The supers used in big stage productions have the appetites of elephants. No food or drink used on the stage is too mean for them to neglect—provided the property man isn’t looking. They drink the cold tea as though it was really wine instead of the fake vintage. They devour the ginger cake that passes for paté de foi gras. They have even known to attack realistic papier maché grapes and ices made of cotton batting.
The play on this particular night was “Romeo and Juliet” and the scene in Juliet’s garden the pièce de résistence. The stage was filled with apple trees in bloom. White petals were scattered thickly on the cocoa matting greensward. They were not really apple blossoms, but white, pulpy popcorn, substituted for muslin flowers after many experiments, because they looked just as well and lasted longer. The fake blossoms differed from the popcorn of the candy stores in one particular. The firemen thought the pulpy corn increased the danger from fire and ordered the manager to squirt a fireproofing mixture on them.
The prompt book had this stage direction at the climax of the third act: “Romeo fights Tybalt. Murmurs off L. changing to yells. All on.” On this evening there were no murmurs, no yells, no “all” to go on. As the curtain fell, Romeo went to the stage manager, beside himself with rage.
“What the—Beg pardon—Good—Ah—,” he yelled. “Where—was—that crowd?”
“Out of business,” replied the stage manager. “They’re lying in a row down in the cellar. They ate the popcorn.”
As a reminder that accidents with stage weapons are nothing new, I have two brief stories of mishaps from over a century ago. The first comes from The San Francisco Call, September 27, 1896:
A few weeks ago a tragic accident happened in London. The actors had to fight a duel on the mimic stage. They did not rehearse with swords, but on the night of the first performance the property-man gave them their weapons, which they used so realistically that the delighted audience wanted to give a recall. Rounds of applause came again and again, but the man who had fallen did not get up and bow before the footlights as dead actors are in the habit of doing. He was dead in real earnest, killed by a thrust of his comrade’s sword. When the horrible truth dawned upon his comrades the curtain was lowered and the audience dismissed from the play, which had ended in an unrehearsed tragedy. The next day the papers were full of lamentations over the sad event and blame was given to the management for the carelessness which had permitted sharp swords to be used without first testing them thoroughly at rehearsal.
No training, no rehearsal, weapons that should have been dulled… these are the exact same reasons accidents happen today. This isn’t new technology or unknown knowledge; we know, and have known for well over a hundred years how to prevent accidents from stage combat weapons, yet they still happen.
The second comes from The New York Times, September 12, 1907:
Maz Davis, 30 years old, of 434 West Thirty-eight Street, a property man for David Belasco, was injured on the right hand last night by the accidental discharge of a stage gun, the “wad” of which pierced his hand, while the powder burned both his hands and face. Just before a rehearsal of the “Girl of the Golden West,” he was examining a revolver when he accidentally pulled the trigger. He was taken to the Roosevelt Hospital.
Ouch. Remember, stage guns are still dangerous, even if they are only “blank-firing”, “powder” or “toy cap” guns.
From Furniture Designing and Draughting (1907), by Alvan Crocker Nye, we have this wonderful diagram on how to make a table.
The top row shows names of the common parts of a table.
The next two images show a number of ways of attaching the legs. The one on the left shows the frame both being doweled to the leg and using a mortise and tenon. The frame itself is connected with blocks which tongue into a groove in the frame. The drawing on the right shows a cleat screwed to the top, with a leg tenoned into the cleat.
Continuing down the drawing is a “section of a built-up top”. As a solid wood top is expensive and hard to come by, tops were often built up with a core and covered with a finish veneer to make it look like a piece of solid wood. A piece of cross veneer was placed between the core and finish veneer; this is a piece of veneer in which the grain runs perpendicularly to the core and finish veneer.
The bottom row shows various means of securing the top to the frame. The left shows a screw which is countersunk nearly halfway through the height of the frame. The middle illustrates a pocket hole screw. The drawing on the right shows the blocks which were previously illustrated up above.
Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies