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Moons, Ripples, and Fire, 1885

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.”

“How?”

“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.”

“How do they get the moonlight on the water?” Continue reading