'Sweeney Todd' Needs to be Safer for Non-Professional Productions

Chris Peterson

  • OnStage Founder & Editor-in-Chief

Last year, during a performance of Sweeney Todd at a New Zealand College, two actors were accidentally cut in the neck by the prop razors for the show. 

What made this horrendous story even more preposterous was the news that rather than using fake razors, the production used REAL razors that had been dulled and apparently deemed "safe" by faculty involved in the production. 

According to a damning report from WorkSafe, an investigative body, this was clearly not the case and they found a ton of other issues that led to this accident. Including the fact that the actors were only allowed to work with the razors, just days before opening night. The school board was also not notified that real razors were actually being used either. So there were failings on every level in this situation which lead to terrible injuries and could even have led to the death of two college actors. 

While shocking, this isn't the first time something like this has happened with amateur performances of Sweeney Todd and even other professional productions as well. We all remember the gruesome accident in Vienna where an actor accidentally slit his own throat using a real knife he thought was a prop. 

First rule of thumb, check your props.

However, the concern I have, is that given that Sweeney Todd's licensing is available for high schools and colleges, can the rights holders take steps to prevent this from happening and make it safer to perform?

Yes it can and it has Little Shop of Horrors to thank for that.

While I trust and love the work that prop designers do, in some situations, when left to their own devices and lack of training, things can slip through the cracks. So the solution? Make prop razors become a rent-able option for amateur companies and required for school productions. 

Much like what companies do with Little Shop of Horrors by renting Audrey II and even with Avenue Q with their puppets/sets, making professionally constructed razors available not only cuts(no pun intended) down on cost for the theatre company or high school, it can ensure that that the actors can safely perform these scenes. 

With some of these prop razors, any nick or effect of wear and tear could lead to disaster. So why not have props available that would remove any chance of that happening? Or at least remove liability on the school or company? Safe usage of props, sets and costumes has to always be at 100%, anything less is an obvious problem. 

Looking at Music Theatre International's website,(Sweeney Todd's licensing house) it doesn't appear that prop razors are available. If I were them, I would seriously look into this because it could go a long way to prevent accidents like what happened in New Zealand from happening again. 

Photo: Lynn Lane