Props Has A Drinking Problem

by Jay Duckworth

Time to distill some whiskey and brew some beer

The first experience I had with prop drinks on stage was for Anna Christie. The props master was using non-alcoholic beer. That’s okay, right? No, not if one of your cast is in recovery. See non-alcoholic beer still has alcohol in it. Drinking four non-alcoholic beers is equal to drinking half of a regular beer. That doesn’t seem harmless to people who are casual drinkers but to an actor who may have to fight in the next scene it could be the difference between a clean safe fight and an accident or a bad injury.

Then there was the time I was a props assistant at Berkshire Theatre Festival for Woman in Mind. We were using ginger ale for champagne and no one told us the actress was diabetic, but we sure found out in tech. There are also actors who are very sensitive to caffeine, ones that are kosher, allergic to the food additive malic acid, or those who get headaches and cramps from artificial sweeteners.

As you can see, props has a drinking problem at times and there is much to consider when making drinks. I am going to start with a few tips and tricks for whisky and beer in this article and then in part two we will cover wine and champagne solutions. 

Whiskey/Brandy – Use cold brewed tea, hot brewed tea, watered down brown cola, caramel coloring. Do not use instant tea as it will foam in a glass when you pour it. If you want to get very specific with single malt scotches water down a small amount of red food coloring in another glass. Then add that in a little at a time to the cold brewed ice tea. Go slow. There are also whiskeys that are light gold in color and brandys that have a slight glow of light green in them. These would matter the most if you will have your liquors decanted into clear glass bottles.

Bottles of Beer – Ask at the first production meeting if the bottles can be brown and opened off stage. If so, then just use plain old water. If they have to be opened on stage, then I suggest that you go on line and grab up a bottler capper and bottle caps. They are available at home-brew sites or even on Amazon. 

Cans of Beer – Start by emptying the beer can and use a Dremel tool to cut the top and bottom off of the beer can. Then take a scissor and cut the metal tube up the side so you have a beer sleeve. I use white electrical tape to tape the sleeve around at the top and the bottom on a club soda can. You can re-use this beer can sleeve over and over.

Glass of Beer – In Privacy, Daniel Radcliffe had to drink a pint of Guinness. I used a Greek drink known as a frappe and it worked out great. It is not the same as any other frappe, you want to use the Greek. You take Nescafe Decaf Instant Greek Frappe coffee (available online) and a hand-held milk foamer. You put the instant coffee into the pint glass add just enough water to fill 1/4’’ of the bottom of the glass. Put the milk foamer in, froth, and boom, it froths up almost to the top of the glass. Then simply add water to make your Guinness.

Beer from Taps Onstage – For the show Sweat, at the Public Theater, there was a pretty huge challenge when they needed working beer taps. Props assistant, Christopher Kavanah and props master Ricola Wille used this solution for the taps. This keg idea came through the show’s transfers from Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Arena stages. There were two taps required, one was a lager and the other was a darker beer. They bought home brew kegs, and filled them with water that they had colored with food coloring. They then connected the kegs to a real tap that was connected to a CO2 tank. In the empty pint glasses they put a few squirts of Frothee Creamy Head for Cocktails pre-show. Frothee, which can be bought online, is normally put into cocktails to create a foam. Put it in a pint glass, pour in colored water and voilà, you have drawn a beer with a creamy, foamy head on top.