How to drink beer onstage

When creating props for a show, there are many things to consider.  For our current production of Aliens With Extraordinary Skills, I had to put some Guinness onstage.  But, of course, we can’t have our actors drinking beer all through the show, they’d be too knackered to remember their lines!  So, one has to come up with a suitable substitute that still reads as beer onstage.

The challenges are thus:

  1. Figuring out how to make it look like the cast is cracking open fresh cans or bottles of Guinness without having them drink beer
  2. Finding a soda that everyone in the cast is willing to drink
  3. Making this trick believable in a small, 99-seat house

Numbers 1 and 3 are the hardest.  2 turned out to be easy because everybody likes diet root beer, and it looks enough like Guinness to pass.

As for the first challenge, there are a few options.  Eric, the director, sent me a link to a blog where the props master for the Public Theatre in NYC details his method of faking a beer can.  While this worked really well for his Bud can, we are using Guinness, which is a much larger can.  The only cans I could find that were a similar size to Guinness were energy drinks, and nobody wants to drink those onstage.  Not only can the sheer quantity of sugar and caffeine in an energy drink mess up an actor’s concentration, but caffeine can actually be damaging to the vocal chords.  While this might not be the worst thing for an actor who only has to sip the beverage, one of my cast members consumes multiple beers a night, and he does not usually have much caffeine or sugar in his diet, so it would have a serious effect.

My initial solution to this was to modify the method mentioned in the blog.  I would cut off the top of the can, but not the bottom.  I would then stuff the bottom of the can, slit it down the side only as far as I needed to fit a regular can of soda (we were going to use plain soda water), and then tape and paint it as necessary.  Seemed like a great idea at first – seemingly unopened Guinness cans with a harmless beverage inside that would still make the carbonated tsssssss noise when opened.

This is the point where we ran into challenge #3.  It turns out that because of the coloring of Guinness cans, it’s a bit more difficult to mask the surgery that goes into the process.  Especially in our small 99-seat house where the audience is mere feet away.  What we wound up with were a lot of sharp edges, which left alone is hazardous to the cast, and covered in tape makes the cans look faked.  Using undoctored Guinness cans looked good, but it usually didn’t work in the scene for them to be already open.  So we started looking for alternative ideas.

Our next thought was to use Guinness bottles instead of cans.  We would keep the can in the scene where the beer doesn’t need to be opened by the cast onstage and switch to bottles in the other scenes.  Thanks to the guys at Listerman Brewery Supplies, I was able to get a bottle capper and a load of caps so this new prop idea was a go!

Thanks, Listermans!

Of course, dark colas work better as fake-Guinness than lighter ones, so since the cast had agreed on diet root beer, off we go!

First we pour root beer into the empty, washed out Guinness bottles

Next we put a bottle cap on and use this contraption to seal the cap onto the bottle.

And now we have convincing, water tight prop bottles! If the root beer is not flat when you put it in, it will make that satisfying tsssss noise when you crack it open.

And that’s how I make my beer props!

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