Tag Archives: 1902

Mysteries of the Prop Room part 4, 1902

The following tour of a property room at the Grand Theater in Saint Paul, MN, first appeared in The Saint Paul Globe in 1902. This is the third selection from that article, with the first appearing here, the second here, and the third here.

Like the property room on the stage floor of the Metropolitan this property room behind the stage of the Grand serves to house the “props” that are in immediate use. And these “props” as a rule belong to the company that happens to be playing the week’s engagement. However, there are many little things in the way of stage furnishings that few companies carry and these, of course, are supplied by the house. Adjoining the property room at the Grand is a completely fitted out carpenter’s shop, the sanctum sanctorum of the stage carpenter. In this shop all the stage furniture is made. Just now the stage carpenter is at work on a set of parlor furniture of Florentine design. As soon as it is finished this furniture will be placed in the property room and designated a “prop.”

The Grand possesses something that is not often found in theaters in this country and that is a property room in the fly gallery. This fly gallery is nothing more than a platform that swings out half way between the stage and the roof of the theater. The gallery is reached by means of a spiral staircase made of iron. Two windows looking out upon a court furnish a dim light for the room. […] The property room of this fly gallery at the Grand is peopled with odds and ends that, looked at separately, would never be connected with the stage below. But all of them have played their brief part in some drama and because of this have earned their right to the dignified title, “prop.”

For instance, there is a complete outfit for a cosy corner to be found in this particular property room. This outfit consists of three long pikes with broad heads, a flimsy covering of Oriental stuff, a seat cushioned with Oriental cotton and a swinging Oriental lamp. Seen from the auditorium the effect of such a cosy corner is always picturesque. A nearer view takes away all the enchantment that distance lends. The wobbly pikes, the flimsy faded cotton and the seat that is anything but “cosy” are suggestive of nothing so much as those magazines that tell the credulous how, with the cut of a tomato can and a few tacks, almost anything in the shape of furniture can be evolved. Opposite this fly gallery, to the left of the stage, a place has been found for two more property rooms of the Grand. In one is neatly arranged a variety of chairs and odd bits of furniture, card tables, hat trees, foot stools, etc., each one fitted deftly into its proper place. All of this furniture is kept in excellent repair and although of inexpensive woods, is substantial looking enough to harmonize with the most elegant stage setting.

Originally published in The Saint Paul Globe, February 23, 1902, page 22.

Mysteries of the Prop Room part 3, 1902

The following tour of a property room at the Grand Theater in Saint Paul, MN, first appeared in The Saint Paul Globe in 1902. This is the third selection from that article, with the first appearing here, and the second here.

The visitor decided she had acquired the taste for property rooms and dropped in at the Grand. The big stage was dark and deserted. At one end there stood a tall, rickety-looking arrangement with a bell at the top.

“It’s what the lady swings out on,” explained a voice from the gloom.

“In the ‘Heart of Maryland,’ you know,” the voice further vouchsafed.

“Is it what you would call a ‘prop?'” queried the visitor.

“Yes, it’s a ‘prop,'” admitted the voice which happened to belong to the Property Man of the Grand. The visitor asked for the property room, and after she had surveyed it she was willing to admit that there were property rooms and property rooms. The property room at the “Met” is picturesque in its disorder. The property room of the Grand is distractingly neat and beautifully decorated in red. The room is triangular in shape, very, very tiny and distinctly ornate. It is just the sort of room in which one would expect to have pink tea served. But not at all the kind of room in which one would expect to find housed all kinds of odd, dirty, quaint, delightful and smelly things. And, as a matter of fact, none of these things are housed here. For this tiny, scarlet room is only one of the property rooms of the Grand. There are four others, one in the “fly gallery”—the Property Man’s expression—and the others tucked away in unexpected places at either side of the big stage. But in spite of the many articles stored away in them all were spick and span like the first property room.

“We keep things very neat here,” explained the property man with pardonable pride.

The visitor agreed and suppressed a wild desire to destroy the spick and span effect. To punish herself she went back and gazed once more at the room “done in red.”  This room is partly Oriental and partly American. A swinging Oriental lamp burns redly in one corner. A similar lamp throws a faint light from a curtained niche. A cabinet holds dainty bits of china. A long table is doubtless intended to hold the various “props” that are to be used in the play that is on, but at the time of the visitor’s visit it held only an elaborately gilded clock and a very large vase, so variously decorated that it made one wink to look at it. For a fresco about the walls there is a row of photographs of actors and actresses.

“It’s always just like this,” the Property Man assured here convincingly. “Come here any time of the day or night and you’ll find it just the same.”

Originally published in The Saint Paul Globe, February 23, 1902, page 22.

Mysteries of the Prop Room part 2, 1902

The following tour of a property room at the Metropolitan Theater in Saint Paul, MN, first appeared in The Saint Paul Globe in 1902. This is the second selection from that article, with the first appearing here.

“There are two more property rooms above this one. Perhaps you would like to see them,” he suggested hospitably.

The second property room was reached by means of a narrow and very straight-up-and-down ladder. If the first looked like an old curiosity shop, the second seemed, in the dim light that came from a solitary incandescent light, a veritable chamber of horrors. From a nail driven in one side of the wall there hung an iron cauldron that suggested the three weird sisters in “Macbeth.” A cotton velvet cloak with a big collar of stringy white fur took on, in that dull light, the shape of one of the witches herself. A skull and cross-bones grinned cheerfully from a niche above a black table. Several masques peered down from a shelf and a big collection of drinks, daggers and swords did not detract in the least from the high tragedy effect of this second property room.

“There is still another property room directly above this one.

“Perhaps,” suggested the Property Man, “you would like to see that also?”

The visitor surveyed the iron ladder that was even narrower and very much straighter-up-and-down than the one she had just mounted and shook her head.

“It’s just full of things like this,” he said. “Tables and chairs and battle axes and churns and band boxes and things!”

The visitor decided she had acquired the taste for property rooms and dropped in at the Grand.

Originally published in The Saint Paul Globe, February 23, 1902, page 22.

Mysteries of the Property Room, 1902

The following first appeared in The Saint Paul Globe in 1902. Pay particular attention at the end where he talks about the different “kinds” of props; they’re somewhat different from how we deal with props today:

Sweeney, the property man of the Metropolitan theater—”Old Props,” of course, he is called—entered his dusty little sanctum sanctorum the other afternoon and placed on a wobbly pine table a long, flabby article. The visitor poked it gingerly.

“It’s the seal that they use in ‘The Chaperone,'” explained the Property Man reassuringly. “And this,” he continued obligingly, “is the mummy. You remember the mummy?” The visitor nodded dubiously. This object that resembled nothing so much as a coffin covered tightly with a bit of Oriental cotton did not look a bit like the object she had viewed from the other side of the footlights during one of the performances of “The Chaperone.”

“Things generally do look different when you see them in here,” said the Property Man apologetically. And the visitor, as she surveyed the stuffy little room, agreed. For instance, it was disillusioning to find that the golden goblets from out of which she had seen the noble Romans drink in “Quo Vadis” were simply painted wooden cups. And there was the grandfather’s clock!

As a part of the furnishing of an old farm house kitchen this grandfather’s clock had seemed the very realest bit of realism. Its honest old face, shining in its humble surroundings, had always seemed to say, “Yes, it is all false, this stage atmosphere of paint and tinsel, but I, at least, am real.” As a matter of fact it is not a bit real. On the contrary, indeed! For a long box, properly cut and painted, with a painted dial at one end, is all that that deceitful clock is. The visitor turned from it in disgust.

“There are two kinds of ‘props,'” explained the Property Man, absentmindedly polishing one of the painted wooden goblets with a bit of cotton tapestry which hung from a nail. “There are personal ‘props’ and stage ‘props.’ Now, suppose a man plays the part of a waiter in a play. If he carries a towel over his arm, then it is a stage ‘prop.’ If he wears it tied around his waist, it is a personal ‘prop,’ and he himself looks after it. But we look after the stage ‘props.’ They are all placed here.”

“Here” was the stuffy little room which is just to the right of the big Metropolitan stage.

“Do you see that large trunk over there? It contains the mandolins used by the girls in the first act of the play. Each mandolin is numbered and each girl knows where to find her own instrument.”

Originally published in The Saint Paul Globe, February 23, 1902, pg 22.

A Clap of Thunder, 1902

The following first appeared in The Salt Lake Herald, on July 27, 1902.

Many stories are told of Dion Boucicault as occurring during the active life of that playwright actor. One relates to the time he was playing a piece called “The Vampire” at the Princess theatre, London. The opening scene represented the highest regions of the Alps by moonlight, while a thunderstorm raged in the distance. The Vampire (Mr. Boucicault) was seen lying dead on the mountain peak, to all appearances, but as a ray of moon touched his body he came to life.

Of course, the thunder was produced in the usual manner by the property man with a “thunder sheet.”

One night in the height of the season a tremendous clap of thunder startled the audience and interrupted Mr. Boucicault in the middle of a speech. Lowering his voice so that it could be heard only by the property man, he said:

“Very well, Mr. Davis, you are making more mistakes. That clap of thunder came in the wrong place.”

Mr. Davis replied in stentorian tones, which could be plainly heard all over the auditorium:

“No fault of mine, sir; it wasn’t my thunder. Thunder’s real out of doors, perhaps you can stop it there.”

Originally published in The Salt Lake Herald, July 27, 1902, page 11.