Washing the gels for the lights practical joke

My informant worked in theater during her high school and undergraduate years, specializing in lighting and light designs. She worked in the lighting department at her school for quite some time and she shared with me a story about a trick that she would play on new students working on lighting at the theater. The setting was a casual lunch at a restaurant.

Informant: “We would play this joke on anyone new working on the lights for a show. We used gels made out of gelatin to put over the lights to make them different colors. After a show, they get burnt from the light, so you ask the new kid to go wash them with soap and water. But the gels would disintegrate in the water because they were made out of gelatin! Then they would come back looking all concerned and worried like, “I destroyed them!” And I would just sit there like “Ha-ha-ha.”

Me: Did anyone ever play this trick on you?

Informant: Nope, but I played it on people all the time. It was so funny. Now, gels are not made out of gelatin as commonly so the joke can’t be played anymore.

This story is an example of occupational folklore because only the experienced technical theater workers would know this trick. My informant repeats this because it is funny for her and her coworkers. She also said that it has an element of initiation because once a new person is fooled by this trick, they are then more accepted and assimilated into the group. Once they know about the joke, they can then play it on other new people as a way of showing that they are now more experienced.