Hi everyone. If you noticed a lack of posts this week, it was because I was in tech for our second show of the season at Triad Stage. And I bought a house and moved. And I have a newborn. But there’s still some cool props stuff this week:
New York Theatre Workshop has transformed its space for a unique production of Scenes From a Marriage. The New York Times is on the story of how director Ivo van Hove and his production designer Jan Versweyveld chopped the space into three rooms that audiences wander through in the first act, and then return to an amphitheater after intermission. Crazy. If those names sound familiar, it’s because I made a fake dead lamb for a previous production that van Hove and Versweyveld did at NYTW.
I came across the following article in The Bystander, No. 98, Vol 8, Wednesday, October 18, 1905. Sexist language aside, I thought it gave a glimpse of an interesting theatre company that many of us would not have thought existed at the time. It is also a fascinating article to present during Women’s History Month.
A Novel Theatrical Company: Financed, Managed and Run by American Women
(Mailed by our Correspondent in America)
The American woman is proud in the knowledge that she can stand alone without the support of mere man. She has taken her place in the world of affairs, and now she is to prove that she can run, entirely on her own, that most difficult of businesses—a theatre. Miss Gertrude Haynes is at the head of a Company which will present a woman’s play, written by a woman dramatist, financed by a woman “angel” (this is as it should be). Advance agent, doorkeeper, treasurers, scene-shifters, attendants—all will be of the fair sex.
Miss Haynes is one of the best-known new stars in the country, her “Choir Celestial” having been presented in all of the theatres of the big circuits. She was the originator of the religious act on the stage, and has won both fame and fortune. But let her speak of her own project:—
“My determination to use women stage hands, advance women, and ticket-takers, is not a freak notion,” said Miss Haybes. “I have tried women for the work and found them better than men. They are faithful, work harder, and can always be trusted to be on hand. And that is more than can be said for some of the men who have been in my employ.
“My sister, Miss Tessie Haynes, went out as my advance agent two years ago, and her success was remarkable. No man ever did so well for me. And it wasn’t six months before she was engaged.
Some of Miss Tessie Haynes’ experiences were more strenuous than most men in the same position are called upon to undergo. In Chicago, she encountered a strike of bill-posters, and could not get the Company paper out. Finding that appeals to the strikers availed nothing, the plucky little woman determined to put up her own bills. Hiring a wagon, she went out supplied with paste bucket and brush, and posted the bills.
Her action caught the fancy of the men, who cheered her bravery, and her bills were not disturbed. She has the record of being the only woman bill-poster in the world.
Miss Gertrude Haynes is not exactly preparing for trouble, but she is prepared to meet it if it comes. The man who thinks to have a joke at her expense will “get left” as his countrymen say.
Thus: “My property woman weighs 160 pounds, is strong and vigorous, and can hustle a trunk if necessary,” declares the indomitable manageress. Nor will she stand any love-making nonsense to interfere with the work in what she calls her “Adamless Eden.”
“No, my doorkeeper won’t flirt with the men. She is a fine, handsome woman with grey hair, inexpressibly dignified, and no man will take liberties with her. At least, I pity the one that tries.”
Man will not be entirely banished from the Company. He will be suffered to play the male roles, but otherwise will be quite subordinate. Listen to this strike-loving scene-shifter of the sterner sex!
“I expect to get a cleaner production by reason of my woman stage director. A woman is naturally artistic. She will not take more time to set the stage than a man, but it will be done infinitely better.
“My artists would fall down every night if I did not go after the men and smooth the wrinkles out of the carpet. A woman would never do such clumsy work.”
Miss Haynes’ final word breathes the very spirit of determination. “I have always come off ahead in our battles, and I’m sure that my new venture of an Adamless troupe will succeed.”
This article and images were originally printed in The Bystander, No. 98, Vol 8, Wednesday, October 18, 1905.
The following is an interview given to a Sun reporter by one identified only as a “veteran stage manager” of one of New York’s stock theatres. It was originally published in the New York Sun, February 15, 1885, on page 6.
“Five different and entirely distinct departments must work harmoniously and without the slightest hitch or delay,” continued the stage manager. “These are the actors, the musicians, the carpenters, the property men, and the gas men. A trifling failure made by the least of any of these may turn a performance into ridicule. Each of the mechanical departments has its own boss, but all are subject to the stage manager’s orders, and he in turn is responsible to the manager.”
“To the property-man’s department belong all furniture, carpets, curtains, ornaments, and all the small articles used by actors, and known in theatrical parlance as hand or side props. Among these are letters, books, guns, pistols, knives, purses, pocketbooks, money, lamps, candles, cradles, and doll babies. Live props, such as dogs, cats, birds, donkeys, and horses, are also under his charge, and are much disliked, as causing a vast amount of trouble. The side props are taken from the property man every night by the call boy, whose duty is to deliver them to the actors and return them after they have been used to the property room. A good property man is hard to find, for he must be something of a carpenter, an artist, a modeler, and a mechanician [sic].
“Papier-maché has come of late years to be largely used in the manufacture of properties, and nearly all the magnificent vases, the handsome plaques, the graceful statues, and the superb gold and silver plate seen to-day on the stage are made of that material. Some of the imitations of china are so perfectly done and so admirably painted that it is not unusual to see an actor tap them to find out if they are real. In making statues a cast is taken from the clay, and the pulp is then firmly pressed into the moulds. Life-size statues which seem to be of bronze or marble do not weigh more than five or six pounds, look just as well as the genuine, and are easily and quickly handled. For traveling purposes the saving in freight alone is a great economy. Entire suits of armor and fruits of all kinds are made of this useful and inexpensive material. The late Mr. Wallace, the husband of Mme. Ponial, was in his day a celebrated property man. Perhaps the two best now living are the brothers William and George Henry of the Union Square and Madison Square Theatres. Both are really excellent artists, and their salaries are deservedly as large as those of good actors.
“In most New York theatres the property man has one regular assistant and two night aids, who are needed to handle heavy carpets, pianos, and furniture. In the old days carpenters and property men were often prone to dispute about the exact lines which divided their duties, but in well-regulated theatres the departments are now generally willing to help each other. Still, a carpenter or grip is not actually bound to put a finger to a carpet or piece of furniture, nor is a property man, even if not occupied, obliged to help with a scene. Some of the distinctions drawn by custom seem to be singular; thus, a whole tree, if set upon the stage and screwed to it for support, is considered a part of the scene, and, as such, belongs to the carpenters, while a stump upon which a person may sit is in the property man’s department. Again, a flight of stairs is set up by the carpenter, but if a carpet is put on it, that must be done by the property man.”
For those of you in school for theatre, it is not too early to start thinking about summer employment. Even though snow is still on the ground and it gets dark at 4 pm, this is the time of year that many summer festivals, theatres and operas begin recruiting for their production positions and internships. To my international readers, I am sorry this post only deals with US jobs and internships.
Whether looking for summer work or for immediate work, Backstage Jobs should be one of the sites you check daily. By now, most of the major and legitimate theatres have learned to post any and all technical and production-related jobs to this site. It is completely free to view every job posting. The site admin also does a bang-up job of keeping spam and unrelated postings from appearing.
Speaking of spam, the Society of Properties Artisan Managers maintains a list of which of their member theatres offer props internships. This is a comprehensive list of all internships, not just summer ones, so be sure to check the commitment dates for the theatres you are interested in.
Artsearch is another big mainstay of technical theatre job postings. Though you should avoid job posting sites which require you to pay to view listings, this is the one exception. If you are currently in school, your school will probably have login information you can use (this is often true if you are an alumni as well).
In addition to job listings online, you may wish to think about applying and interviewing for jobs during one of the two big conferences. Though these are held in March, now is the time that you should be registering for the conferences, booking your hotel and making your travel arrangements. The two major conferences for theatre technicians are USITT and SETC.
This year, USITT is held March 20-23 in Milwaukee. The conference is meant for technicians and designers for all aspects of live performance. Part of the conference includes a massive stage expo, where companies and employers have booths to show off what they do. This is where you can meet and greet with the people in charge of these companies; many of them use USITT to do some of their recruiting for summer internships and apprenticeships.
The SETC conference will be held March 6-10 in Louisville, KY. SETC is meant for all aspects of theatre, including acting and directing, so it is not focused on just the production side. While the exposition hall is much smaller than USITT’s, it does have a job fair you can sign up for. Companies have small tables where they list the job openings they have, and you sign up for times to interview. You then spend the rest of your time meeting with employers all over the convention center to interview for these jobs. You can interview for as many or as few jobs as you have time for. I actually got hired at the Santa Fe Opera for the first time at the SETC job fair.
These websites and conferences have jobs at all skill and pay levels; even the internships can vary widely in how much you are paid. While it may seem your acting friends are constantly taking low-to-no paid internships, as a technical theatre person, you should always be paid for your work. Plenty of paid opportunities exist at all skill levels if you look for them.
The following is a portion of an article which first appeared in The New York Times on June 7, 1903.
In the Spring of the year the scenery of plays that have failed in New York in the course of the Winter and the season which draws to a close may be found accumulated in a large storage warehouse far over on the west side of the city, in the locality of Twenty-eighth Street. This has served during many years as the chief mausoleum of the remains of these failures. The expenses of the interment include cartage at $5 a load, handling by the warehouse employes at $2 a load, and storage at $4 a load monthly. The acceptance states that settlement must be made quarterly, and that all goods held in arrears in payment twelve months will be seized and sold at auction. There is also the little bill for insurance which many an owner contracts with the fond hope that something may happen in the fire line before the year’s end.
In addition to this large place of storage there are a couple of rambling old stables on Thirteenth Street, east of First Avenue where much scenery that in the last half dozen years cost a snug fortune reposes in solid stacks awaiting the last judgement. In a small room of a neighboring scene painter are the models on view of the handsome interiors and exteriors piled away. Now and then somebody, harboring the notion of producing a play for trial at a nominal expense, drops in to examine this second-hand stock. Nothing results, however, satisfactory to any one concerned. The scenery representing picturesque mountain retreats and grottoes, on view once in a great spectacle, is a misfit for a domestic drama or a comedy. The nine scenes of a melodrama that sunk $6,500 are also of no use in the play, which requires new features up to date.
Mention should be made of the fact, though, that since the stock companies became more or less prosperous in and around New York, some small opportunity has come in sight to unload the scenery in storage. But such interest as there can be for the general reader in this statement must be stimulated by calling attention to the absurd difference between the cost of the scenery and its selling price. The manager, for instance, of two stock theatres in Brooklyn purchased not very long ago from a well-known player, who has given up being his own manager, five loads of scenery, nearly all new, and representing a cash outlay of almost $4,000, for $75. The cost of transportation across the bridge was $25 additional. There were seven wall-drops included in these loads, any one of which cost more originally than the whole purchase at second hand.
Originally published in The New York Times, June 7, 1903.
Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies