Tag Archives: 1916

Friday Tech Notes

Greetings from tech rehearsals for the first show of the season here at Triad Stage. We’re starting off with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The props are very pretty. But let’s talk about what the rest of the internet is doing.

The first big news is that the Society of Properties Artisan Managers has started a Facebook group open to all professional props people, old and new. While the organization itself remains reserved for full-time managers of prop shops, the group is a chance for prop makers and masters of all types to meet and talk shop.

Get Surrey has a news article on Graeme Lougher, a prop maker who has built props for everything from Harry Potter to Red Dwarf.

Make Magazine had two cool sculpting items recently. First, Emily Coleman shows us how to sculpt a fantasy owl with armature wire, Apoxie Sculpt and Sculpey. Second is this great video of Chris Johnson sculpting a monster.

Did you know Abercrombie & Fitch used to sell camping gear? They did. And Internet Archive has one of their catalogs from 1916 available for viewing online. If you wanted to know what kinds of duffel bags or what sort of provisions they carried in the early twentieth century, this is your resource.

Finally, this is pretty cool if you’re into cosplay. The makers of the upcoming Horizon Zero Dawn have released a comprehensive guide for cosplaying the main character. It has construction details for all the little accessories and clear views of all her props.

Macready Invents the Spike Mark, 1916

The following first appeared in a 1916 book titled “Recollections of a Scene Painter”,  written by an E.T. Harvey. In this section, Harvey talks about the famous English actor William Macready, who dominated the stage from 1818 to 1851. We hear what the carpenters in Philadelphia did after the Astor Place Riots, and we witness what may be the birth of the spike mark.

Macready was before my time, but he had made extensive tours in the United States, and many stories were still in vogue about him. Edwin Forrest, when in England, met with some severe criticism, which he and his friends attributed to Macready’s jealousy. This is generally believed to be without foundation, but it caused a bitter feeling here and when Macready played in New York, the Astor House riots occurred [in 1849], and seventeen people were killed. The same thing was threatened in Philadelphia, when he played in the Arch Street Theatre. The second night the mob was expected to reach the stage, and the old stage carpenter, Charley Long, told me many years afterward, that it was arranged to turn out the lights and open up the sectional stage, which would have thrown the mob in the cellar. The men stood all ready to do this. The crisis, however, was averted by the coolness and courage of Macready himself. But it was said the big chandelier in front of the theatre was filled with missiles thrown at him.

Many stories were in vogue to show his exactness of method. A message delivered to him on the stage had to be given on a certain spot, and when the actor playing the messenger had failed several times at rehearsal, Macready had a mark put upon the stage where he should drop on his knees to deliver it. At night, it was said, the actor went groping all over the stage to find the mark.

An interesting thing that I believe to be true was pointed out to me at the St. Charles Theatre, New Orleans. (The St. Charles was the historic theatre of New Orleans). Near the prompter’s stand were a lot of jagged holes in the brick wall; these were said to have been made by Macready, with a dagger in each hand, to get himself in the nervous tremor as “Macbeth,” after he has killed “King Duncan.”

Original Publication: Harvey, E. T. Recollections of a Scene Painter. Cincinnati: W.A. Sorin, 1916. 29. Google Books, 15 Feb. 2008. Web. 5 Sept. 2012.

Same Chicken in Chicago

The following is an anecdote from a 1916 book titled “Recollections of a Scene Painter”.

Another story of [John E.] Owens that Harry Phillips, the old Health Officer, will confirm. One night, at the old National, Owens was playing “Caleb Plummer” in “Cricket on the Hearth.” It is the scene of the toymaker’s cottage in the snow. The miniature is set in the middle of the stage and the characters are having a dinner party. It is just before Gruff Tackleton makes John Perrybingle jealous of Dot about the stranger. Caleb is carving the chicken, or trying to, for on this occasion he was not making any impression upon it. Of course, the property man, who is expected to be caterer as well as everything else, gets the blame, and Owens, boiling with rage, walked out of the cottage and across the stage to the little side door leading to that “L” in the alley back of Third Street, fired the chicken as far as he could up the alley, saying: “That is the same d—d chicken I had in Chicago.”

Originally published in “Recollections of a Scene Painter”, E.T. Harvey, W.A. Sorin Co., Cincinnati, 1916, pp 37-38.

Recollections of Dirty Snow, 1916

The following little gem comes from Recollections of a Scene Painter, by E. T. Harvey, published in 1916:

Stage snow can now be bought by the barrel, and is made by cutting paper into small discs. In the old days it was quite a laborious task for the property man. He and his assistants would have to work for days with shears to get a supply, and it accordingly was carefully preserved. One night when the “Angel of Midnight” was being played, Barras, who watched everything pretty closely, told the property boy as he went up in the “flies” with the snow box, “to let it down in a perfect avalanche” when he gave the signal. The snowstorm in “Way Down East,” for instance, is done by pulling backward and forward a folded, perforated piece of cloth that sifts the snow down on the stage, and an electric fan dashes it mixed with coarse salt against the window pane and into the open door as “Hannah Moore” is driven out into the storm.

But in the days of fifty years ago the property boys usually just scattered it by the handful from up in the gridiron. When Barras gave the signal for the “avalanche,” Bill Sullivan, the property boy, took the hat box and turned it upside down, emptying the contents upon poor Captain Satan (Leffingwell) lying on his back on the stage, and Sallie St. Clair bending over him. In the box were nails, screws, and all the trash that had been swept up from time to time. Barras had several troubles during that engagement.

Recollections of a Scene Painter, by E. T. Harvey, pp 26-7. Princeton University, 1916.

Property Resources, 1916

The following comes from a book written in 1916 by Arthur Edwin Krows, called “Play production in America.” It’s short, but provides a rare example from this time period on how props were acquired, rather than built.

Confessedly, it is not a simple matter to provide pertinent items for a stage scene, either those adapted to actual use in the action, or those merely for atmosphere. Consequently, most producers are found covertly making collections of articles they are likely to need. Belasco has an amazing amount of such things stored away. It is said, too, that every time he goes out of town to open a new production, a certain ” second-hand” man will ship a carload of “antiques” on ahead, open a store in the town, and contrive to have the distinguished manager informed of the opportunity for bargains.

When they wanted furniture in the old days, they frequently manufactured the unused, purely decorative pieces of papier-mache, when they didn’t paint them on the scenery; but all that is gone by now. Fannie Brice once told me how in the early days of her career, she used to borrow the window curtain of her hotel room to help dress the set. The efficient property man maintains a list of sources where he may procure any and all of the manifold portable objects in any scene. In Winthrop Ames’s production of “Children of Earth,” in New York, chairs were gathered from old houses in New Jersey and Connecticut, and from old curiosity shops, the pewter from an old New England farmhouse through a dealer, a saw, saw-buck, and some rainbarrels from Mr. Ames’s farm in Massachusetts, and so on through a long list of objects quite as imposing as that of art miscellany in “The High Road.”

The property room at the New York Hippodrome, 1916
The property room at the New York Hippodrome, 1916