BY TOM SKELTON
THE TOURING DANCE COMPANY PART II: FLOORS
When the questionnaire (see the July issue) is returned you will probably be surprised at some of the answers. (You’re apt to be even more surprised when you arrive at the theatre, however, and discover the dressing rooms in the next building, an immovable movie screen in the middle of the stage, or the kettle drums stored in the area that would normally be used for a cross-over.) A personal letter to the local presenter, in which you discuss his answers to your questionnaire and reemphasize certain important things, is the next step in preparing your tour.
Here are some suggestions that may help you make practical suggestions in your letter, as well as prepare you to efficiently adapt the theatre to your needs when you arrive:
A touring company’s vexing single problem is the stage floor. Slippery floors are so dangerous and nerve-wracking that the performance suffers even if no one has an accident. Splintery floors present obvious problems. Dirty floors and floors that require too much rosin ruin costumes, particularly when the tour does not allow time to have the costume cleaned in a city big enough to have a theatrical cleaner.
In the usual legitimate theatre the floor may not be clean for the rehearsal, but the prop man will automatically see that it is clean for the performance. Most New York theatres have linoleum floors that clean easily, are smooth, and have proper traction. Ligitimate [sic] theatres out of New York often have floors that have holes and big cracks left from stage screws and other stage machinery, but the stage hands generally are prepared with putty and tape to fill them. The big problem, as I see it, is in schools and museums whose stage floors are guarded by an enthusiastic but over-worked janitor who doesn’t want his floor touched one way or another. With him you have to play a great psychological game in which you often have to resort to a sort of cheating. With all due respect for the many wonderful floor-guarders in America, here are some helpful hints for handling the stubborn ones:
Arm yourself with rock rosin, powdered rosin, cleaning fluid, wax-removing detergent, and a conviction that the show must go on.
It’s not unusual to find that the janitor has given the floor a special wax job to make it pretty and clean for the dancers. When you arrive with the news that the floor is slippery, he may grudgingly offer to rinse it with water (which will have no effect whatsoever), but he will refuse to give it a good scrubbing since his assistant has already gone for the day. He will probably refuse to let you use rosin (and from his point of view he is right, rosin does make a mess of a waxed floor).
Here is where you have to be devious. If the floor is slippery don’t say anything. Take a piece of rock rosin from your pocket and crush it on the floor. If it takes, then your only problem will be how to get permission to rosin the whole stage. If you think he’s going to flatly refuse, just say: “There, that does it. Now we’ll just spread this around a little.” He can’t object to that since the damage is already done. When he goes out for dinner is your chance to crush rosin into the whole floor. The best technique seems to be to literally grind the rosin in; then the excess can be swept off.
If the rosin does not take, try a little cleaning fluid on a small area of the floor. If that works then you know that the floor will be all right if all the old wax is removed. Hardware and grocery stores carry many wax-removing powders and solutions, but they require a lot of elbow grease and many rinsings with clear water. If you offer to help scrub the floor you’re more apt to get a favorable response. But you also may end up scrubbing the floor yourself. Be sure to be especially careful doing the wings where entrances and exits are made.
If the cleaning fluid didn’t work, then you have a serious problem. Some sealers and varnishes will not take rosin at all, and must be completely removed either with a sanding machine or with a solution of lye and water (plus many rinsings with clear water). Both methods take a great deal of time and should be started as soon as possible. If the janitor refuses, don’t waste time discussing it. Go directly to the local presenter and make him understand the gravity of the situation, and that the performance may have to be cancelled or there will be danger of broken bones and law suits.
Unfortunately, you have to be very tough, and this kind of situation may well make you and your company well-hated, but I know of no other solution except to be sure that in each of your questionnaires and letters you have mentioned that the floor must not be slippery. Only then are you “covered.” Only then do you have an answer when someone says sarcastically. “But this isn’t New York, you know.”
If the floor is being sanded, incidentally, have the last sanding done with “medium” sandpaper. The floor will have to be rinsed or vacuumed to remove the fine dust. If the dust remains or fine sandpaper is used, the floor is still dangerously slippery.
Sometimes you will find floors that are not slippery for bare feet, but are dangerous in ballet slippers. If the company uses both, you should carry an alternate pair of slippers with rubber soles. Then no rosin will be needed.
If the floor is coarse and almost splintery it should be washed only with a damp mop. A wet mop will make the splinters stand right up.
When you run out of rosin and the paint and hardware stores are closed, you can usually get some at a drug store from the prescription department. Drug store rosin is finer quality and more expensive, but it will do in an emergency.
(more next month)