Stage Weapons Banned

I wish I could make a joke about security theater at the theater, but this is just basic stupidity:

Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg has limited the use of stage weapons in theatrical productions.

Students involved in this weekend’s production of “Red Noses” said they first learned of the new rules on Thursday morning, the same day the show was slated to open. They were subsequently forced to alter many of the scenes by swapping more realistic-looking stage swords for wooden ones, a change that many students said was neither a necessary nor a useful response to the tragedy at Virginia Tech.

According to students involved in the production, Trachtenberg has banned the use of some stage weapons in all of the University’s theatrical productions.

Not only does this not make anyone safer, it doesn’t even make anyone feel safer.

EDITED TO ADD (4/25): The order has been rescinded, without any demonstration of common sense:

“I think people should start thinking about other people rather than trying to feel sorry for themselves and thinking that the administration is trying to thwart their creativity,” Trachtenberg said. “They’re not using their own intelligence. … We have to think of the people who might be affected by seeing real-life weapons.”

Posted on April 25, 2007 at 7:32 AM64 Comments


johns April 25, 2007 8:04 AM

The Director of the Yale IT department is also worried about student and faculty passwords falling into the wrong hands. He has canceled all existing legitimate passwords and issued substitute fake passwords to all users that do not work.

Now, if a bad guy gets his hands on a fake password, they can’t do any damage.

Roy April 25, 2007 8:18 AM

I’ve read of zero-tolerance schools which have banned pictures of weapons.

Do they burn their copies of Washington Crossing the Delaware?

Damon April 25, 2007 8:19 AM

The VA Tech shooter also wrote extremely violent scripts. Let’s ban all depictions of violence from school theaters as well!

Bruce, this actually makes me feel less safe!

Andy April 25, 2007 8:20 AM

Here’s to hoping that someone gets a splinter and sues.

Just a thought – you can do a lot of damage with a baseball bat. Will Yale Baseball team be playing without theirs?

Mike Sherwood April 25, 2007 8:23 AM

It’s about perception, not safety. In this case, the policy is driven by people who perceive that this could be perceived by others as a step towards a more secure environment. This is the second derivative of a security topic. =)

yoowan April 25, 2007 8:31 AM

Every American should have the right to bear fake arms!! In fact I would encourage it.

Michael Ash April 25, 2007 8:37 AM

People feel a need to Do Something. What the Something is is much less important than Doing it. I imagine this guy doesn’t think it’s actually helpful, but he’s responding, and looking stupid is more than offset by not looking like he’s just proceeding with business as usual, even though that’s probably exactly what he should be doing.

Anonymous April 25, 2007 8:39 AM

Since their weapons won’t look realistic anyway, I suggest writing “Dean Trachtenberg is an ass” along them.

Jo April 25, 2007 8:50 AM

Right now there are lots and lots of examples of people over-reacting with stupidity. One kid was expelled from school because he was asian, kinda quiet, and once drew a stick figure with a laser rifle in its hand. The detective even wanted to know why he had black hair, as if that was an indicator of being evil!

Or what about the guy who was kept off a flight because of a book he was carrying?

Now, if the book contained a gun or some explosive then fine, but what happened to “… but words will never hurt me”?.

Cathy April 25, 2007 9:05 AM

The ban was apparently revoked, albeit with the same aplomb it was originally made with:

“I think people should start thinking about other people rather than trying to feel sorry for themselves and thinking that the administration is trying to thwart their creativity,” Trachtenberg said. “They’re not using their own intelligence. … We have to think of the people who might be affected by seeing real-life weapons.”

Woodie April 25, 2007 9:09 AM

In general combat choreography is pretty simple and performed by people who usually have no formal training in the western martial arts. Stage weapons are blunted and often tipped to prevent injuries. By forcing the theater to change to wooden swords (aka “wasters”) at the last minute, inexperienced people who have been drilling with lighter metal weapons and who are not used to compensating for the weight and balance differences can actually end up causing MORE damage.

aikimark April 25, 2007 9:18 AM

Obviously the dean did not know of the famous Japanese samurai, Musashi. After many fights with traditional metal swords, he started carying wooden swords (bokken). He won many fights with these wooden weapons, even carving one on a boat ride to an island to meet his challenger, running off the boat, striking his opponent dead with a single blow to the head, and walking back onto the boat for the return trip.

What’s next, banning the discussion of topics with opposing viewpoints…the end of debate. Maybe there’s just something about Yale, after all we can thank them for educating our current president who is renowned for his mental prowess. 🙂

Fraud Guy April 25, 2007 9:24 AM

“I think people should start thinking…”

I think that the Dean should have stopped right there.

Spider April 25, 2007 9:27 AM

A couple years ago, a local actor was fired for using a real weapon during a rehearsal. He was in a performance of Julius cesar, and he decided to get a more realistic reaction from ceasar, played by the director, by using a real hunting knife instead of the prop one. He actually broke the skin of ceasar. Who fired him and had him arrested.

Foxyshadis April 25, 2007 9:29 AM

Jo, the best examples you could come up with were a 2 year old incident and a nearly 6 year old incident? That’s typically not what I think of when someone says “Right now”.

Swapping a retracting metal blade for a wooden one will actually make accidents (and thus liability) more likely. If the decision actually costs the school money in the form ogf a hospital visit, I hope the Dean considered how he’s going to find another job.

Matt from CT April 25, 2007 9:30 AM

What’s next, banning the discussion of
topics with opposing viewpoints

What do you think “Political Correctness” is?

FooDooHackedYou April 25, 2007 9:45 AM

uh, yeah… so is he going to ban construction workers from using hammers and other dual-use tools?

@Matt: totally agree on the politically correct point.

how about helping the mentally ill get the help they need instead of doing foolish bans???

Andrew April 25, 2007 10:05 AM

A weapon is a tool for concentrating energy in time and space.

Our homes, our workplaces and certainly certainly our freeways are full of deadly weapons.

Let’s ban cars from college campuses. They can certainly be used as weapons and even for massacres (I can think of two in Southern California: one where a guy drove through a farmer’s market, another where a madman rammed a daycare center, both resulted in multiple fatalities.)

Or better yet, ring the campus walkways with Jersey barriers to prevent cars from ramming them. The extra difficulty in getting fire / ambulance / police to parts of campus to respond to emergencies — is the price we pay for more safety, or less freedom, or some damn thing.

What next, license people to shop in a hardware store or take a chemistry class?

For ultimate absurdity, read through the California state laws on knives on a college campus. Only a knife less than 2″ can be carried — unless you’re in a kitchen, in a theatrical event, in a class with permission of the instructor, etc and so on.

I am increasingly convinced that the mentally ill are our middle-range college administrators.

Shane April 25, 2007 10:10 AM


“The detective even wanted to know why he had black hair, as if that was an indicator of being evil!”

Are you kidding? I don’t want to live in a country where a ‘detective’ has to ask why a person of Asian descent has black hair… WTFx10,000?

Truly, Bruce should rename this blog to ‘Schneier on Making You Feel Insecure’, because nearly everything I read about here makes me embarrassed for my own country.


derf April 25, 2007 10:11 AM

Despite some peoples’ attempts to do so, the streets can not be made totally and completely safe even with an infinite amount of Nerf. You can’t keep children from falling down and you can’t keep homicidal maniacs from killing on a whim. Even if there were no guns, the homicidal maniac rampager would use knives, bats, claw hammers, ninja throwing stars, shovels, bricks, cars, or even bare hands to kill.

I hope this post doesn’t spur some well-meaning but hopelessly moronic politician (I know – redundantly redundant) to call for a 7 day waiting period on bare hands.

Ben April 25, 2007 10:24 AM

Interestingly, a U-VA student was arrested yesterday while filming a school project making use of a fake/toy gun. His professor indicated that he had not been briefed on the project (doesn’t seem unusual). File this under unhealthy paranoia, I guess.

Add to this that in the immediate aftermath of the VT incident, several campuses had crackdowns on free speech, with several students being arrested (do a google search, you’ll find several hits).

George April 25, 2007 10:32 AM

The fact is, there’s only one way we can prevent such a tragedy from happening again in the future, and that’s by locking people who write violent stories up in mental hospitals and feeding them drugs for the rest of their lives. What part of “No more 9/11s” don’t you understand, Bruce?

Stephan Samuel April 25, 2007 10:38 AM

Some people are realists and some people are reactionary.

A realist realizes that they can get killed at any time and lives their life right to maximize what’s left. A reactionary makes everyone take off their shoes when getting on an airplane.

A realist buys a slightly heavier vehicle that may provide an extra inch of crush space in an accident. A reactionary bans their 14-mpg trucks as bad for the environment rather than asking them to carpool once a week.

A realist buys a first aid kit and leaves it in the coat closet for bumps, bruises and cuts. A reactionary doesn’t let their kids out, instead causing them to die of a heart attack at 40.

A realist eats a small bag of potato chips once a week with their sandwich. A reactionary hires scientists to invent things with ominous names like “trans-fat” because they have no self control.

I can come up with a thousand stupid reactionary things that people came up with. Yes, banning anything that looks like a weapon is a solution to a problem. There are lots of dumb solutions if you’re not willing to think things through. It’s much easier to be reactionary than intelligent. I was once told: thinking is hard.

Realist April 25, 2007 10:42 AM

It’s not that academics are “overthinking the issues”. It’s that they are just not thinking to begin with.

Bill P April 25, 2007 11:01 AM

Finally, someone has some common sense. We need to ban all those violent plays. In fact, burn the scripts and books!
Shakespeare almost drove me to violence when I was in high school! I kept telling Will that he was a troublemaker!

Mike Sherwood April 25, 2007 11:12 AM


You missed the omnipresent threat of those who are smart enough to not write violent stories before they snap. Those people are even more dangerous because they are calculating and deceitful. The only way to be sure is to lock up and drug everyone.

Though, we could just live with the fact that you can’t prevent bad things from happening and be glad that we live in a society where these things are so uncommon that they are shocking. I think it would be worse to live somewhere that a whole villiage is hacked to death with machetes and everyone accepts that as a normal part of life.

James April 25, 2007 11:26 AM

@Mike Sherwood

There was an interesting thought experiment movie about this called Equilibrium – ban all art, music, etc that might create emotion because that can lead to violence and war. Also drug every single person to repress emotion. Then train soldiers to be the ultimate killing machine and have them hunt down everyone opposed to this solution.

It obviously has some silly things in it (like the gun-kata) but it did show a very interesting point of view.

John R Campbell April 25, 2007 11:41 AM

“You can’t even have a fake sword, we don’t want to encourage violence, so you will have to fence with fish!”

(sorry, that scene from “Dogma” popped into my head.)

Kath April 25, 2007 12:02 PM

Check with any Special Forces military man and you will find out that anything can be a weapon. You can choke on a button; ban all buttons!
Am I the only person who saw V for Vendetta and felt it came very close to home?

Geoff Lane April 25, 2007 12:02 PM

When all the pretend thinkers have banned all the pretend threats to reach a pretend 100% safe society, they can pretend that they are safe. At that point it will become illegal to claim that society is still not safe.

You can always identify a stupid and bad rule or law. It claims to prevent things that most people don’t do anyway, but does it in a way that is oppressive and arbitrary.

a April 25, 2007 12:03 PM

The next step : dictionaries and encyclopedias and wikischoolopedia where the words for weapons and sharp objects are removed.

John R Campbell April 25, 2007 12:18 PM

I shared this with some co-workers and friend, throwing my “fencing with fish” line out. My friend (or is he a “fiend”?) provided:

“but then PETA will be called and you will have to fight with soy.”

My oldest son, Chris, when I passed this along to him, commented:

“But that would be just tasteless….”

Then my friend Kenny added, from his son:

“Considering that stage swords are blunt and brittle anyway, the change is amusing as wood actually might hold up better for beating people in the long run”

A co-worker, Bill, chimed in with:

“maybe they can use the balloon swords – you know the kind made by clowns at kids’ parties…. but then, the popping sound might scare somebody …. oh no”

It is not often that such stories can provoke so much creative humor.

Todd Jonz April 25, 2007 12:34 PM

We’re discussing old news here. The Yale administration has reversed Ms. Trachtenberg’s edict, and the matter had already been resolved by the time Bruce posted this item.:

Stage weapons ban reversed

So where does this leave things? A bad decision was made (apparently by a single member of the administration empowered to make such a decision), the community protested, and the full administration set matters right in short order. Sounds to me like Yale is pretty much on top of things. Now if only the Bush administration could recognize and correct its errors as quickly….

Rick Auricchio April 25, 2007 12:35 PM

Before delivering her protest response, the director should have cancelled the show, and then shout that loud and long to all who will listen.

The cancellation-protest itself can become theatre—a decent improv substitute for the original show.

Avery April 25, 2007 12:49 PM


You are right about behaviors. Unfortunately, people are complex enough that I don’t believe you, or anyone else, has a firm grasp on what behaviors need to change or how to change them.

For example, I do an armed marshal art. Bruises are common, broken bones rare but, unfortunately not unheard of. By the logic here, I, and the people I play with, should be violent people. When my wife encountered an intruder in our kitchen, the moment I realized what was going on, I went stock still and listened. As long as he was content to tell a lie, I was content to let him. If he had wanted violence I could have satisfied that desire too. I had the props within arms reach. Interestingly, the percentage of people who thought my actions were appropriate tended to be higher in the beat one another with sticks comunity.

Taking away everyone’s shoe laces only serves to undermine people’s respect for all those things that make us civilized.

Prohias April 25, 2007 1:00 PM

It does not surprise me, this is Yale after all.

Yale’s Law School, especially Constitutional Law faculty, are supposedly the most revered. Yet, do you hear anything from them when the constitution has been trampled upon in the past few years?

The Drama faculty are likewise show casing both their common sense and courage.

aikimark April 25, 2007 1:14 PM

I teach my Aikido students to defend themselves by hitting their assailant with the largest available object…the Earth. It’s pretty hard to miss and almost always available when they’re on campus.

My dad’s favorite weapon was a slingshot he made from a laurel branch, two large rubber bands, string, and a patch of leather. One of the grandkids placed theirs in his coffin.

Watch Out!
He’s got a stick…
hmmmm… this is a very long list. Maybe better to keep it short, but representative of common objects that can be used as a weapon. If only we were allowed to carry 10 ton weights to drop on potential attackers. 🙂

Have these Yale admins been taking knee-jerk lessons from Boston?

Pat Cahalan April 25, 2007 1:41 PM

I teach my Aikido students to defend themselves by hitting their assailant
with the largest available object…the Earth. It’s pretty hard to miss and almost
always available when they’re on campus.

That made me laugh. It reminded me of a Silat instructor I knew who responded to, “why throw your opponent over there when he’s just going to get up and come at you again? Why not just hit him with your fist?” thusly:

“If I hit him with my fist, I may break my hand. Everywhere other than this practice mat, you can find an ‘over there’ that ends abruptly in a wall, car door, fire hydrant…”

skate April 25, 2007 1:51 PM

“We have to think of the people who might be affected by seeing real-life weapons.”

Indeed. I have also heard that museums contain portraits of people wearing realistic looking swords and paintings featuring battle scenes. Think of the terror that museum visitors must be suffering! Not to mention displays of actual swords! Oh, the horror, the horror…

I’m sure Ms. Trachtenberg, as a modern day Bowdlerizer, will support my call to replace all depictions of realistic looking swords in paintings with wooden swords. Next, we can start replacing all depictions of violence in historical works with happy thoughts.

Geoffrey Kidd April 25, 2007 2:29 PM

“We have to think of the people who might be affected by seeing real-life weapons.”

OMG! What’s going to happen to all those students who have “Lord of the Rings”? There are REAL SWORDS on the screen!

aikimark April 25, 2007 3:57 PM

no more supersoakers or regular water pistols in Oshawa. 🙁

I wish I could take credit for the Aikido motto, but I got it from one of my former sensei.

Nick Lancaster April 25, 2007 5:34 PM

The only reason someone might be adversely affected by swords in a stage production would be if they had, at some time in the past, set upon by armed brigands in the woods and threatened at sword point.

Are we to assume future Shakespeare productions should use wooden daggers?

That the ban has been rescinded does not change the fact that Trachtenberg made a bad ruling and persists in trying to justify it.

Jilara April 25, 2007 6:30 PM

Seeing people in a play with Big Swords might inspire someone to run amok with a Big Sword, particularily if large amounts of alcohol have been consumed.

Thus, it makes much more sense to ban things like Renaissance Fairs, and nip this tendency in the bud.

Ralph April 25, 2007 6:52 PM

We can’t keep drugs out of prisons… but this will help the gun violence!

Heh heh.

We have fallen into our own large hole that we dug.

John R Campbell April 25, 2007 9:47 PM

I told my wife about this.

After she stopped laughing she commented that the best replacement for “knives”, for instance, would be candy canes.

I told her that this would be bad for diabetics and would also likely be banned…

kaukomieli April 26, 2007 5:01 AM

i suppose people will have to start using real guns (with or without ammunition depends on if you like your co-actors…) instead of fake ones.

csrster April 26, 2007 7:27 AM

Well, the right to possess real guns is constitutionally guaranteed in the USA. So far as I am aware, there is no constitutional right to possess replica guns.

kaukomieli April 26, 2007 8:13 AM

@csrster: i am always amazed at the pseudologic behind these arguments.

now that i think about it, the constitution says nothing about real or replica, so ain’t that a maiore ad minus we have here?
does anyone know how the “guns” mentioned in the constitution are defined?
it would be funny to see a lawyer trying to proove that waterpistols are not “guns” in that sense, but a colt .45 is. so if a “constitutional gun” just needs to fire some projectile how about altering the theater-guns to actually launch a soft-pellet?

after skimming through the constitution i could find nothing on breathing air – maybe a law that forbids breathing for terrorists will make us all safe then.

Matthew Skala April 26, 2007 11:20 AM

The US Constitution doesn’t have much relevance to a ban on replica firearms in Oshawa – which is a place in Canada, near Toronto. I also don’t think the ban extends as far as the average plastic water gun; its target is realistic replica firearms, which really do look enough like real ones to fool someone who doesn’t get the chance to make a close examination, especially if the examiner isn’t all that familiar with real firearms. The ban is not a trivially stupid law. It targets a specific threat that certainly exists to some nonzero degree.

I think that the threat it claims to address isn’t big enough, nor addressed well enough, to justify the problems associated with this ban, but that’s not the same thing as it being trivially stupid.

Fenris Fox April 26, 2007 11:41 AM

Good thing I’m not in school any more – they might expel me for my poor sketches of katana (used to accent the beginning of chapters in my stories), and my drawings of sci-fi weapons (interstellar cruise missiles, ship-to-ship missiles, ship-to-surface missiles, quantum particle-based weapons, etc.) that obviously couldn’t exist in today’s world… =:oD

Seriously, though – how many people are killed with swords? Except for a few truly demented extremists, I seriously doubt that swords would be the weapons of choice in today’s First World.

And this, of course, assumes that the blades are sharp; stage weapons are probably blunt (like the replica gladius I own).

Anonymous April 26, 2007 11:53 AM

@Woodie, aikimark:

You both have very good points – I never thought of that, really. Wood is heavier than metal, in many cases… also, wood doesn’t always “give” – an advantage a blunt metal blade would have.

As far as Musachi – that might explain why the bokken is seen quite a bit in certain martial arts forms… I could see how a wooden sword could be quite effective for a trained wielder.

If the wood were dense enough, it could probably block a few blows from a metal blade; it also could deal a nasty blow to one’s skull.

It would also have the advantage of being used as a less-lethal weapon – one could try to knock out an opponent (or make him reel in pain), rather than kill him – which is a likely outcome of blade combat.

kaukomieli April 27, 2007 4:38 AM

@Matthew Skala

oops 😀

what about a water pistol that resembles a real gun – if you do not look to close?
the problem with these laws is, that at some point the line would have to be drawn.

the problem with such a law would be, that joe average would have to understand the definition between “look-alike and banned” and “looks different enough”. super soakers will surely be different enough, but on the other hand someone had to take off a shirts that pictured a gun.
it is a fair bet, that this will not lead to any security, because law enforcement in town A will deem a gun banned, while in town B just 5 miles down the road it will be ok to have in public.

i am glad, that i live in a country where guns are banned for everyone who does not have a license. people would never think that a gun in a theater – no matter how realistic it might look – could pose a threat.

Eric K. April 30, 2007 8:56 AM

It is my considered opinion that people so sensitive to the mere sight of weapons, even to images of them on paper, should just go ahead and be traumatized. Who cares about them.

You do not have a right to never be offended. You do not have a right to never see things that will bother you. Learn to deal with it.

Besides, I’d far rather live in a society where a few maladjusted individuals live in terror of images of weapons than live in one where the inability to so much as look at a weapon has rendered us unable to defend ourselves from societies that can.

D April 30, 2007 4:51 PM

I guess McDonald’s should start thinking of the people who might be affected by seeing the consumption of ground beef.

Leave a comment


Allowed HTML <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre> Markdown Extra syntax via

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.