In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Material Safety Data Sheet
  • Rachel E. Pollock (bio)

Section 1: Material and Manufacturer Identification

I write about my work a lot. I’ve published research papers in theater industry journals. I’ve penned technical manuals, internal reference documents, safety training procedures. I maintain a professional blog, La Bricoleuse, the best-known and most-referenced digital publication on methodologies of costume craftwork. And sometimes, this weird work of mine creeps into my essays.

The title of my blog makes reference to bricolage, a French term that might best be defined as “resourceful repurposing,” or in pop-reference po-mo parlance, “MacGyver-ing”: ingenious use of what’s at hand. Much of my best work could be described thus—the use of bathroom grout to tar and feather a man, for example.

Section 2: Composition and Ingredient Information

As work on the show Big River progressed back in March of 2011, I began to write about the secondary psychological effects of the tar-suit process, tentatively, privately, often after dark after a drink or two. I scribbled weird, cathartic journal entries, arcane little vespers, prayers to small but benevolent gods. At the same time, I began to document the work in formal technical language, not just for internal records but also as potential material for La Bricoleuse. [End Page 147] The week the show opened, I posted a step-by-step tutorial about the process of creating the effect, eponymously titled “How to Tar and Feather a Thief.”

Section 3: Hazards

The primary reference document that accompanies every chemical or substance that I use in my work is a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). We have them on file for literally every inventory item from fabric dye, to Elmer’s glue, to the silicone I used to make the tar effect. I read and reread MSDS documents several times a season, some so frequently they’ve become liturgical.

  • Barge Adhesive—mutagenic—use with vapor respirator.

  • Acetone—toxic to central nervous system—handle with butyl gloves.

  • Chlorine bleach—breaks down tissue with prolonged exposure—do not mix with ammonia.

My raising involved no traditions of prayer and rite, but the preparatory reading of an MSDS before working with any regulated substance feels, I imagine, like a similar kind of comfort.

I pored over the MSDS for GE Silicone II Bathroom Caulk (Black) every other day for a month. Its familiar sections warning damnation and promising salvation became my catechism. I reread and repeated how to protect myself from dermal ingestion, how to extinguish it in case of fire. I learned nothing about human nature, forgiveness, or vigilante justice.

Section 4: First Aid Measures

The online erosion of privacy greatly discomfits me. Though I maintain a Face-book profile and write an open-access professional blog, I bristle when people tag me in old photographs without warning, or check me into geographical locations unbidden. This, perhaps as much as any cultivation of smug narrative distance, inspired titular monikers for my essay’s characters—the Assistant, the Actor, the Director. The idea that someone might Google the full actual name of one of my colleagues and find not the fruits of their own labors (or [End Page 148] transgressions), but my filtered and controlled portrayal of them through the lens of my essay mortified me. Perhaps that mortification sprang from the nature of the backstage: unlike performers, we take pride in eschewing the limelight, we the unseen, unshowered with accolades or fame.

Section 5: Fire-Fighting Measures

All standard extinguishing agents (water, CO2, dry chemical, foam) are suitable for use with burning silicone caulk.

Water may cause frothing and foam to develop if used as an extinguishing medium with burning pine tar.

Section 6: Accidental Release Measures

In theater, there’s the craft, but there’s also the resonant imagery created by the craft, which propels it beyond the boundary into art. Every production is steeped in fragments and layers of meaning—not merely the meaning a playwright imbues in her text, or a composer in his music or lyrics, or that carefully infused through the interpretation of a director or cast of actors. Every artisan with a hand in the production invests her...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 147-153
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.