this Yale policy extends to the on-stage display of realistic, but properly marked, fake guns? and that drama students now are going to brandish bananas, or guns which ala Bugs and Elmer, extend a flag which reads "Bang!"?

I really like the light-saber idea. Why not Hamlet in Star Wars costume?

Maybe "Encounter-bats" (or whatever they called those foam-padded whackers that therapists used to encourage people to belabor each other about the head and torso with, as a means of expressing themselves)? Would make for a great Richard III: "Advance thy foamy
bat-thingy higher than my breast, or, by Saint Paul, I'll strike thee to my foot, And spurn upon thee, beggar, for thy boldness!"
4.21.2007 1:30pm
Elliot123 (mail):
I suggest lots and lots of fake blood when an actor is stabbed by a nerf sword.
4.21.2007 1:31pm
WHOI Jacket:
It's NERF or Nothin!!
4.21.2007 1:42pm
pete (mail) (www):
"Why not plastic lightsabers, or sticks from outside, or something else that is itself over the top." I thought of plastic lightsabers when I head this as well (and bright orange nerf guns for any shooting scenes). I think Juliet stabbing herself with Romeo's green plastic lightsaber would bring something new to a play we all have seen before. Medea stabbing her children with a lightsaber would also probably add to that play as well, expecially since most of the violence in Greek plays occurs off stage. Over the top rule following is often the best way to respond to prominent idiocy.

Back in college campus security responded to a call of a gun in a building. Someone had left a realistic looking plastic gun that was a prop in a play out on their desk in the drama department. Campus security told them to put it away when not in use for a play and that was the end of it.
4.21.2007 1:55pm
Alan Gunn:
Are we sure this is real, and not a practical joke by the Yale paper?
4.21.2007 1:58pm
wm13:
John Armstrong, I don't think that's very fair. I agree that the Yale administration, and a good chunk of the faculty, aren't the brightest, but the students are mostly suck-ups playing along with these dim bulbs until they collect their degrees and head off to make big bucks. Smart people don't argue with powerful (although they may mock them behind their backs), and Yale students are very smart. (Yale '81)
4.21.2007 2:20pm
Fub:
John wrote at 4.21.2007 11:27am:
Has anyone paused to wonder what psychological disorders impel people to act this way? When one's response to reality is inappropriate to what is, er, real, there is surely a psycho-name for this.
I don't think there is an entry for it in the diagnostic manuals, but large groups of people afflicted with the disorder are often called "legislatures", and smaller groups, "courts".
4.21.2007 2:25pm
Brooks Lyman (mail):
With regard to fencing (see Nikki, above), they have fencing at MIT, in ever-so-trendy Cambridge, MA. They also have Varsity Pistol and Rifle Teams, and the pistol Team just beat Army and Navy to win the National Championship. So far, no Pistol Team members have shot anything but paper targets, and I expect that situation to continue, because these are mature young adults, not wacko gangbangers....
4.21.2007 2:33pm
Loafing Clerk:
Lightsabres? If this isn't a prank — and I really hope it is — the Dean in question has actually appeared dressed as Darth Vader. See Yale Alumni Magazine. One wonders if she was armed with a lightsabre, or merely choked dissenters with the wave of a black-gloved hand. I know which one would traumatize me more.
4.21.2007 2:49pm
Freddy Hill:
You know, biceps can kill people. I think that Yale should close the gym and ban barbells and dumbells anywhere on campus.
4.21.2007 3:10pm
BGates (www):
Someone's already mentioned Kendo; shouldn't there be a Japanese students' group around to get outraged at the idea that their culture's weapons aren't real weapons? This cultural imperialism has got to be worth a protest.
4.21.2007 3:20pm
bigchris1313 (mail):

You know, biceps can kill people. I think that Yale should close the gym and ban barbells and dumbells anywhere on campus.


Compulsory diets low in carbs and protein would also go a long way to preventing murder by draining students of their muscle and energy. We wouldn't want them to be able to use body-weight exercises like pull-ups and push-ups to compensate for their of a gym. Dangerous muscles and what not.
4.21.2007 3:54pm
scote (mail):
Well, if pens are mightier than swords we know what Yale has to ban next...

As others have pointed out, wooden swords are potentially lethal weapons, too. I hope that such an obvious fact causes Yale to rescind their ridiculous ban rather than ban wooden swords as well.

In England they've gone over the top, as well, and are planning on banning Katanas, or "Samurai Swords." Antique swords from Japan will be exempted, of course, so that the law will not have an affect on rich people but the less expensive modern swords used by martial artists, historical re-enactors and other collectors will be banned.
4.21.2007 4:09pm
Shelby (mail):
This story supports my tentative hypothesis (a corollary to the rule that a committee is dumber than its dumbest member): The smarter the people making a collective decision, the dumber the collective decision will be.
4.21.2007 4:34pm
Kovarsky (mail):
I guess I don't understand people like John Armstrong who read this as a broader indictment of the Yale student body. The author of the article is clearly put off by the act of a single institutional official (it's Betty Trachtenberg for god's sake), and the story conveys pretty clearly that most of the student body thinks that it is ridiculous.

That being said, there's a certain amount of joy in seeing the Yale theater department have to interact with the real world every once in awhile.
4.21.2007 4:35pm
Kovarsky (mail):
Shelby,

This doesn't appear to be a collective decision, so it seems to cut against your rule.
4.21.2007 4:43pm
Tom Holsinger (mail):
About 1969-70, I saw a stage sword cut off about a third of an actor's nose. This was in a UC Santa Cruz production of Julius Caesar, with costumes designed by Marvel comic book artist Stan Lee.

We didn't have a real stage then so the performance was done in the dining room of Stevenson College. I was one of several people who ran immediately for the kitchen to fill a bucket with ice to put the severed nose tip in.

The nose was sewn back on at the local emergency room.
4.21.2007 5:34pm
J○n (mail):
Forget wooden swords. They should replace their weapons with walkie-talkies, a la Spielberg.
4.21.2007 5:51pm
e:
Joshua,

Does the VT administration really look that bad, or are you talking about typical hindsight tunnel vision perception problems typically turned into "news." To clarify in anticipation - the VT murderer raised flags, but how many thousands of students similarly concern their teachers and authorities yet remain innocent of serious crime. Yale would not look bad if they failed to protect against bizarro scenarios which rarely come true in favor of treating their students like adults and granting the commensurate freedoms of adults in the real world.
4.21.2007 6:01pm
Hattio (mail):
Hey,
First off, fencers are not sword-wielding psychos. They aren't real swords. I'll be the first to admit that there are a whole lot of Tolkein reading nerds among most fencing groups. But psycho might be a bit harsh. Granted their view of reality and actual reality only intersect rarely, but these people aren't dangerous...just imminently mock-worthy.
And foils and epees probably look less like the real thing than a wooden sword.
4.21.2007 6:11pm
Jerry F:
I think that Eugene and most commenters misunderstand the administration's rationale. This is not about safety or prevention of actual violence; this is about making a statement.

The administration's rationale is probably grounded in the idea that a popular culture that portrays violence is likely to encourage actual violence (but see, Japan) and that, as a matter of principle, Yale should lead by example by discouraging portrayal of realistic violence. Presumably, Trachtenberg also believes that the media and Hollywood should reduce depictions of violence. It is also worth noting that the YDN article said that Yale also bans realistic-looking but fake guns; this is obviously about making a statement rather than preventing violence.

Of course, this is a completely silly reasoning, and this kind of reasoning could be used much more convincingly to promote conservative ends. I don't see the Yale administration attempting to ban condoms, pornography or homosexual rallies on campus on the ground that a culture that emphasizes sex too much creates a culture where rapes are more frequent, even though this argument is at least a bit more reasonable than the "violent popular culture leads to actual violence" argument.
4.21.2007 6:12pm
scote (mail):
"About 1969-70, I saw a stage sword cut off about a third of an actor's nose."

Interesting. I wonder how many actors and stagehands have been hurt by ordinary props and set pieces--or even just physical movement. I'm guessing a lot more than by stage swords.

Generally, stage combat with swords is planned to keep the path of the swords away from the faces of the combatants as an extra layer of safety. Accidents can and do happen in any kind of physical activity, but proper, professional stage combat choreography can make the combat scenes as safe as the rest of the play's blocking. However, a "fencing master," an instructor of sport fencing, is not in and of itself a qualification for stage combat any more than being a real assassin qualifies you to stage safe, pretend gun battles. Fencing and stage combat are overlapping but separate skill sets. Stage combat is about story telling, creating the illusion of violence in a way that advances the story. Sport fencing is about winning a game within the rules of that game.
4.21.2007 6:15pm
Nikki:
Just for clarification purposes ... my boyfriend took up sport fencing in college, and is now an historical fencing enthusiast. The comment about sword-wielding psychos was meant sarcastically, and not as my actual view of fencers. :)
4.21.2007 6:41pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Hattio: I understood "psycho" to be sarcastic, and I'm happy to hear Nikki confirm this. As to foils and epees not looking like "the real thing," they do look like real deadly objects of the general sword family, even if not like the particular deadly objects that tended to be used in the typical on-battlefield melee.
4.21.2007 6:47pm
The Drill SGT:
and to EV's point :)

As to foils and epees not looking like "the real thing," they do look like real deadly objects of the general sword family, even if not like the particular deadly objects that tended to be used in the typical on-battlefield melee.


As any student of military arts or of swordsmanship will tell you:

"The point beats the edge"

The only place that edged swords survived on the battlefield after the 1600's was in the Cavalry, where there is a different set of physics involved and edged swords are the preferred weapon. Next to pistols :)
4.21.2007 7:05pm
Viscus (mail) (www):
This decision by the Dean is plainly ridiculous. There is no rational linkage between these swords and the tragedy at Virginia Tech.
4.21.2007 7:38pm
Jason Fliegel (mail):

About 1969-70, I saw a stage sword cut off about a third of an actor's nose. This was in a UC Santa Cruz production of Julius Caesar, with costumes designed by Marvel comic book artist Stan Lee.


Lee wasn't an artist -- he was a writer. Perhaps the costumes in the production you saw were designed by Jack Kirby, an artist who collaborated with Lee and who moved to southern California in the late 1960s?
4.21.2007 8:36pm
Tom Holsinger (mail):
Jason,

I wouldn't be surprised. But it was advertised as a campus production with costumes by Stan Lee.
4.21.2007 8:47pm
Harry:
To make matters even sillier, according this this page,
Betty Trachtenberg is on the Faculty Committee on Athletics. The reaccreditation web page lists Betty as the co-chair, and on Atheltics says


In the last five years, the Faculty Committee on Athletics, appointed by the president, and composed of twelve faculty members and administrators, has grown especially active in its partnership with the department of athletics.



Looks like she forgot those little things.
4.21.2007 9:18pm
Hattio (mail):
Nikki,
I assumed you were kidding. But just for the record, I was defending those who engage in the sport of fencing. The "historical fencers?" They're all psychos....
4.21.2007 9:38pm
Antonio Manetti (mail):
The press release says:

Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg has limited the use of stage weapons in theatrical productions.

The term 'weapons' covers a lot of territory.

This is the usual blogosphere tempest in a teapot. Is an exact quote of the Dean's directive available on the web?
4.21.2007 9:42pm
Richard Nieporent (mail):
You know, biceps can kill people. I think that Yale should close the gym and ban barbells and dumbbells anywhere on campus.

Especially in the Dean's office.
4.22.2007 12:10am
Payson (mail):
wm13: "But the [Yale] students are mostly suck-ups playing along with these dim bulbs [the administration] . . . "

Er, what? Read the original article, please!

______________________
"Red Noses" director Sarah Holdren '08 said she first heard about the changes in a phone call from a friend as she arrived at the Off-Broadway Theater on Thursday morning. At the theater, technical director Jim Brewczynski told her about the new regulations. The pair then met with Trachtenberg, who initially wanted no stage weapons to be used in the show, Holdren said, though she later agreed to permit the use of obviously fake weapons.

In a speech made before last night's opening show of "Red Noses," Holdren said that Trachtenberg's decision to force the production to use wooden swords instead of metal swords will do little to stem violence in the world.

"Calling for an end to violence onstage does not solve the world's suffering: It merely sweeps it under the rug, turning theater — in the words of this very play — into 'creamy bon-bons' instead of 'solid fare' for a thinking, feeling audience," she said. "Here at Yale, sensitivity and political correctness have become censorship in this time of vital need for serious artistic expression."
________________________
4.22.2007 1:00am
comatus (mail):
My drama instructor at Bowling Green went into great detail about the modifications needed to make a "stage sword" safe to use. The blades would shatter if not reinforced by a metalsmith, and the flying parts could put an eye out as surely as Ralphie's Red Ryder. His feeling was that a real sword, with the edge covered by a magnesium strip to really make the sparks fly, was the only thing for Henry IV. And he played Falstaff to prove it.
4.22.2007 3:37am
CaptDMO:
Stage "combat" vs. fencing? (or sword fighting, or actual jousting)
Yale school of drama (ANY department)vs. the rest of the planet?(bwa ha ha ha ha!)
modified Epee blades vs. anything EVER used for sport fencing?
ANY "Ye royal turky leg" venue weapons vs. the crap used in actual battle(exception for japanese swords, and pasta lances)
Any questions?
I evoke the names of ANYONE who's worked for B.H. Barrie
or ANY gunsmith at Center Firearms NYC.
You BET I worked in showbiz...
4.22.2007 5:54am
sailordave:
Eugene, there is a play ("Miss Macbeth" by Karen Wurl) about an understudy who murders the lead actress by substituting the fake knife with a real one. So I guess someone has considered the possibility before.
4.22.2007 1:06pm
John (mail):
sailordave--

Also a Monk episode!
4.22.2007 3:09pm
Randy R. (mail):
" Stage combat is about story telling, creating the illusion of violence in a way that advances the story. "

Well put. I'm actually on the board of a small non-profit called the International Order of the Sword and the Pen, and our mission is to train actors and directors in the field of staged combat. Fighting for actors is completely different from real historical fighting, as safely is the first concern, while historical accuracy and telling the story of the characters or the scene follows as a close second.

Part of our mission is to teach inner city school kids the difference between staged violence, which is fake, and the real stuff, using Shakespeare for examples. We show that real violence is a result of losing control, and it rarely if ever solves a dispute in a meaningful way.

Anyway, not only is this stupid to ban metal swords, it confuses the real lesson, which is that violence, as our literary masters teach us, solves nothing.
4.22.2007 4:17pm
Walt Quist (mail):
I got this from my son who is a history professor in Shippensburg, PA:

You'd be surprised how unnerved some people have become. Our local example is of a faculty member who left a box of discarded poetry near a trash can for recycling. An ROTC student reported that a man of Middle Eastern descent left a strange box in front of a building and drove away. He reported the incident to University Police (included the stuff about the guy who appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent), which called the Pennsylvania State Police, which brought the bomb squad. Unfortunately the student did not recognize the professor, who had an office in the same building as the ROTC Department.

It's strange how boxes of discarded poetry can suddenly become so threatening.
4.22.2007 4:23pm
Walt Quist (mail):
More from my son who is a history professor in Shippensburg, PA:
For further information you might want to see the following links:

www.cumberlink.com/articles/2007/04/21/shipp_news/news20.txt

http://www.kazimali.com/

Within a few weeks we hope things will return to normal!
4.22.2007 9:43pm
Randy R. (mail):
"It's strange how boxes of discarded poetry can suddenly become so threatening."

Cheer up. At least someone thinks poetry CAN be threatening.

I still long for the days when new classical music or theater was taken so seriously, people would riot. (Ex. The premiers of Rite of Spring, and one of the Irish plays at the turn of the century...)
4.23.2007 12:33pm