Breakaway Glass

Katie Pontsler

Theater History


Breakaway Glass

                Violence in theater has been a staple including early sword fights and fisticuffs, moving to running gun battles.  However, breakaway glass has a most believable illusion since it was introduced.  When this specialized glass it is broken, it shatters into thousands of pieces, but with minimal pain.  It is also safe to walk on, unlike regular broken glass.  Without this amazing creation, many plays would either become dangerous or have to be re-written entirely.  Some plays involve many scenes with this specialized glass and could not be able to be performed as well without this specialized prop.

            Although many plays use breakaway glass, one of the most famous is “A Streetcar Named ‘Desire’” by Tennessee Williams.  This compelling play depicts the tragedy of a middle-aged woman named Blanche, who tries to hide her alcoholism and delusions with charm and flair.  After her brief marriage ended due,%20Marlon/Annex/Annex%20-%20Brando,%20Marlon%20(A%20Streetcar%20Named%20Desire)_03.jpgto her husband having an affair with another man and committing suicide, then being fired from her job as a teacher for having relations with a 17- year old boy, she suddenly moves in with her sister Stella and Stella’s husband Stanley.  Stanley is more primitive and abusive.  Her sister’s lifestyle shocks Stella.  Having Blanche live with them for 5 months as well as his wife being pregnant, Stanley discovers her past and unmasks it in a cruel and violent manner.  While Stella is in the hospital giving birth, it is implied that Stanley rapes Blanche, pushing her mentally over the edge into a breakdown and being sent to a mental institution.  Within the first two years of this play being performed in 1947, it had won two tony awards and a Pulitzer award.  It is still performed around the world today.

            During the play, Stanley is very violent and abusive.  He will often smash things such as windows, plates, bottles, and much more.  When smashing these objects, it is important to use specialized glass as to not hurt any of the performers or audience members.  At the point in the play where Blanche is about to be raped, she smashes a bottle to use as defense.  Although it looks real and dangerous, there is little to no harm from using this specialized material.  In other plays, this glass can be used for a bar fight, smashed windows, or numerous other possibilities. Without this invention, many plays would not be possible.

            The most common form of breakaway glass is also known as sugar glass.  It is simply a mixture of water, corn syrup, sugar, and cream of tartar that was heated and cooled.  Another option is Smash Plastic, which isn’t hard to make but it can get rather expensive.  These masterpieces are made to look and sound like real glass.  Although these options are easy to make and can be cheaper than buying premade breakaway glass, many people are nervous when it comes to using it.  It has been tested to work, but for safety, makers usually try to make it as thin as possible.  Thicker sugar glass can hurt and possibly injure because of the weight.  If you are not sure about the glass, either test it on your arm or make a new one.

Breakaway Sheet Glass

            Without the invention of breakaway glass, many plays could not be performed with the realism needed to share the intensity of the drama.  There are several ways to make this glass, but the most common is with sugar.  When broken it doesn’t hurt and can be walked on, making it the perfect solution as to not injure the actors or audience.  Without this remarkable creation, plays such as “A Streetcar Named ‘Desire’” would not be possible.  Truly this invention has changed theater for the better.





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