Tag Archives: 1905

Setting the Stage and Striking the Show, 1905

The following is the final excerpt of an article which first appeared in 1905 in the St. Louis Republic. Check out the firstsecondthirdfourthfifth and sixth parts for the full story.

When the curtain has descended after the last encore, “Strike” commands the stage manager, and in a jiffy, the village street is transformed into a camp on the plains. As soon as the main pieces are set, the property man is out in front distributing about the little things he carries in his clothes. The army blanket is spread out and tin plates, battered and smokey, are thrown around in artistic confusion. Out of one pocket McCarrick pulls a deck of cards and lays out a trio of poker hands. Money and chips are piled up at the proper spot. From another pocket comes a newspaper, and from still another he draws a pencil, without which the climax of the act would be a failure. All of these things he has prepared with as much diligence and care as though he were arranging the crown for the coronation of an emperor. If he did not he would probably lose his job.

He is the first man on the stage after the curtain has been rung down and gathers up his precious possessions with the same system and care with which he laid them out. Back into the trunk they go, in perfect order, and after careful inventory has been made. The next performance finds them just as they were left and already for the show to begin.

McCarrick has been in the business for twenty-three years as a property man. He started by accident as a helper to the property man in a New York theater. Two weeks later his boss made a fatal slip, which ruined the climax of the whole play, and McCarrick got his job at once and he has been in the game ever since. He has been with many of the most prominent theatrical organizations which have toured America, and has crossed the continent repeatedly. So constant has been his work that it has become second nature with him to learn the book of the play with which he is connected, and every line and every cue is as firmly fixed in his memory as it is in the gray matter of the stage manager and of the performers themselves.

Many have been the close shaves he has had caused by missed railroad connection or delays in securing needed articles, and his store of thrilling and amusing anecdotes of his quarter century behind the scenes is wonderfully interesting.

He has the figures for being about as important personage as any one connected with the theatrical world, and in quiet modesty bears the pressing duties which are his.

Originally published in The St. Louis Republic, January 1, 1905.

Running the Show, 1905

The following is the sixth excerpt of an article which first appeared in 1905 in the St. Louis Republic. Check out the firstsecondthird, fourth and fifth parts for the full story.

With the arrival of the stage employes he is prepared to issue the instructions which are necessary. The stage carpenter has laid the carpets for the different sets one above another, so that they are peeled off one by one as the curtain is lowered under the tableaux. The scenery has been placed in orderly piles against the walls, so that every piece is at hand at the proper moment.

Under the direction of the property man the stage hands than take a drill in setting the furniture, and each act is gone through with brief and definite instructions given each employe who will handle the least article of property. A blanket must be laid just here and a chair must be tilted back just there, and there is no piece of incidental fixtures appearing to the eye of the audience which has not been placed in its exact position by the order of the property man.

Up into the flies goes the stage hand who will drop the flying autumn leaves at the right moment, and all is ready for the performance.

Act by act the props are brought out from the capacious chests of the master hand and placed where they can be caught up at a second’s notice. He takes his position close by the stage manager, and while the curtain is up is as busy a man as anybody on the stage.

Fuller’s Earth scattered over the clothing of the cow punchers tells of the rides across the alkali plains, and a tin boxful must be ready for each man as he prepares to make his entrance. Trampus goes on with a cigar in his teeth and the cigar must be ready at the proper entrance, as well as a match with which it may be lighted. When the drinks are ordered up, out of a bottle of the genuine Kentucky article, the glasses are filled and ready for the waiter’s tray. Twenty minutes before poor Steve and the Spaniard drink their last cup of coffee together, down goes McCarrick into the basement and returns in plenty of time with a pot of smoking hot Java, which, placed over the red camp fire, is as realistic a scene as the most captious critic could desire.

Originally published in The St. Louis Republic, January 1, 1905.

Rehearsals and Touring, 1905

The following is the fifth excerpt of an article which first appeared in 1905 in the St. Louis Republic. Check out the firstsecond, third, and fourth parts for the full story.

This is the proposition which faces every property man of the modern theatrical company of any proportions whatever. He gets the lines, the scenery, plot and the details of the situation as quickly as do the stars. Every rehearsal he attends with the same regularity as do the participants. Under the eye of the stage manager he sees and hears repeatedly the play as it reaches its perfection, and by the time that the first performance is reached he has as perfect a knowledge of each little speech as even the minor characters, and knows the entrances and exits for each as well as does the stage manager, who is the director general.

After he has secured a general idea of the construction of the play he gets the directions from the playwright as to what the costuming will be and what will be needed by the players in giving absolute realism to the performance. After the greater portion of these “props,” as the profession technically calls the articles collectively, have once been purchased, there is little need for further worry, as they will last through the ordinary season without replenishment. But the incidentals must be secured every night or two, and it is the constant alertness which is thus necessary which makes the life of the property man a burden at times.

After the first two or three weeks the property man has a comparatively easy time of it. The rollers have been well greased and things are moving smoothly. If business has opened up well it means that for a run of many weeks and possibly months the company will remain at the metropolitan theater, which saw its “first night.”

Then the trip to the South or to the West begins, and coincidentally opens the siege of trouble for the property man. Out of a month’s time at least half of the performances are given at “one-night stands,” with long jumps between the towns, and it is at this stage of the game that he earns his salary.

The advance man has furnished the local theater staff with a list of the “props” which his company will demand on the night of the performance, and several weeks ahead the property man of the house knows what will be necessary for him to secure, and under usual circumstances the stuff comes out of the supply of furniture, bric-a-brac and staple articles of stage furniture which the up-to-date theater carries in stock now.

After an all-night and all-day ride, possibly, the property man of the company reaches town with the balance of the company. While they are off to a hotel for rest and refreshment it is his first duty to superintend the unloading of his portion of the baggage and then reach the theater at the earliest possible moment. Under no circumstance is there an excuse permitted for his failure to have everything ready for the curtain to rise at the appointed moment, and so he gets to the house on a run and checks over the list of house “props.” He takes to himself a dressing-room hard by the principal stage entrance and opens up his own stock of dry goods, clothing, groceries, hardware, boots and shows and notions, to say nothing of the supply of liquors.

If he is fortunate in arriving early in the city and finds that all has been done as required by the contracts, and has no need of skirmishing the town over to replenish some of his own supplies, he gets then a chance to eat if he can get through in time to return to the theater by 7 o’clock.

Originally published in The St. Louis Republic, January 1, 1905.

Has to superintend the stage dinner

Dinners are Real, 1905

The following is the fourth excerpt of an article which first appeared in 1905 in the St. Louis Republic. You can read the first part herethe second part here, and the third part here.

When the Thanksgiving dinner is brought on before the critical eye of the house full of patrons it consists of a genuine turkey, smoking from the baking pan. Rich red cranberry sauce is piled up and celery, potatoes and all the little side dishes come on just as they would at the home place. What the performers cannot consume in the precious few minutes of the act goes to the stage hands after the show.

McCarrick was with a company at one time which demanded the real thing in the dinner line. He arranged with a near-by restaurant to bake the turkey and cook up the “fixin’s.” Eight times a week it was one of his principal tasks to see that the fowl went into the oven at the proper moment. He states that when the company reached Thanksgiving Day on their tour that without exception the members ordered beefsteak and fried potatoes for their holiday dinner at the hotel.

Has to superintend the stage dinner
Has to superintend the stage dinner

Since the demand for realism has become so pronounced managers and property men have been driven to desperation by the extremities to which they have been put. When it came to a question of getting an outfit for the cow punchers of “The Virginian” New York was searched over for a respectable equipment, which in this case meant the well-worn, greasy and prairie-stained accouterments of the typical cowboy. It was a simple matter to go into the theatrical outfitter’s and buy the clean pretty suits of leather and the broad-brimmed sombreros. These answered the purpose of neither the manager or the demands which the public would make.

The solution was reached by the happy thought that a Wild West show then appearing in the city might have some performers who would trade the old for the new, and they were at once sought out. It took some parley to convince the genuine plainsmen who were then on exhibition that there was not a joker concealed in the transaction. Eventually enough of them were convinced that everything was “on the square” to supply McCarrick with what was wanted and the result is a band of Westerners which would be satisfying even in the heart of the cow country.

Originally published in The St. Louis Republic, January 1, 1905.

How Times Have Changed, 1905

The following is the third excerpt of an article which first appeared in 1905 in the St. Louis Republic. You can read the first part here and the second part here:

One can readily imagine the lack of imperial presence and the regal authority of Mansfield’s Richard minus the ermine robes and the crown and scepter. As greatly would the audience miss the “props” which go to make up King Dodo. The Virginian without his revolver in the climax of the closing act, which brings down Trampas and sends the spectators home satisfied with the turn of events, would better have left town before sunset. The property man is all that saves him and restores him to his winsome New England school ma’am.

A visit behind the curtain to James L. McCarrick, the property man who is responsible for all the matters of seeming minor importance in “The Virginian,” brings out the importance of this official when the final and desired result is accomplished of giving to a dramatic production the genuine and realistic settings and accessories which are demanded now by the theatre-going public.

In days of old, when McCarrick was new at the business, say twenty-five years ago, any old thing would do for a stage dinner. Cold tea in a black bottle answered the requirements of beer, champagne or soothing sirup. A loaf of bread stood for the usual essentials of a square meal. The audience was satisfied and the actors had to be. One big costumer’s shop in the city was the rendezvous for the manager about to exploit a new play. There he could pick out a wardrobe for each individual member of his cast without leaving the house. War bonnets and tomahawks for the Indian braves, velvet and glittering ornaments for the court ladies and uniforms for the soldiers which were suitable for any army of any nation. Out of the same box came equipment which would permit anything but the most presuming theatrical venture to be staged and with the utmost satisfaction as far as the public was concerned.

To-day it is an entirely different proposition, as is evidenced by the “stunt” which Mr. McCarrick was called upon to perform ere he had secured sufficient properties to permit the first production of such a simple-appearing play as “The Virginian.”

Now there is a definite and certain disappointment if there is lacking the least detail of costume or stage settings evident to the discriminating audiences which at every performance of a play are prepared to criticise the least fault. Everything must be perfect and managers have bent to the popular demand in this line, and money without stint is expended to satisfy this very demand, costumes, scenery and smaller paraphernalia now ordinarily costing much more than do the actors receive in salaries.

Originally published in The St. Louis Republic, January 1, 1905.