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(Texas City, Texas) — Houston’s Theatre District
was among the areas hit hard by Hurricane Harvey’s
flooding. When the water receded, College of
the Mainland theatre students embarked on a unique
recovery effort: restoring the Alley Theatre’s swords
and daggers.
“It was their entire armory stock submerged in
about 7 or 8 feet of water for over a week,” said H.
Russ Brown, COM theatre program director.
Nearly 150 muddy, tarnished and rusty weapons
were brought to COM. Most were swords, but there
were also daggers, knives and even two clubs that
have at one time or another been featured in Alley
Theatre productions. After more than 240 man-hours
of restoration work, they will survive to fight another
Brown, beginning his third year at College of the
Mainland, is recognized as a certified teacher by the
Society of American Fight Directors for stage combat
and theatrical firearms. “I go all over the country
teaching and choreographing fights – violence on
stage of any sort.”
In fact, he was choreographing a fight for an Alley
Theatre production when a conversation with the
Alley’s props director, Karin Rabe, about Harvey destruction
led to his offer to let COM students be of
service to fellow actors and get up-close familiarity
with stage weapons.
More than a dozen different theatre majors took
part in the work over about six weeks, Brown said,
working in a makeshift assembly line.
SaVon McAfee was one of the students working
on the project, and he explained the process. “(I’m)
brushing off the heavy rust that’s visible,” he said.
“Then we send it to the polishing wheel where he can
get in there and polish it more to get it the more silverish
look that it has.
1200 Amburn Lane
Texas City, TX 77591
“Then we pass it on to the Dremel over here where
we have steel wool brushes that can get in small
grooves and get the rust out. From there, if it looks
good, we send it to polishing, where it’s back to looking
brand new.”
He said the project has been educational as well
as an opportunity to be of service. “I’ve gained a lot
of knowledge about swords and what era they were
used in and how they were used.”
“It’s a really handy skill for an actor to have,” said
Auben Brown of the cleaning project.
The swords and other weapons were from different
eras and made in different styles. The weapons were
made for stage use.
H. Russ Brown said he once worked for Rogue
Steel, an industry leader in stage weapons, and
learned finishing and restoration skills there.
Beyond this particular project, Brown said his interest
in stage weapons and combat has helped in
recruiting students into the COM theatre program.
When he visits high schools to teach stage combat,
swords attract positive attention from students.
Also, COM is one of only a handful of colleges in
the state that provides Society of American Fight Directors
certification for theatre students in the use of
stage weaponry.
College of the Mainland Theatre has a long history
of excellence in stage productions, and Brown is trying
to expand the reach of the academic side of the
program. “We put a focus on three things in the associate
of arts theatre program: artistry, professionalism
and service,” he said.

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