The Theatrical Firearms Handbook by Kevin Inouye (review)
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The Theatrical Firearms Handbook. By Kevin Inouye. Burlington, MA: Focal Press, 2014; pp. 352.

The Theatrical Firearms Handbook by Kevin Inouye addresses the gap between the theatrical and cinematic demands for firearm violence and the skills and training of performers, directors, and fight choreographers. Inouye is a fight director, a Society of American Fight Directors (SAFD) Certified Teacher and Theatrical Firearms Instructor, as well as an instructor of acting, movement, and stage combat. He is also the owner of Fight Designer, LLC, a theatrical weapons rental business.

This practical handbook is divided into chapters that guide the reader sequentially, from developing an understanding of theatrical firearms to their proper usage. There are reviews at the end of each chapter to reinforce key points. The images and graphics are informative throughout, and the still photographs of the author’s film work help to illustrate how artistic applications of these skills might be relevant in production. With the exception of providing hands-on training, this handbook covers nearly every practical detail of preparing to stage theatrical firearm violence.

In the introduction, Inouye identifies several factors that contribute to the limited availability of best-practices information for these weapons, including the pedagogical differences in training an actor with a sword versus a firearm, and the legal issues one confronts in procuring or transporting such weaponry for theatrical use. Even for the SAFD, which has set the standard for theatrical weapons training in the United States, the inclusion of firearms to the curriculum is new and still undergoing pedagogical adjustments. As Chuck Coyl, fight master and current vice president of the SAFD, notes in the foreword, training in theatrical firearms is less integrated into the organization’s trainings than other forms of theatrical combat. The specific information in this handbook is a curated cross-section of Inouye’s research from a number of sources, including instructional DVDs, online discussion forums, use of practical (or real) firearms, and years of industry experience as a fight coordinator and gun wrangler.

This need for training in theatrical firearms—or, as Inouye identifies them for most of the book, props—is increasingly in demand due to a dramatic uptick in new plays and films calling for firearms, as well as the number of modern adaptations of classics. Where once Hotspur held a sword, he now might hold a submachine gun. While Inouye believes and acknowledges that many theatre practitioners in academia tend to be opposed to firearms ideologically, he strongly advocates for theatrical firearms education in theatre-training programs to better prepare actors for the industry and for their own safety.

The Theatrical Firearms Handbook provides a more than basic introduction to firearms and includes a guide on how to select the best weapons for your production. This guide includes a thorough explanation of the pros and cons of various options, ranging from nonfiring, solid rubber casts to practical weapons firing blanks, always asking the ever-important question: Does the weapon need to fire? As one chapter-end review reminds the reader: “When in doubt, always go with the safest option that will get the job done!” (108).

Inouye’s professional experience in theatrical firearms rentals is a valuable and specific perspective that advocates for not just actor, audience, and crew safety, but also for the safety of the weapons, as they may be expensive or difficult to replace. He reminds the reader, “if you can’t afford to be safe, you can’t afford to do it” (73). His emphasis on using replicas or cheaper plastic or rubber options may be surprising to people unaccustomed to working with theatrical firearms, but it is a perspective that clearly values safety and practicality above all else.

Much to its benefit, the handbook relies extensively upon the inclusion of cautionary tales to enforce the importance of safety protocols. While they are largely examples from film sets, and some are familiar horror stories to those of us who work in staging violence, such as the series of safety failures that led to the death of Brandon Lee on the set of The Crow, these anecdotes are worth conveying in print. For students or companies newer to working...