A Factory for Making Plays

The following article was originally published in the New York Times, November 25, 1906:

Situated in the storehouse and wharf district of the extreme west side, and running through the entire block from Twenty-seventh to Twenty-eighth Street, the casual observer would never imagine by a glance at its unpretentious exterior that a veritable fairy-land lurked within its four plain brick walls.

The person who is fortunate enough to gain admittance past its argus-eyed German watchman stationed at the main door will be amply repaid for the visit. Erected by Henry W. Savage, a theatrical manager, for the building of his plays, the play factory is capable of turning out even the largest productions complete without their leaving the building for anything whatever, and here one may watch the entire construction of a play underneath one roof. The greater part of the time there are 250 people at work in the factory. These include scene builders, painters, electricians, costumers, florists, and property men.

A department for the building of scenery, another for the manufacture of properties; an electrical department, where the light effects so necessary to the success of scenic productions are made; a scenic studio with four paint frames; a costume department with fifty women busily at work; a photographic department for taking and developing the pictures of finished plays, and even a large stage to set up these plays for rehearsals are parts of the equipment of this wonder place. So complete is the factory in every detail that raw material is taken in through one door, while one month later the finished play, from scenery to flashlights, leaves by the opposite…

The property department, which adjoins the electrical, is, like all property departments, a veritable museum of papier-maché wonders. Here everything, from a mouse to an ocean-going steamship, is made out of this wonderful composition of paper and paste. Great plaster of paris molds and finished “props” fill the walls and workbenches of the room, and before the great sheet-iron drying ovens, their faces lighted up by its lurid gleams, the perspiring property man and his assistants constantly remove papier-maché birds and beasts and other strange things from its torrid interior…

First the sky is painted, then the clouds are added, and lastly the ground. This is all done in the rough, after which the details and proper effects are worked in. The property man is then called in and places any little thing, such as a vase, table, or picture that is to be used in the scene near the canvas, in position. This is in order to get the proper effects in colors and height, so that it will look all right when in actual use. The electrician is also called in and receives directions as to light effects. The costumer must likewise consult him to assure the harmonizing of the costumes and scenery, for they go on the same principle in scene painting that they do in ordinary picture painting. Everything must be in keeping with the general scheme of the whole, for, after all, a stage setting is nothing more than a large picture.

When everything is complete—scenery, costumes, properties, and lights—the scenes are put together on the stage at the other end of the driveway, and if “O.K.’d” by the manager are loaded on trucks and hauled away to the theatre to amuse the public. Thus the raw material that entered the driveway at one end the month before now leaves by the opposite in the form of a completed play.

First published in the New York Times, November 25, 1906.