Tag Archives: amateur

Costumes and Scenery for Amateurs, 1915 (part 2)

The following comes from a 1915 book called “Costumes and Scenery for Amateurs”. I published the first portion of the chapter on props way back in 2009. Here, without further delay, is the conclusion.

Stimulate initiative and invention wherever possible. A round collar box is only a collar box until you use it for an earthen bowl. A white cardboard shoe box is cut down a little, covered with black tissue paper, has a little yellow pane inserted in each side, and a curtain ring for a handle. Behold a lantern for a Yankee minute-man, or Paul Revere, or anyone else who wants to use it.

Remarkable stage furniture can be made from wooden boxes of all sizes. A packing case makes a dais. Several boxes nailed together and stained brown will make a peasant’s cupboard.

Three boxes nailed together like this |¯| will make a hearth. If it is to be a mediæval or fairy tale hearth, cover it with cheap gray cambric, bulked to look like stone, and marked with splotches of white and brown chalk. Be sure you turn the unglazed side of the cambric outward. Use chalk because paint will not show up well on cambric. A brick fireplace for a modern scene can be made in the same way, covering the boxes with brick chimney paper than can be bought at Dennison’s Tissue Paper Co., Boston, Chicago, or New York. One of their catalogues will prove invaluable to directors living in the country. A narrow box on rockers, stained brown, becomes a Puritan or eighteenth century cradle. Gilded and hooded it is the cradle of a royal Princess. Couch seats can be made from boxes, only be sure that they are secure.

Originally published in “Costumes and Scenery for Amateurs”, by Constance D’Arcy Mackay, 1915 (pp 95-96)

Figure 17: Lanterns and torch sticks

Shakespeare for Community Players: Lanterns

This is the fourth excerpt from a chapter concerning prop-making in “Shakespeare for Community Players”, by Roy Mitchell. Be sure to check out the previous parts on weapons, tableware, and furniture.

Lanterns

Lanterns should be made of soft tin and riveted into shape. It is possible to buy lanterns, but it is more fun to make them.

Figure 17: Lanterns and torch sticks
Figure 17: Lanterns and torch sticks

Figure 17 shows some types of lanterns as well as torch-sticks. Floor candlesticks, which are universally useful for all types of interiors, may be made up of curtain-pole set on a foot or held erect with a tripod. A small tin pan makes an excellent drip-cup. A method of simulating massive candles is given in the chapter on lighting. Smaller candelabra may be of wooden lattice-work in a variety of forms, or of round wood held together with cross-bars (see Figures 14 and 18).

Figure 18: Small candelabra
Figure 18: Small candelabra

Another method is to make a grill out of wall-board reinforced with wooden battens. The best single candlestick is part of a baluster nailed to a square base. The candle goes in a hole bored in the top. A nail-point sticking up in the bottom of the orifice will give stability to the candle. If you have occasion to make or use Greek lamps, do not trouble with oil. Use tapers adjusted to last for the scene, or a bit of candle inset.

Figure 19: Lantern and pole
Figure 19: Lantern and pole

Figure 19 shows a lantern and a pole to be carried in lieu of torches. It is made of draughtsman’s linen stretched Chinese-lantern fashion on a wooden frame. The frame may be made of heavy iron wire if desired, and many beautiful forms achieved. The design may be applied in coloured ink such as draughtsmen use.

Reprinted from Shakespeare for Community Players, by Roy Mitchell, J.M. Dent & Sons ltd., 1919 (pp 64-66)

Figure 15: Typical spear, pikes, maces, and halberd

Shakespeare for Community Players: Weapons

This is the third excerpt from a chapter concerning prop-making in “Shakespeare for Community Players”, by Roy Mitchell. Be sure to check out the previous part on tableware, as well as the first part, concerning furniture.

Weapons

Weapons form another delightful field for the maker of accessories. Where a sword fight is required it is best to use the modern buttoned foils, and contrive some means whereby they need not be drawn from their scabbards on stage. The use of anything more real than a foil is not advisable. If it is imperative that swords be drawn on stage, a scabbard for a foil may be made from tin piping, built out and covered with leather. Swords used for personal adornment need only be a scabbard with a handle. These may best be made of wood, following some fine model, and the hilt and decorations made in metal. The armourer of the company will do well, however, to consult a book or an encyclopaedia article upon these and all weapons before setting to work.

Spears or lances may be made out of wood. It is a mistake to put on hollow tin points. It is better to shape a point out of wood and silver it. Tin tops are continually working loose and clattering down on somebody’s head. Make lances at least ten feet long, especially where several are carried together. Nothing looks meaner than a feeble lance or spear, and nothing finer than a tall one. Halberds need not be so long, especially if they carry ornate heads. Figure 15 shows typical spear, pikes, maces and halberd.

Figure 15: Typical spear, pikes, maces, and halberd
Figure 15: Typical spear, pikes, maces, and halberd

Bows should be tall and decorative, and are carried unstrung. Figure 16 shows a typical long-bow, crossbow, and arquebus. These may all be of soft pine or cedar cut with a jack-knife.

Figure 16: Typical long-bow, crossbow, and arquebus
Figure 16: Typical long-bow, crossbow, and arquebus

Reprinted from Shakespeare for Community Players, by Roy Mitchell, J.M. Dent & Sons ltd., 1919 (pp 63-64)

Figure 14: Candleabra

Shakespeare for Community Players: Tableware

This is the second excerpt from a chapter concerning prop-making in “Shakespeare for Community Players”, by Roy Mitchell. Be sure to check out the first part, concerning furniture.

Tableware

Figure 14: Candleabra
Figure 14: Candleabra

Tableware, such as trenchers, bowls, flagons, goblets, jars, mugs and vases, may be made out of heavy crockery stoneware, and glass utensils painted or gilded. A jaunt through a crockery store will reveal a host of fine decorative pieces at a very low price which can be treated by the maker of accessories to give fine results. If it is desired to use liquid in a glass vessel, any gilding, silvering or painting should be put on the outside. If the glass is not intended for use with liquid, paint on the inside is best, because the glass gives a burnished surface. For gilding, do not buy the prepared leaf. It is too expensive. Buy the metallic powder, mix it with banana oil and apply with a soft brush. These metal powders may be had in several tones of gold, silver, copper, rose and green. With so ample a palette of colours the propertymaker need not stop at solid tones, but may secure bold inlaid and modelled effects in his metal table-ware.

Under the heading of table utensils should come foods. The best material for soup is sawdust or birdseed, which should be served with a ladle. Chops, steaks and roast meat may be made of brown bread cut to the desired shape. A fowl may be sculptured from a stale loaf of brown bread with a sharp knife, and made to steam by pouring boiling water over it. An appetizing looking dish is made by heaping a trencher high with white bread and brown crusts, and drenching it with boiling water just before it is carried on. Cold tea in various degrees of dilution will serve for most liquors, but if red wine is required, water may be safely coloured with the red colouring matter used by confectioners. Soda waters are not advisable for wines. They cause “frog in the throat.”

Cheap wooden kitchen-ware, bread-boxes, salt-boxes, knife and fork trays, hinged together and so on, may be painted or gilded, or both, to make caskets, table-boxes, despatch-boxes, and jewel-cases.

Reprinted from Shakespeare for Community Players, by Roy Mitchell, J.M. Dent & Sons ltd., 1919 (pp 62-63)

Figure 11: Decorative chairs and settle

Shakespeare for Community Players: Furniture

The following is taken from a chapter concerning prop-making in “Shakespeare for Community Players”, by Roy Mitchell. It was originally published in 1919. The information suffers from being both 90 years old, as well as being written for amateurs. Still, it is useful for some tips and tricks, as well as its historical value. I will be presenting sections of the chapter intermittently over the next several weeks.

Furniture

The making of properties is the most fascinating of all the crafts connected with the art of the theatre. Seeing that the intent is primarily to suggest a given object, there is no attempt at imitation in detail. Only the salient facts regarding the object are to be seized and translated into a suitable medium. The finding of the particular medium in each case, and the discovery of common, inexpensive objects which can easily be converted to use, gives unfailing interest to property-making. Every play, with its wide variety of accessories, is in itself a great adventure.

Under the heading of “properties” comes everything movable on stage except scenery, rostra and clothes. Even clothes, if they are not worn but merely carried on and passed from one person to another, are ” props,” although they are made by the costumier.

Figure 11: Decorative chairs and settle
Figure 11: Decorative chairs and settle

Furniture is the most considerable item among stage accessories. This should be made on the simplest and most massive lines. Whenever possible, it is best to make up furniture on the unit system, where a few pieces used in combination can be made to serve many purposes. Figure 11 shows a variety of chairs and a settle. Figure 12 shows a standardised set of chairs which will be universally useful. In this set there are three plain chairs and two corner chairs which make up into a throne, a settle, or a garden seat.

Figure 12: Standardized chairs
Figure 12: Standardized chairs

Figure 13 shows two tables and a judge’s bench. The first (a) is most generally useful. It is quite narrow (two feet wide), and, placed across the stage in any desired position, will occupy a minimum of space, on even the shallowest of stages. The table shown in (b) is shorter, and may be used up and down the stage. The judge’s bench should be high and quite shallow; sixteen inches is enough. Any of these tables may be converted into a desk by placing on the centre of it a simple inclined bookrest.

Figure 13: Tables and Judge's bench
Figure 13: Tables and Judge's bench

Buffets, cupboards, wardrobes and chests should be of the most elementary design, made up out of pine and stained or painted.

Very satisfactory stains may be made of dye in powder form, dissolved in boiling water and applied with a dish-washing mop. Black, green, brown, red or orange may be used singly or mixed in desired combinations to give all the natural and artificial tones of wood with sufficient fidelity for stage purposes.

Reprinted from Shakespeare for Community Players, by Roy Mitchell, J.M. Dent & Sons ltd., 1919 (pp 60-62)