Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Break-Away chair

This break-away chair was a feat of engineering created by Maria Defabo and I for the current production at Lookingglass theatre. The chair needed to break each night, but needed to be sittable for several scenes before the break. To make things more difficult, there is an identical chair sitting right next to the trick chair, so any major alterations to the structure and shape of the chair would have been immediately obvious.
This is how we did it. 
This first photo shows you the chair untouched, after removing the black fabric from the bottom.
First we removed the piping and pulled all the staples around the front edge so that we could pull back the fabric. 
Next the cushion was removed. 
Then we cut and removed all of the springs (leaving them on made it impossible to alter the chair as they kept pulling things back wherever we made a cut).
We also removed the corner braces on each of the front legs so we could rig them to break.
After all of that was removed, this is what the under side of the chair looked like.
To start the rigging, I cut off the front part of the chair,
And cut it into three pieces.
We added a piece of plywood, cut to fit the chair, in on the top side of the seat. Partially this was to support the weight of a person sitting on the chair (the job the springs used to do), and partially it was to reinforce the rest of the chair frame, so that only the parts we wanted to break actually broke. 
We added an identical piece on the bottom side of the frame, creating an incredibly strong box under the seat.
To make the legs break, we created these wooden pieces. The holes are where they are bolted onto the frame, and the break occurs along the scored cuts in the center.
Each show, a new breakable pieces is bolted in across the break on each leg. On the front of the chair, the breakable legs attach to the center piece with small bits of dowel.
Finally we staple the bottom black fabric back in place
leaving just the corner open, so that the chair can be re-rigged. After rigging, a couple of strips of gaff tape hold the fabric in place so that, until it breaks, the chair appears to be in perfect, untouched condition. 

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