Tag Archives: romeo and juliet

Turning the body dish

Chandelier from Romeo and Juliet

As part of the new year, I’m going to be digging through my archives of props I’ve built in previous years. The first one is a chandelier I built for Romeo and Juliet. It was one of my first prop projects in graduate school, and the first prop I built which involved welding.

The first part I made was the body dish. I turned it on the lathe out of poplar. The outside needed to be a specific diameter, as we shall see shortly. I also drilled a hole through the center for the hanging hardware and wires to go through.

Turning the body dish
Turning the body dish
Body Dish
Body Dish

Next I cut a circle out of 3/4″ plywood to use as a template for the main ring. I made that out of several strips of what we call “wiggle wood”, which is a bendable plywood. I wrapped one layer around the circle, then glued another layer around the first one, with the seams offset so they would hold the circular shape. I added a thinner strip to the top and bottom to mimic molding.

The chandelier in the jig
The chandelier in the jig

I left the chandelier in the jig and marked the center of the circle template. I then added a little stand with a smaller circle on top, also centered. I placed the body dish on top of that. This ensured that the body dish was centered within the ring, level, and at the correct height above the ring.

See that metal ring in the above picture? That is why I needed my body dish to be a specific diameter; the ring needs to sleeve on the outside of it. I cut the ring from a section of large pipe that was laying around. On the right side of the picture, you can see some metal brackets bunched together. These will be spread evenly around the wiggle wood ring and hold the cups for the candles. They will then have a metal rod welded to them, with the other end welded to the metal ring on the body dish.

The chandelier after the welding is done
The chandelier after the welding is done

Ta-da! I next ran wires out the bottom of the cups, along the rods, and up through the center. The only thing left to do was glue the electric candles into the cups, which you can only do with a bushy beard.

Gluing the candles in
Gluing the candles in

Actually, what I meant to say was that the only thing left to do was hang a big disco ball from the center, because every chandelier needs a disco ball.

Final Chandelier
Final Chandelier

Notice in the picture that I made more than one chandelier. The template and jig not only allowed me to get all the shapes and spacings correct, it also enabled me to duplicate the same prop without having to remeasure everything.

The Swan theatre in London in 1596, by Johannes de Witt

Shakespeare’s Props

As yesterday (April 23) was William Shakespeare’s unofficial birthday, I thought I’d write a bit about props and Shakespeare. At the Public Theatre here in New York City, we’re starting to gear up for Shakespeare in the Park, starting with Twelfth Night. It will feature Anne Hathaway (the Bride Wars star, not Shakespeare’s wife).

A lot of what we know about props in Shakespearean times comes from Henslowe’s Diary, which incidentally, never once mentions William Shakespeare. It does, however, contain a detailed record of the day-to-day theatre business of Philip Henslowe, a theatrical entrepreneur involved in nearly all aspects of the Elizabethan stage. Included in his diary is an inventory of “all the properties for my Lord Admiral’s Men, the 10 of March 1598:

Item, 1 rock, 1 cage, 1 tomb, 1 Hell mouth… 1 bedstead.
Item, 8 lances, 1 pair of stairs for Phaethon.
Item, 1 globe, & 1 golden sceptre; 3 clubs
Item, 1 golden fleece, 2 racquets, 1 bay tree.
Item, 1 lion’s skin, 1 bear’s skin; Phaethon’s limbs, & Phaethon’s chariot, & Argus’s head.
Item, Iris’s head, & rainbow; 1 little altar. . .
1 ghost’s gown; 1 crown with a sun.”

You can see many typical props here. Furniture, weapons, and set decoration all appear on the list. Heads are another common prop made by prop shops. The list also contains what we would consider small set pieces. As Elizabethan theatre had no “background” scenery, it made sense for a set of stairs to be made and maintained by the same person or people who made and kept track of the bedstead.

It is a fairly straightforward props list. When you read a Shakespeare play, the stage directions will be pretty explicit about what props his actors probably used. In Romeo and Juliet, when it is written that Juliet “snatches Romeo’s dagger”, it most certainly meant she (technically, he) grabbed a prop dagger, rather than miming the action. The style and construction of the dagger is less certain, though many scholars contend it would have been an Elizabethan dagger, rather than a more historically or geographically accurate one.  In other words, the dagger in Julius Caesar would have been the same dagger as in Romeo and Juliet, which would have been similar to the daggers carried by the audience.

Perhaps one of the most problematic stage directions is The Winter’s Tale‘s “exit pursued by a bear”. Without uncovering new archaeological evidence, we will probably never know whether a real bear was used or not. But for the rest of the props, between Henslow’s diary, and de Witt’s drawing of the Swan theatre (pictured below), we get a good overview of props in Shakespeare’s time: weapons, furniture, minor set decoration and small set pieces, and fake (I hope) body parts.

You can find more about Henslowe’s Diary by perusing the public domain Henslow’s Diary Companion on Google Books. I also found a great deal of information at Internet Shakespeare. If you click around, you’ll find an archive of Shakespeare in Performance, including an archive of artifacts from past performances of Shakespeare’s plays. This includes not only drawings and photographs, but also props lists, scene breakdowns, and other production notes.

The Swan theatre in London in 1596, by Johannes de Witt
The Swan theatre in London in 1596, by Johannes de Witt