Tag Archives: rehearsal

Running the Show, 1905

The following is the sixth excerpt of an article which first appeared in 1905 in the St. Louis Republic. Check out the firstsecondthird, fourth and fifth parts for the full story.

With the arrival of the stage employes he is prepared to issue the instructions which are necessary. The stage carpenter has laid the carpets for the different sets one above another, so that they are peeled off one by one as the curtain is lowered under the tableaux. The scenery has been placed in orderly piles against the walls, so that every piece is at hand at the proper moment.

Under the direction of the property man the stage hands than take a drill in setting the furniture, and each act is gone through with brief and definite instructions given each employe who will handle the least article of property. A blanket must be laid just here and a chair must be tilted back just there, and there is no piece of incidental fixtures appearing to the eye of the audience which has not been placed in its exact position by the order of the property man.

Up into the flies goes the stage hand who will drop the flying autumn leaves at the right moment, and all is ready for the performance.

Act by act the props are brought out from the capacious chests of the master hand and placed where they can be caught up at a second’s notice. He takes his position close by the stage manager, and while the curtain is up is as busy a man as anybody on the stage.

Fuller’s Earth scattered over the clothing of the cow punchers tells of the rides across the alkali plains, and a tin boxful must be ready for each man as he prepares to make his entrance. Trampus goes on with a cigar in his teeth and the cigar must be ready at the proper entrance, as well as a match with which it may be lighted. When the drinks are ordered up, out of a bottle of the genuine Kentucky article, the glasses are filled and ready for the waiter’s tray. Twenty minutes before poor Steve and the Spaniard drink their last cup of coffee together, down goes McCarrick into the basement and returns in plenty of time with a pot of smoking hot Java, which, placed over the red camp fire, is as realistic a scene as the most captious critic could desire.

Originally published in The St. Louis Republic, January 1, 1905.

Rehearsals and Touring, 1905

The following is the fifth excerpt of an article which first appeared in 1905 in the St. Louis Republic. Check out the firstsecond, third, and fourth parts for the full story.

This is the proposition which faces every property man of the modern theatrical company of any proportions whatever. He gets the lines, the scenery, plot and the details of the situation as quickly as do the stars. Every rehearsal he attends with the same regularity as do the participants. Under the eye of the stage manager he sees and hears repeatedly the play as it reaches its perfection, and by the time that the first performance is reached he has as perfect a knowledge of each little speech as even the minor characters, and knows the entrances and exits for each as well as does the stage manager, who is the director general.

After he has secured a general idea of the construction of the play he gets the directions from the playwright as to what the costuming will be and what will be needed by the players in giving absolute realism to the performance. After the greater portion of these “props,” as the profession technically calls the articles collectively, have once been purchased, there is little need for further worry, as they will last through the ordinary season without replenishment. But the incidentals must be secured every night or two, and it is the constant alertness which is thus necessary which makes the life of the property man a burden at times.

After the first two or three weeks the property man has a comparatively easy time of it. The rollers have been well greased and things are moving smoothly. If business has opened up well it means that for a run of many weeks and possibly months the company will remain at the metropolitan theater, which saw its “first night.”

Then the trip to the South or to the West begins, and coincidentally opens the siege of trouble for the property man. Out of a month’s time at least half of the performances are given at “one-night stands,” with long jumps between the towns, and it is at this stage of the game that he earns his salary.

The advance man has furnished the local theater staff with a list of the “props” which his company will demand on the night of the performance, and several weeks ahead the property man of the house knows what will be necessary for him to secure, and under usual circumstances the stuff comes out of the supply of furniture, bric-a-brac and staple articles of stage furniture which the up-to-date theater carries in stock now.

After an all-night and all-day ride, possibly, the property man of the company reaches town with the balance of the company. While they are off to a hotel for rest and refreshment it is his first duty to superintend the unloading of his portion of the baggage and then reach the theater at the earliest possible moment. Under no circumstance is there an excuse permitted for his failure to have everything ready for the curtain to rise at the appointed moment, and so he gets to the house on a run and checks over the list of house “props.” He takes to himself a dressing-room hard by the principal stage entrance and opens up his own stock of dry goods, clothing, groceries, hardware, boots and shows and notions, to say nothing of the supply of liquors.

If he is fortunate in arriving early in the city and finds that all has been done as required by the contracts, and has no need of skirmishing the town over to replenish some of his own supplies, he gets then a chance to eat if he can get through in time to return to the theater by 7 o’clock.

Originally published in The St. Louis Republic, January 1, 1905.

The First Rehearsal of Principals. Photo by Byron.

The Carpentry of the Musical Show, 1910

The following article was first published in The San Francisco Call, August 28, 1910, page 14. It is excerpted from a larger article called “The Carpentry of the Musical Show”, by Garnet Warren, and describes the process a Broadway show travels from inception to opening night.

The gentleman of theatrical properties has also had pressed into his hands that universal scenario, with rough sketches of furniture by the scenic artist. The stage managers have been conferring, too, with the busy author as to the lists of properties required. Rough instructions are all that are sufficient for most of these.

So away goes the propertyman to his workshop among the dust and cobwebs. It is large and has rough, red bricked walls. Fifteen to eighteen men work here in the busy summer season—fellows in blue shirts and overalls and the clothing of toil. The floors are bare and loaded up with dust, shavings, paint, unfinished carpentry, finished chairs and statues. The practical propertyman would seem able to construct most things. He makes machines for wind effects; he paints the odds and ends of scenery; he builds furniture and electric light fixings and makes rugs and carpets and door knobs and even paper mache statues from his own designs. In the six busy weeks before a production begins, too, his work is of a feverish description. About 3,000 separate pieces are sometimes required. The busy bee would appear to come a disastrous second to the propertyman.

The First Rehearsal of Principals. Photo by Byron.
The First Rehearsal of Principals. Photo by Byron.

Editor’s note: Notice how the photograph above shows the use of rehearsal props and costumes.

Excerpted from “The Carpentry of the Musical Show”, by Garnet Warren, first published in The San Francisco Call, August 28, 1910, page 14.

Lillie Langtry on stage, 1899

No Screen for Rehearsal, 1903

This originally appeared in The Providence Journal and was published in The New York Times, April 26, 1903.

Lillie Langtry on stage, 1899
Lillie Langtry on stage, 1899

It was last Tuesday when the first rehearsal was on for the third act of “Mrs. Dering’s Divorce.” In this act a screen plays an important part, and it was impossible to have a satisfactory rehearsal without it. A screen had been sent for, but it had not arrived at the theatre. The rehearsal had begun and the company’s stage manager begun to perspire in anticipation of the frigid rebuke that he could see in store.

At last the fatal moment arrived, and Mrs. Langtry discovered that there was no screen for the rehearsal. The proceedings ceased to proceed and the dignified star, after listening to a word of explanation, started up the street. Behind her followed at respectful intervals the stage manager, the assistant stage manager, and the property man, a regular procession.

Where they went was not learned, but evidently not all to the same place. In a little while the Lily returned, soon followed by the stage manager. A few minutes later a screen arrived at the box office and was sent back on the stage. The rehearsal was resumed. In another minute or two the assistant stage manager returned. He brought a screen with him, but it was not really needed. A few minutes later the property man came back breathless. He also had a screen. Within five minutes a messenger arrived in hot haste. He had a screen neatly done up in brown paper. This made four screens for a scene that a short time before had been absolutely screenless. There were a few quiet smiles, but no outbreak of laughter, for that would hardly be advisable when the joke was on Mrs. Langtry.

Written by Adolph Klauber. Originally appeared in The New York Times, April 26, 1903.

Rehearsing the “Props” – 1911

The following article first appeared in The New York Times, August 27, 1911.

Two Hundred Men Required to Handle the Inanimate Objects Used at the Hippodrome Show

Every year when the Hippodrome’s production—always bigger and better than every other Hippodrome production—is being got ready something new develops to excite the interest of the stage managers and the newcomers in the company. This year the rehearsing of the stage hands has attracted the attention of those in power back of the curtain, and in the intervals between the practice of the actors and singers and the animals the stage has been given over to the head property man, the stage carpenter, and the chief electrician, that they might put their forces in trim for next Saturday’s opening.

The show this year, according to Louis Bauer, the head property man, will require about 200 men to “work” it properly. Sixty of them are property men or “clearers,” about the same number are needed in the electrical department, and the rest are the “grips,” who set the scenery, and the engineers. As everybody who is acquainted with the back of the stage knows, property men, stage hands or “grips,” and electricians have separate duties, prescribed by the laws of their unions.

The property men are going to have more work than usual with the present show, they think. There is, for example, one “grass mat” that weights fully three tons, and requires sixty men to roll and move it off or on the stage. It is constructed of rag carpet and raffia, woven in alternate strips. The property men have to learn to put it in place in an astonishingly few number of seconds, and to take it up and move it from the sight of the audience in even fewer seconds.

Then there are seven more “ground cloths”—carpets that cover the whole big stage—that have to be put down and taken up several times during the performance. And every man in the property department must know when the public performances begin just which place along the edge of a “ground cloth” is his and just how to unroll the unwieldy carpets and roll them up again so as not to interfere with his neighbors.

The system by which the stage hands work has been in a process of development ever since the Hippodrome’s first season. It has been found expedient to divide the forces into two sections, one for each side of the stage, and to give each man a number. The “properties” and the pieces of scenery are numbered to correspond with the men who are to handle them, and each man is taught what he is to do at every minute during the show.

When a scene is being set or “struck” no orders can be given by the heads of the deparments because of the size of the stage and the distances the workers have to cover. All of the “cues” for the stage hands are given by lights worked from the electrician’s bridge, way up on one side of the stage, in an alcove built in the wall. Most of the changes of scenery are made in absolute darkness, a condition seldom required in an ordinary theatre, and the men have to know their way around in the pitch blackness of a crowded stage. During the rehearsals that have been going on this week the stage hands have gone through their work in the light first until their supervisors have been satisfied that they know their duties. Then they have been rehearsed over and over in the dark. The show this year will have seventeen scenes, and in order to keep the entertainment within reasonable time limits, it has been necessary to cut the time of changing scenes to the minimum. One-half a minute for movable parts of the stage. And the biggest scene is the hope of the managers.

The rehearsals of the stage force have included rehearsals of the engineers—about thirty-five of them—in tending the pumps that fill and empty the big tank, and the hydraulic lifts that control the movable parts of the stage. And the animal men, the trainers and caretakers of the 200 horses, elephants, camels, oxen, sheep, geese, and other assistant actors have had their rehearsals at intervals between the training of the singers and dancers and the hard-working stage hands.

These rehearsals will be kept up assiduously until the time for the opening Saturday. And, usually, they are continued at intervals for several weeks after the first performance, the stage director, believing that the actual work at the performances needs supplemental practice between times. The people back on the stage at the Hippodrome have very little play time from noon to midnight. That they like it is evidenced by the fact that most of this year’s staff, both acting and “working,” is made up of people who have been at the big playhouse for several seasons.

Originally published in The New York Times, August 27, 1911.