I recently began checking out the YouTube channel of the British Pathé, one of the largest historical video archives on the planet. Pathé news was filming nearly everything between 1910 and 1970 in the UK and around the world. They have a few recordings of theatre life in decades past. I really enjoyed this 1933 “Peep Behind the Scenes”:
The Abbey Theatre in Dublin, Ireland, first premiered The Plough and the Stars back in 1926. They’ve been producing it fairly regularly since then, and some of the props have been along for the ride. “Ploughing history into every production” by Sara Keating in the Irish Times is a great article about the pedigree of some of these props.
The ghosts of long-dead actors sit in chairs that are still recycled between productions, while the shadow of other plays hover above an original Victorian pram that has been used at the Abbey since its very first years. Such objects accrue stories in the same way that cities or buildings or people do. They are a palimpsest of many different lives and different uses.
They carry legends that are usually lost as actors and artists pass on: nobody thinks to write them down.
In the article, Ms. Keating interviews archivist Mairéad Delaney, prop master Stephen Molloy and prop maker Eimear Murphy. They explore the histories of some of these objects, such as Uncle Peter’s Sword, the Tricolor, Mollser’s Coffin, Bessie Burgess’ Shawl, and Mrs. Gogan’s Pram. The aforementioned pram had indeed been used in every production since 1926, and is over a hundred years old by this point.
The Abbey also possesses the original prompt script for the play, filled with notes and scribblings of everyone including Seán O’Casey, the author. All of these objects are remarkable in their own right, but even more so because they survived the Abbey Theatre burning down in 1951 and being completely rebuilt.
Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies