Putting a Face on Theatre
I mentioned last week that one of the designs I'm building this summer incorporates a Murphy bed, and I've spent the last week working out how to make it happen. What's a Murphy bed, you ask? You've seen them; they were a staple of physical comedy for a while. A Murphy bed is simple a bed that folds down put of a wall of a cabinet.
Here's some footage of the great Charlie Chaplin wrestling with a Murphy bed from the film, "One A.M.":
Turns out that while Murphy beds aren't incredibly common, there is apparently still a strong market for them, and there are a number of companies that offer direct sales of Murphy bed kits and full bed sets. Most are designed inside cabinets that are secured to the wall of your home--negating the need for major renovation of the structure of your house--and the kits themselves are relatively inexpensive: about $300 for the mechanism (which leaves you to build the cabinet and bed on your own).
Create-a-bed (http://www.create-a-bed.com) and Hiddenbed (http://www.hiddenbedusa.com) are two sources if you're looking to make that extra bedroom or small studio apartment more flexible.
The major trick to a Murphy bed--and the source of most of the comedic hijinks--is the lift-assist mechanisms. Beds are heavy, and it would take a lot of effort for one person to fold one back into a wall or cabinet. (I imagine the idea would be even less common if you had to lift the full weight of a bed each time you opened or closed the thing!) To make it easier to handle the weight of the bed, these mechanisms incorporate either springs or pistons to help do the work. In essence, the concept isn't any different from those struts on the sides of a hatchback trunk lid--they help lift the heavy weight of the lid (and to hold it in place above your head); in the case of a Murphy bed, they help lift the bed up into its hidden position.
Here's the trick, though: those springs and pistons are carefully calibrated for the weight of a bed. This is to prevent people being sucked up into them the way we see in movies. (It's still a little funny to watch, even when you know it's coming!) So the question for us is this: do we put a real bed into the flats onstage and buy one of these kits? And that leads to more questions: Can the flats handle the weight and stresses involved in this? Do we want to wrestle with the weight of a real bed during load-in and strike? Do we risk buildings lightweight fake bed and put one of these kits on, hoping for the best? Or do we spend some time doing some force calculations, buy our own springs, and hope it works?
Those are the questions I'm wrestling with today. I'll need to make some kind of decision by lunch time. Stay tuned to hear what we decide to do.