I’ve been checking out the site Make it and Mend it lately. It does have a lot of “I turned this coffee can into a piggy bank”–type projects, but if you dig around, you can find some great and useful ideas for repurposed materials and doing things on the cheap. Even if you don’t find anything that will help you in work, it can help you in your life too, since props people don’t get paid nearly enough for what we do.
The following article originally appeared in “The New York Times” in 1885.
How nature is imitated on the stage.
An old stage manager imparts some instruction—how to counterfeit the change from day to night.
“Nothing,” said an old stage manager, “is more easy to produce on the stage than a moonlight scene, and nothing is ore effective after it is produced. The work begins, of course, with the painting of the scene. The artist has to take into consideration the fact that moonlight must be represented with a different light from the brilliant yellow glare of gaslight which is used for day effects. The great mass of color in a moonlight scene is laid in by the artist in cold grays and greens. The grays must have no warmth in them, nothing of a purplish tinge, for moonlight is cold and hard. The greens are low-toned combinations, chiefly of burnt umber and Prussian blue. The half lights in the painting are put in with the lighter tones of this green, while the high lights are toned up with white tinted with emerald green. Sometimes when a metallic glitter is needed on some point a bit of green foil paper is stuck on. Now such a scene as this, as you can easily see, would look very sombre and unpleasant in strong gaslight.”
“What do they do with it?”
“They put artificial moonlight on it.”
“Well, suppose the scene to be a woody glade with a large opening in the trees showing a distant landscape. The drop scene at the rear of all is painted to represent the sky and landscape. In front of the drop, about three feet away, a low piece of what is known as profile work runs across the stage. This is painted to represent rocks, grass, &c., and is called a ground piece. Behind it and hidden from the audience runs across the stage a row of green ‘mediums.’ These are argand burners with green chimneys. Of course, they throw a soft greenish light upon the lower part of the scene. Another row runs across in front of the upper part of the drop, and is ‘masked in’ from the audience by a sky border. To this light is added that of a calcium thrown through a green glass upon the stage from the flies. And there you have your moonlight effects.”
The following article comes from The Daily Dispatch, Richmond, VA, December 2, 1880. I added a few paragraph breaks to make it a little easier on the eyes.
Shams in the Theatre
The Ingenious Work of the Property Man–Remarkable Effects Produced with Cheap and Common Materials.
(New York Tribune.)
Theatrical properties, so called, include all things placed upon the stage except what are painted as part of a scene by the scene-painter. Urns, vases, flowers, pictures, pianos, carpets, rugs, furniture, and all ornaments are “properties.” Besides these, all articles used by the actors in the performance of the play, such as canes, cigars, pistols, clubs, knives, pocketbooks, money, and other things of similar nature are properties. The property-man of a theatre has a responsible and arduous-position. Upon him depend many of the important points in a play. The check for $30,000 that saves the impecunious artist from an untimely grave; the secret drawer and hidden will, which, when revealed, restore the wandering heir to his rightful inheritance; the marriage-bell that hangs above the heads of the happy lovers in the fifth act; and the pitiless snow through which the shivering blind girl wanders singing her mournful songs, all are prepared by the property-man. Sad is the lot of that luckless wight who forgets to load the pistol with which the desperate villain is slain. The property-man is provided by the stage-manager with a complete list of the properties needed for each scene, and it is his duty to see that they are prepared and in their proper places before the curtain rises.
In the earlier days of the drama it was customary for the property-man to make all his own properties. Continue reading →
Here is a great video showing puppet and effects tests for the “Goa’uld” aliens from Stargate SG-1, one of my favorite sci-fi television shows. This comes from the Steve Johnson FX channel on YouTube; I’ve linked to it before, but if you haven’t seen it yet, it has dozens of videos like this one to watch and enjoy.
We are three-quarters of the way through technical rehearsals of Shakespeare in the Park, so I’ll be back to a regular writing schedule soon. I also have some potentially exciting news coming up around the middle of the month. Stay tuned!
Loading a dummy with animal blood and animal intestines for realistic disembowelings
Hiding a lamb’s tongue in an actor’s mouth to simulate him biting it off
The history goes all the way back to Ancient Greece. It’s interesting to see how real blood and offal was used throughout all but our most recent history. Though the information presented is brief, it’s a great starting point for anyone interested in this kind of thing.
Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies