The Staging of the Picture, 1909

The following is a very early “advertorial” from an antique shop extolling the benefits of historical accuracy in the props in films:

It is astonishing to note how rarely the moving picture is accurately staged; by staging we mean correctness as regards details of scenery, dress, furniture, etc. Only the other day we saw a great picture, the scene of which was laid in a distant foreign country; and yet the furniture in an interior scene belonged to American colonial days. Now this, as we have repeatedly pointed out in these pages, is an example of what is known as a glaring anachronism. How rarely the pictures are correctly produced, correctly lighted, etc.! These reflections were suggested to our mind by an interview with Mr. S. M. Jacobi, the art director of the Genuine Antique Shop, 34 East 30th street, New York city. The Genuine Antique Shop has retained Mr. Jacobi’s services in a new capacity, which, we think, should be of great value to moving picture film makers.

Mr. Jacobi, a trained artist and authority on artistic matters generally, has had wide experience in theatrical producing, and also in supplying the furniture, dresses, costumes and accessories for notable productions. The Genuine Antique Store possesses a unique collection of very beautiful paintings, furniture, costumes and refined accessories, which it is willing to let out on hire to moving picture makers who are anxious to have their historical and other productions accurate in respect of accessories and costumes. This is a very important point, as everybody who has the smallest regard for the welfare of the moving picture must realize. At the Genuine Antique Store you see relics of the Colonial period, paneling from old chateaux in France, and even the very finest of furniture from Fraunce’s Tavern, where George Washington met his officers, so that there is a good collection from which to choose. Mr. Jacobi has given attention to the moving picture for a great many years, both in Paris and New York. Besides being an artist, he is a trained photographer, and his services are to be available for the designing of studios for moving picture work and generally in the production of the picture with regard to its accurate presentation, photographic lighting, grouping, etc. We advice all to get in touch with the Genuine Antique Shop at the address given, either by mail or, better still, by a personal visit. We feel convinced that they will come away as we did; namely, with a feeling of envy for the treasures it contains—treasures that will look good in a moving picture.

“The Staging of the Picture.” Moving Picture World Vol 4, Num 26. 26 June 1909: 18. Print.

Links for the End of the World

This week has been especially hard for a lot of us in theatre in the US. A lot of the diversity inherent in our community feels threatened, both by potential policies that will pass, and by the implicit approval of hateful behavior in people across the country. We are also anxious about the safety nets and health insurance we rely on for some semblance of financial security in our lives. We are worried about our international collaborators, who already face difficulty crossing our border and working here. And of course, we worry about the theatre itself, which now must work under a President-Elect who has crossed IATSE picket lines in the past and shown no hesitation to jackhammer artwork into a thousand pieces if he can make a buck off of it.

Theatre can survive. We’ve survived the complete banning of our craft by governments and religions in the past. Modern theatre continues to survive its complete censorship (Belarus Free Theatre) and even survives in war zones where its leaders are assassinated (Jenin Freedom Theatre).

But we need to recommit to protecting everyone in our community and making sure the theatre remains a safe space for us to work and tell our stories. And we need to continue telling stories to ensure our country can stem the tide of demagoguery and bigotry that has plagued it throughout its history.

That’s my piece for now. Onto the links:

The USITT Member Spotlight shines its light on Jeff Bazemore, the props master at the Philadelphia Theatre Company. Jeff only finished graduate school a few years ago, and he has already proven himself to be a rockstar in props and an integral resource for others.

Popular stage shows like ‘War Horse’ are leading a puppetry revival. If the world is having a puppetry revival, perhaps there’s some hope after all. Macleans takes a look at some of the puppeteers and companies leading this revival.

Wired showcases the work of Jordan Boltan, who constructs hundreds of tiny props, set pieces, and costume elements, then arranges them to make delightful posters for various films.

Props and Animals in the English Mystery Plays, 1906

The following comes from a 1906 master’s thesis by Allie V. Parks titled, “Stage Properties, Costumes, Scenery and Music of the English Miracle Plays” (see part 1 here and part 2 here). These were religious pageants performed in England from the 10th to the 16th centuries. I’ve reformatted the text a bit to make it a little more readable, since it is already challenging trying to decipher the Middle English text:

In the Crucifixion scene a cross seemed actually to be used. Chambers quotes on page 276 from “The Hall book of the Corporation at Leicester, 1504. Paid for mending the garment of Jesus and the cross painting“. In the Shakespeare Society Chester Plays, in the play ‘The Histories of Lot and Abraham’ p. 59. here the Messenger doth offer to Melchesadecke a standinge cupe and bredde, and again on page 61, Here Lotte dothe offer to Melchesadecke a goodly cupe. Undoubtedly a cup was part of the properties in this play. On page 72 Abraham is directed to “kisse his sonne Isaake, and bynde a charchaffe aboute his heade“. Page 49 of the same edition, in the ‘Noah’ play, the following directions regarding the building of the Ark occur: Then Noye with all his family shall make a signe as though the wroughte upon the shippe with diverse instruments, and after that God shall speake to Noye, sayinge,

This direction would seem to show that a sort of pantomimic performance was gone through with and not any real work in the Ark building.

I found one reference to the use of straw, on page 370 of Chambers ‘Mediaeval Plays’ in the accounts of the Trinity House at Hull, Yorkshire: “Straw, for Noah and his children ijd.”

The stage directions for the use of animals are very few. The Chester Plays of the Shakespeare Society give on page 74, Then let Abraham take the lambe and kille him, and on page 150, Then the kinges goe downe to the beastes and ryde aboute. It seems hardly probable that Abraham really offered a lamb in place of his son, but he may have gone through the motions of doing so. This is the only stage direction in any of the cycles which might lead to the supposition that a lamb was really used for the sacrifice.

I have already quoted the directions for the use of horses on page 150, Then the kinges goe down to the beastes and ryde aboute. There is one other reference to the use of horses on page 253 of this edition of the Chester Plays, in ‘The Entry Into Jerusalem,’ Here Cryst rydyth out of the place; The animal may have been an ass; there is nothing to indicate what animal he rode upon.

There is one stage direction regarding the use of fowls in the Coventry cycle. This occurs on page 178 as follows: and ther Mary offery the ffowlys onto the auterre, and seyth.

Parks, Allie V. “Stage Properties, Costumes, Scenery and Music of the English Miracle Plays.” Thesis. University of Illinois, 1906. Internet Archive, 29 Oct. 2013. Web. 18 Oct. 2016. <https://archive.org/details/stagepropertiesc00park>.

Back with Props Links

Sivir’s Chakram, League of Legends – Volpin Props is back on his blog, with a big write-up on the massive (but lightweight) Chakram he built. He mills many of the parts on a CNC machine with urethane tooling board, then molds and casts them. Lot of great pictures here.

Criminal Minds: Take a Tour of the Killer Prop Room – This TV Guide video takes us into the prop room of Al Eisenmann, who has been prop master on the show for the past 11 years.

The secrets of a horror movie effects maker – This interview with Mike Kelt, founder of the special effects firm Artem, takes us behind the scenes into the world of zombies and gore. Plus, he shares his fake blood recipe with us.

‘Star Trek: Beyond’ Prop Master on Paying Homage to the Original Series – Yahoo News brings us this video with Andy Siegel, prop master of Star Trek Beyond. He shows off a number of iconic props from the movie, and details how they relate to the props from the original series of the 1960s.

Fire in the English Mystery Plays, 1906

The following comes from a 1906 master’s thesis by Allie V. Parks titled, “Stage Properties, Costumes, Scenery and Music of the English Miracle Plays” (see part 1 here). These were religious pageants performed in England from the 10th to the 16th centuries. I’ve reformatted the text a bit to make it a little more readable, since it is already challenging trying to decipher the Middle English text:

In regard to the use of fire on the Mystery stage, Mr. L. W. Cushman in “The Devil And The Vice,” says on page 24, “None of the great Mystery-cycles contain, in the stage directions, any mention of the use of fire. Sharp found in the account books only one entry for fire in hell-mouth and that of a late date; 1557, “Item payd for keeping of fyre at hell mouth iiijd.

In the ‘York Plays,’ however, Lucifer complains at the time of his fall, of intollerable heat, “alyke hat,” 5/97 and again, he complains of the heat and smoke, which rolls up from below, “ye smore me in smoke, 5/117.” This statement may easily be disproved by the following stage directions, in the ‘Abraham and Isaac Play’ already quoted, p. 65, Heare Abraham taketh a sworde and fire, shows that fire was used on the stage.

On page 391 of Mediaeval Plays, Chambers gives stage directions of a very early play, at Cornwall, “Lucifer voydeth & goeth downe to hell apareled fowle with fyre about hem turning to hell and every degre of devylls of lether & spirytis on cordis runing into ye playne and so remayne ther.” In the stage directions of the Chester cycle by the Early English Text Society, p. 42, Then a flame shall Descende upon the sacrifice of abell.

Parks, Allie V. “Stage Properties, Costumes, Scenery and Music of the English Miracle Plays.” Thesis. University of Illinois, 1906. Internet Archive, 29 Oct. 2013. Web. 18 Oct. 2016. <https://archive.org/details/stagepropertiesc00park>.

Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies