Only 11 more days to enter the world’s greatest Prop Building Guidebook Contest! Don’t wait until the last minute! More importantly, starting this Monday (April 22), your friends, family and colleagues can vote for your entry. The prop with the most votes on April 30th will win $100 worth of Focal Press books. You can vote once a day, so be sure your friends know to vote early, and vote often. Now, onto the links:
Another replica prop maker, Bill Doran (of Punished Props fame) is doing a live Google Hangout tomorrow (Saturday, April 23rd, at 3:00pm EST) where he answers your prop-making questions. With a Google Hangout, you can watch live from your computer as it happens. You can also participate if you have a webcam and questions (Bill gives you the details in the post I linked to). Finally, the whole thing is recorded, so you can watch the whole thing on YouTube after it finishes (I’ll post the link in the comments once it goes up).
I found the following images in a copy of “The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine” from 1900. They appeared in an article about performing Wagner’s Ring Cycle. I love how they give a glimpse of what backstage life was like over a hundred years ago. In most respects, it is very much unchanged from the present form.
Though asleep, the stage hand above is “better dressed” than the typical stage hand today. Than again, most stage hands need to wear all black clothes, and the fabrics today stand up to much more wear and tear and are easier to clean than the suits and trousers of 1900.
I love the looks of these chorus members as they wait for their moment on stage. What is also interesting is the flat in the background, which is constructed in exactly the same way that modern flats are.
This moving dragon shows a low-tech but reliable solution that is still utilized in all but the highest-budget performances today.
The wagons which carry these boys would not look out of place in a modern opera production. I find it interesting again how the stage hand is dressed; it is not just that he is wearing a vest and tie, but that his shirt appears to be white rather than the dark colors we usually wear back stage.
Finally, this illustration goes to show you that back stage areas have always been cramped.
Images originally appeared in “The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, Volume 59, Richard Watson Gilder, The Century Co, 1900.
The weekend is upon us again. It’s a holiday weekend; for those of us in the theatre, that means we have to go to work despite all the stores and banks being closed. It is also the unofficial end of summer. But don’t worry; I have some fun links below!
Curtains without Borders is a fascinating-looking project. It aims to record and restore all those hand painted theatre curtains found in town halls, grange halls, theaters and opera houses. It is mostly preserving those painted between 1890 through 1940. The site itself has some photographs (albeit of a small size) from across the country showcasing these valuable pieces of our theatrical history.
The National Park Service just completed a huge project. Thousands of images from their collections across the country are searchable and viewable online. These objects and specimens give a wide range of information from America’s history and are great for research.
Here are some pretty cool vintage ammo boxes. Unfortunately, none of the images are dated, but the enterprising prop master might be able to use them for further research. And while we’re at it, the whole Accidental Mysteries blog where this came from is filled with interesting vintage stuff and historic oddities.
We just finished our summer season in Central Park with a theatricalized concert version of “Capeman”, the musical by Paul Simon. Though it got less-than-stellar reviews the first time around (and cost $11 million for 68 performances), this reincarnation was very well-received and quite enjoyable. It was also a lot of fun to work on, sort of like a chaser to the stomach-churning intensity of the two Shakespeare shows in repertory we did at the beginning of the summer (though having one of them transfer to Broadway is a nice feather in the cap). Plus, production meetings at the end of a long day of tech become a lot more fun when Paul Simon is giving you notes.
Anyway, the show had a few paper props I made; these are two of them, one of which made it in, the other which was cut. If you’re unfamiliar with the story, here’s a quick summary so you can follow along. “Capeman” is a fictionalized retelling of a real event. In 1959, during a gang fight in Hell’s Kitchen (a New York City neighborhood), a 15-year old named Salvador Agron stabbed and killed two teenagers. He wore a cape, hence the nickname; the story exploded in the news media. He was convicted and placed on death row, but his sentence was lessened to life in prison. The musical follows his early life in Puerto Rico, the stabbing, his imprisonment, and his search for redemption and salvation while in prison.
The airline ticket is given to Agron’s mother while they lived in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, by a New York preacher who wishes to marry her. As the show is based on a real event within the last century, I was able to dig up a lot of historical information and primary sources right on the internet. Several sites in particular came in handy. Airline History has a database showing which airlines were operational in different parts of the world throughout the history of aviation. They also have a lot of images of airline tickets. The front cover is an early 1950s ticket from Caribair, an airline that flew out of Mayagüez during the time period of the show. I liked the artwork of it, so I copied it “as is”. I resized it to the size of a typical airline ticket at that time, which I found by looking at several 1950s airline tickets on eBay that listed dimensions in their descriptions.
Airline Timetable Images was another great site I used. Though they cover timetables throughout history, rather than tickets, the artwork is still the same. This is where I found the back cover for my ticket shown above. I resized it and changed the colors to match the front cover. Airtimes is another great source for these kinds of images and information.
These are the inside pages. I made these from bits and pieces of ticket images I found from the previously mentioned sites, as well as eBay. It’s always a little harder to find images of the boring parts of ephemera, since most sites only scan and display the fun colorful parts. Also, the actual ticket part is taken by the airlines which tend to throw them away, as opposed to the traveler who is more likely to keep it as a souvenir. I’ve never even bought a real paper airplane ticket in all the times I’ve flown, so I couldn’t use my own memories as a reference.
I think what I came up with was close enough, particularly since they never display the inside of the ticket to the audience. I even remembered to check which airports existed in New York City at this time period; she couldn’t very well have a ticket in 1953 from Mayagüez to JFK!
I also made some postcards. I made three, but they were only going to use one. I thought these three were different enough to give them some choices. I really liked the red one on the right, as it reminded me of “West Side Story”, which was happening during this same time period and which dealt with some of the same issues and locations as the real Capeman saga. During rehearsal, they decided to change the postcard to a letter in an envelope.
I found an image of the back of a postcard from this time period as well. I printed the stamp image out separately and cut it out with those craft scissors that give you a wavy edge. Jay has several postal ink stamps in his tool bag, so we finished this off with a cancellation mark and a date stamp. It’s the little details like that which add so much more depth to a paper prop without adding too much effort.
Who here likes knots? Who doesn’t like knots? When I was first starting out as a stagehand apprentice, I was told there were three knots I should memorize: the square knot, bowline, and clove hitch. These, I was taught, made up the bulk of all knots needed in theatre. Any other specialty knots came into play when you were doing specialty jobs. This has held fairly true throughout my career; other than the odd decorative knot or particular rigging challenge, I can usually solve my knotty problem with one of these three knots.
To that end, here are diagrams of thirty-six common knots, bends, and splices I pulled from an old book. These aren’t decorative or pretty knots; these are heavy-duty working-class knots, including the three I mentioned above. There is, of course, the larger question of what circumstances each of these knots should be used in; perhaps I will address that in a later post. Until then, why knot just enjoy the pictures?