Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Magic Smoking Grill

For "The Crowd You're In With" at 16th Street theatre, much of the action revolves around the grill. Over the course of the play raw meat gets loaded onto the grill, cooked meat comes off, and in between the grill is opened and shut multiple times and meat is futzed with and flipped. Because of the very intimate space at 16th Street, all of this happens just a few feet from the audience. Fortunately the grill is set facing mostly upstage (on a slight angle) so most of the audience can't see inside, but being that close the lack of smoke and sizzle from a cold prop grill was noticeable. 

To Fix the problem I made sponge burgers. I cut these rough burger shapes out of an ordinary hardware store sponge. A sharp pair of scissors worked best to shape it.

 I was able to get four burgers out of two large sponges.
 I dusted the tops of the sponges with spray paint to make them a bit more burger-y
 We hid a small hot plate inside the grill, running the cord out the bottom, under the fake grass on the floor and offstage. The stage manager plugs it in before the top of each show so it has time to get hot.
 Also before the show we fill the sponge burgers with water and set them high and out of the way on the grill.
 As the actor is working at the grill during the show, he will periodically take the sponge burgers down, set them over the hot plate and press on them with his spatula. The spatula squeezes water out of the sponge onto the hotplate, which produces the perfect sizzle sound and a convincing puff of smoke (water vapor).
And most importantly, it's all totally safe. We don't violate any open flame laws, or set off any smoke detectors, and the grill (being intended to hold real flames) can easily take the heat that builds up over the 90 minute show.

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