Tag Archives: museum

Ancient Stage Properties, 1912

The following comes from a 1912 issue of The New York Times:

British Museum Contains Rich and Interesting Collection of Curious Relics.

Not the least interesting of the thousands of exhibits at the British Museum are those connected directly or indirectly with the stage. There is nothing in the Babylonian section pertaining to the subject, but the Egyptians supply us with what is probably the oldest wig in the world; a wig, it is true, that was in no way connected with the drama, but one that will compare favorably with the finest creations of the theatrical perruquier. Strangely enough, the tresses are made of plated crêpe hair, exactly similar to that used by modern actors for mustaches.

In the Graeco-Roman department may be seen the cosmetic box of a Roman lady. The white and flesh-colored chalks and rouges are similar to those used for “making up” in the days previous to the invention and manufacture of grease paint. There are also two objects of the theatrical life of the past that have their replicas in the theatres of the present day. One is a thin, oblong slab of stone bearing the Latin words “Circus plenus,” which was occasionally to be found outside a Roman circus, and corresponded to the familiar modern notice “House Full.” The other is a plain ivory disk displayed in the Egyptian room, but which would hardly attract attention. This common-looking object is a theatre check or pass, but whether of a temporary or permanent character cannot be ascertained.

Much the richest department in stage objects, however, is the Graeco-Roman, where one case of stage exhibits may be seen. Here are to be found specimens of the masks worn by actors, which were modeled according to strict rules. They were made of terra-cotta, and must have been very uncomfortable to wear (Editor’s note: We now know the actual masks were made of linen. The terra-cotta masks were models which were never actually worn). There are also numerous statuettes in bronze and terra-cotta of actors wearing their masks in the various characters they impersonated, in addition to models of masks of every description and kind. A good idea of the manner in which plays were staged in those days may be gathered from the scenes from plays as depicted on vases and a terra-cotta lamp. In the wall cases may also be seen various objects illustrating the gladiatorial combats in the arena, also the swords, helmets, and badges of those doughty champions. In addition, there are also several specimens of the discus, the throwing of which was one of the features of the late Olympic meeting, and of the weights held by the athletes in the jumping contests.

To come to more recent times, there is in the British mediaeval room a beautifully carved casket made from wood of the mulberry tree in Shakespeare’s garden, which was presented to David Garrick when he received the freedom of Stratford-on-Avon. A little further along, in the Ethnological Gallery, may be seen a very fine collection of marionettes and puppets used in the Javanese theatres. The figures are articulated, and worked by means of thin sticks attached to the limps. The Javanese are passionately fond of these shows, which are even more popular in Java than the old-fashioned “Punch and Judy” used to be in this country, or “Guignol” in France. In fact, they very much recall the fantoccini or puppet shows which delighted our forefathers.

In this same gallery are many quaint costumes and masks worn in primitive dances by the savage races of the globe, the most remarkable of which are perhaps some tortoiseshell masks fashioned to resemble crocodiles (Editor’s note: This is a horrible way to describe other cultures. I leave it in to remind us that much of our knowledge of non-Western cultures originally came from racist sources, and this type of thinking may still color our current views, even when the language has been made more politically-correct). Although these dances were generally of a religious character, they were nevertheless essentially pantomimic, and bear some analogy to the mystery play of mediaeval times.

“Ancient Stage Properties.” New York Times, 29 Sept. 1912, p. S4. The New York Times Archives, www.nytimes.com/1912/09/29/archives/ancient-stage-properties-british-museum-contains-rich-and.html.

Mid Weekend Links

The Power of Gold – Propnomicon shares this great video from Brazen and Bold about painting an aged metal finish using spray paint, acrylics, and an airbrush.

Flashlight Museum – The next time someone questions the historical accuracy of the flashlight you put in the show, send them to this museum. They have over 3700 images of flashlights from the dawn of flashlight history to the present.

One of the Toughest (Silent) Jobs at the Met Opera – The New York Times looks into life as a spotlight operator at the Met. Sure, it’s not props, but it’s nice to see a major newspaper acknowledge one of our backstage companions. Plus, many of us have probably run spot at some point in our career.

Alien Covenant’s Armor, Weapons, and Blood Effects! – Adam Savage takes a look at all the cool props and practical effects in the upcoming Alien film.

Props o’ the Mornin’ to Ya

The costume department at UNC Chapel Hill is building replica costumes from sci-fi films for the Museum of Science Fiction. Check out this short video of their envious task as faculty, staff and students reconstruct a flight attendant uniform from 2001, including 3D-printing a Pan-Am badge.

If you have not yet “liked” the Society of Properties Artisan Managers page on Facebook, now’s a good time. They’ve been featuring photos and descriptions of the prop shops from theatres across the US. It’s great to see the differences and similarities of how we all set up our spaces to do our jobs.

Blaine Gibson, a sculptor of figures at Disney Parks, passed away recently. Gibson was responsible for many of the Parks’ iconic figures, such as the pirates from Pirates of the Caribbean, the ghosts of the Haunted Mansion, and those children from It’s a Small World.

Finally, this is from nearly a month ago, but Volpin Props has the beginning of a great step-by-step write-up for a Garuda’s Spine bow from Final FantasyThis massive weapon has tons of detail, and it is great to see all the photos of it coming together.

Friday Links March On

It’s USITT time! For those of you at the conference, be sure to take time for “Arms and the Props Man,” a special presentation by the USITT Scene Design Commission. It’s toward the back, right before the Innovation Stage. You can see some incredible props in person (including a few of mine). Also be sure to visit the Society of Properties Artisan Managers booth at #1538. And, if you want, head on over to Focal Press at booth #1405 to check out my book. If you already have my book, just tell them how much you love it and you want me to write another one.

For those of us not at USITT, we need some fun prop things to read, so here we go:

Mad Men is counting down to its series finale, and the Museum of the Moving Image has an exhibit highlighting the show. The slideshow features some of the props and set pieces on display, as well as many of the costumes. This show was incredible from a props perspective, and these photographs show off all the incredible detail that went into it.

Somebody posted 142 photographs from the model shop of Blade RunnerThough the film is 33 years old, the craftsmanship of the miniature buildings and vehicles can put most modern CGI effects to shame.

WM Armory shows us how to cold cast with metal powders to make your plastic castings look like real metal. It’s a fairly simple process, and once you know the specifics of how it is done, you have a very effective way to make your props pop.

Finally, here is the entire 1982 JC Penney Christmas Catalog. Old catalogs are a boon for doing period research. Flickr is a great site to find them, since some people like to scan and post every page.

Links to Bring you Luck

Happy Friday the 13th, everyone! Today is opening night for the final show of our 13th season here at Triad Stage (the “Lucky Season”, someone decided to call it). So while I am resting up, check out these links below:

John Barton has been a props master for over 50 years, on films such as Cool Hand Luke (he cooked all those eggs).  Coeur d’Alene Press has a nice article about his life and career.

The Standard Examiner has a great article about Michelle Jensen, the props master at Hale Centre Theatre. Right now, they are working on Mary Poppins, which has more than its share of trick props and unique items.

The Museum of Every Object you can Probably Think Of looks fantastic. Its real name is the Ettore Guatelli Museum, and it houses over 60,000 objects of everyday use. Check out the pictures in this article.

Jurassic Park turned 21 this week, and Wired has a look back on how it revolutionized special effects. The film famously used a mix of CGI and large-scale puppets for the dinosaurs. For a look at what-might-have-been, check out this pre-visualization test of stop-motion puppets, which is what they were originally going to use. I remember seeing the film on opening day with my dad and brother; hard to believe that was 21 years ago.