Actors Properties, 1899

The following comes from an 1899 guide to succeeding as an actor. It is interesting how it describes the difference between what items are owned by the theater and what was traditionally supplied by the actor:

‘Properties’ —the general term for stage furniture and all other accessories apart from scenery—is of course short for ‘the property of the theatre’; just as an actor’s wardrobe for the stage is expressed in the plural, but laconically ‘props.’ ‘Hand props,’ or properties, consist of such articles as a newspaper, letter, cigarette, pistol, etc.; these, with the more cumbrous furniture, armour, weapons, etc., are placed under the charge of the ‘property man.’

The dressing of a modern play forms no small item in an actor’s expenditure, for he is expected to find everything, from his wigs down to his shoes. Costume plays are now, in the West-End and in the best touring companies, completely ‘dressed’ by the management; but in all inferior organizations the time-honoured rule still holds good, viz., that actors must provide their own tights, shoes, boot-tops, wigs, crêpe hair, frills, ‘ballet shirts,’ gloves or gauntlets, hats, feathers, swords and sword-belts, and various other oddments too numerous to particularize. The originator of this rule was no less a personage than Sir Charles D’Avenant, since it formed one of the many ‘items’ in his articles of agreement with his company of players on the opening by royal license of the Salisbury Court Theatre in 1660. It was as follows: ‘The management shall not provide the actors with hats, feathers, gloves, ribbons, swords, belts, bands, shoes, and stockings.’ When the stock companies were universally in vogue, each theatre in town and country had its own wardrobe comprising ‘shirts,’ ‘shapes,’ ‘square-cuts,’ togas, gowns, and ‘tuck-ups’ ; nowadays everything is ordered new for a West-End production, and after the run of the piece stored away or sold off by auction to the highest bidder.

Wagner, Leopold. How to Get on the Stage and How to Succeed There. pp 87-88, Chatto and Windus, London. 1899.

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