Props Still Has a Drinking Problem

by Jay Duckworth
in How-To
Uncorking the Secrets of Wine and Champagne
Uncorking the Secrets of Wine and Champagne

Uncorking the Secrets of Wine and Champagne

Ah yes, the summer is almost upon us. BBQs, picnics, and outdoor theatre. So, as we digest another burned, over-smoked, what-not, pour yourself a glass of what ‘cha fancy and let’s move onto Part II of Props Has a Drinking Problem. “In vino veritas,” which translates to “In wine, there is truth,” from Plato’s Symposium 217. “In truth that wine is watered down Cran-Grape juice,” says Kate Dale, props master at The Juilliard School. Many truths have been told over glasses of wine [the good stuff] especially if they are the large glasses we pour at the Prop Summit. The Prop Summit, a gathering of all the different props masters, artisans, and crafters from Broadway to academia; from Lincoln Center to undergrad students, is an ideal time to discuss the challenges we all face with serving drinks as props. Last month we distilled whiskey and brewed some beer, now we pour wine and champagne.

White Wine – Now this is pretty easy since we can just add a little amount of chamomile tea to water. That’s a great cheap way to make loads of white wine. Plus, it has a low chance of staining costumes because of the amount of water in the mix. A richer deeper look can be achieved by using watered down white grape juice. It also has the benefit of having a bit of depth and sparkle when the stage lights hit it.

Red Wine – My first experience with red wine was at summer stock and we used Celestial Seasoning’s Red Zinger herbal tea. Again, using tea was inexpensive. Another time we used non-alcoholic wine but, like non-alcoholic beer, it still has some alcohol in it. According to one non-alcoholic wine website, Ariel wine, “Though it is physically impossible to remove 100% of the alcohol from fermented beverages, Ariel wine meets the legal definition of a dealcoholized beverage, which states that the product must contain less than half of one percent alcohol (<0.5%).” So again not completely alcohol free and so it is not safe to give actors, especially if your actor is in recovery. As props people we are one of the last walls of defense in protecting the actors. Ocean Spray’s Cran-Grape is a great red wine substitute and has a rich dark ruby look under stage lights.  Just make sure to check with costumes and do tests on the fabric they are using to see how you can control staining. I try and stay away from food coloring as it stains clothing as well as skin.

Champagne – Thank you, thank you, Soda Stream. There is nothing I love more on stage than the sound of air pressure coming out of a beer can or champagne bottle when opened on stage. One exception, in David Auburn’s Proof at the top of the show, Catherine opens ‘the worst champagne she ever tasted’. We wanted the cork to just fall out and drop to the ground without a pop, so no carbonation needed, easy and the moment worked great for that show. Most shows however want the pop of champagne. On the musical Giant, there is a champagne bottle that is shaken, popped, and foam goes everywhere. This was done with a Soda Stream and ginger ale mix and half a Mento candy hung on waxed dental floss from the top of the bottle. With the Soda Stream you can force more carbon dioxide (CO2) into the water mixture. The dental floss is pushed thru half of a Mento with a needle. You keep the floss strings long so that the half a Mento sits just at the bottom of the cork when you push it in. Once your cork is in the bottle, be sure to put the wire cage over your cork to prevent it from popping off prematurely. Then clip off any excess floss so that it is not seen. Wrap foil over the cork and top of the champagne bottle. Corks, cages, and foils can be bought at any local home brew supply or from online wine or brewing suppliers. Two tricks that I have found include using a pencil in closing the cork cage wire. It will also help your actor to easily open the cage onstage. Trick two is to pour in all liquids cold into the bottle and let the faux champagne get to room temperature. Room temperature club soda gasses off quickly, more so than a cold bottle of club soda.

Wine and Champagne Labels – There are great vintage wine and champagne labels to be found online. You can also make your own in Photoshop. Once the label is on the bottle and you are happy with the look, I recommend that you make a small pool of clear five-minute epoxy. Since no one wants to make anyone sick from a dirty bottle, use a disposable brush, paint the epoxy over the label and this will protect the label from deteriorating after multiple washings.