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Destroying One Ring – Night After Night

Monica-Marie Coakley • Answer Box • February 1, 2008

One props department deals with melting a wedding ring every night over the run of a show.

Murderer, by Anthony Shaffer, is a tough play for any props master. For the first 30 minutes of the play, we watch a man kill and dismember a woman in his English house without any dialogue. There are multiple challenges and special effects that need to be solved in order to stage the opening sequence. Producing the show in an intimate three-quarter space, as we did at the Barter Theatre in the fall of 2006, increases the level of detail necessary for the effects.

In order to destroy any incriminating evidence, Norman, our resident murderer, removes the woman’s wedding ring and melts it in his mortar with a kitchen torch before throwing it into the fireplace.

When we decided not to fake the melting of the ring, we had a number of factors to consider. First, we’d need a new ring for every performance; cost of consumables is always an issue. Second, we’d need a ring that could actually be melted with a butane torch in a reasonable amount of time. Third, the mortar needed to be able to take the heat of the torch without getting too hot to hurt the actor. Fourth, after the ring had been melted, it then needed to be thrown into a (fake) fireplace.

We used a larger marble mortar to dissipate the heat, keeping the actor from being harmed. There was no way that we had the budget to buy enough rings for our run, and any ring that we did buy would take a long time to melt. We experimented and were able to make rings out of solder. Using solder let us make a lot of them cheaply, and the torch melted it quickly.

After getting the ring size of the actor in question, we bought dowel of the proper size. We wrapped medium-size solder around the dowel multiple times and cut to various widths. Two wraps make a good woman’s wedding ring, three wraps a men’s. Then, using a soldering iron on low heat, we simply melted the wraps together and slid them off the dowel. The only difficulty is applying too much heat and melting through the solder. You can either use these as adjustable rings, or they can be scrapped.

The next problem that came up was that as the ring melted, it would stick to the sides of the mor-tar and cool so quickly that it couldn’t be thrown into the fireplace. A judicious amount of lubri-cant allowed the solder to ball up as it cooled and solved that problem.

Unfortunately, the actor had a hard time lighting the torch consistently, so the entire bit was cut. But hey, that’s theatre! 

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