Tag Archives: amateur

Charles Dickens in the Theatre, 1904

The following comes from the Foreword to a book on amateur theatricals published in 1904:

Amongst the many extraordinary amateurs who have from time to time appeared prominently before the public, the most remarkable was Charles Dickens—remarkable because he was not only a great novelist, but because he had the true dramatic instinct in a wonderful degree, and this, combined with most unfailing energy and enthusiasm in the work, made him the wonder and admiration of all with whom he came in contact. All who ever saw Dickens act have declared that in gaining a great novelist the world lost a most accomplished actor.

He joined a dramatic club when he was serving his time in a lawyer’s office, and it is said that recognising his natural aptitude for the stage, he made up his mind to adopt it as a profession. He was untiring in his efforts, and constantly practising everything that might conduce to his advancement, even such things as walking in and out, and sitting down in a chair. Thus he studied four, five, and six hours a day, shut up in his own room, or walking about the fields.

To all would-be stage managers he is a shining example, for it was in this capacity that his talents for organisation and management were conspicuous. He writes of an early amateur performance which he arranged and conducted. “I had regular plots of the scenery made out and lists of the properties wanted, nailing them up by the prompter’s chair. Every letter there was to be delivered was written, every piece of money that had to be given provided; I prompted myself when I was not on, and when I was I made the appointed prompter my deputy.”

Amateur performances had always a wonderful fascination for him, and the record of many of the brilliant performances in which he took part will be found in Forster’s “Life of Dickens,” together with the casts of many of the plays he produced, and which contain the names of many notable men and women who have left more solid reputations behind them in other walks of life.

Charles Dickens Playbill
Charles Dickens Playbill

Neil, C. Lang. Amateur Theatricals: A Practical Guide. London: C. Arthur Pearson, 1904. Google Books. 30 Nov. 2007. Web. 5 Aug. 2009. <https://books.google.com/books?id=lB5IAAAAIAAJ>.

Costumes and Scenery for Amateurs, 1915 (part 2)

The following comes from a 1915 book called “Costumes and Scenery for Amateurs”. I published the first portion of the chapter on props way back in 2009. Here, without further delay, is the conclusion.

Stimulate initiative and invention wherever possible. A round collar box is only a collar box until you use it for an earthen bowl. A white cardboard shoe box is cut down a little, covered with black tissue paper, has a little yellow pane inserted in each side, and a curtain ring for a handle. Behold a lantern for a Yankee minute-man, or Paul Revere, or anyone else who wants to use it.

Remarkable stage furniture can be made from wooden boxes of all sizes. A packing case makes a dais. Several boxes nailed together and stained brown will make a peasant’s cupboard.

Three boxes nailed together like this |¯| will make a hearth. If it is to be a mediæval or fairy tale hearth, cover it with cheap gray cambric, bulked to look like stone, and marked with splotches of white and brown chalk. Be sure you turn the unglazed side of the cambric outward. Use chalk because paint will not show up well on cambric. A brick fireplace for a modern scene can be made in the same way, covering the boxes with brick chimney paper than can be bought at Dennison’s Tissue Paper Co., Boston, Chicago, or New York. One of their catalogues will prove invaluable to directors living in the country. A narrow box on rockers, stained brown, becomes a Puritan or eighteenth century cradle. Gilded and hooded it is the cradle of a royal Princess. Couch seats can be made from boxes, only be sure that they are secure.

Originally published in “Costumes and Scenery for Amateurs”, by Constance D’Arcy Mackay, 1915 (pp 95-96)

Shakespeare for Community Players: Lanterns

This is the fourth excerpt from a chapter concerning prop-making in “Shakespeare for Community Players”, by Roy Mitchell. Be sure to check out the previous parts on weapons, tableware, and furniture.


Lanterns should be made of soft tin and riveted into shape. It is possible to buy lanterns, but it is more fun to make them.

Figure 17: Lanterns and torch sticks
Figure 17: Lanterns and torch sticks

Figure 17 shows some types of lanterns as well as torch-sticks. Floor candlesticks, which are universally useful for all types of interiors, may be made up of curtain-pole set on a foot or held erect with a tripod. A small tin pan makes an excellent drip-cup. A method of simulating massive candles is given in the chapter on lighting. Smaller candelabra may be of wooden lattice-work in a variety of forms, or of round wood held together with cross-bars (see Figures 14 and 18).

Figure 18: Small candelabra
Figure 18: Small candelabra

Another method is to make a grill out of wall-board reinforced with wooden battens. The best single candlestick is part of a baluster nailed to a square base. The candle goes in a hole bored in the top. A nail-point sticking up in the bottom of the orifice will give stability to the candle. If you have occasion to make or use Greek lamps, do not trouble with oil. Use tapers adjusted to last for the scene, or a bit of candle inset.

Figure 19: Lantern and pole
Figure 19: Lantern and pole

Figure 19 shows a lantern and a pole to be carried in lieu of torches. It is made of draughtsman’s linen stretched Chinese-lantern fashion on a wooden frame. The frame may be made of heavy iron wire if desired, and many beautiful forms achieved. The design may be applied in coloured ink such as draughtsmen use.

Reprinted from Shakespeare for Community Players, by Roy Mitchell, J.M. Dent & Sons ltd., 1919 (pp 64-66)

Shakespeare for Community Players: Weapons

This is the third excerpt from a chapter concerning prop-making in “Shakespeare for Community Players”, by Roy Mitchell. Be sure to check out the previous part on tableware, as well as the first part, concerning furniture.


Weapons form another delightful field for the maker of accessories. Where a sword fight is required it is best to use the modern buttoned foils, and contrive some means whereby they need not be drawn from their scabbards on stage. The use of anything more real than a foil is not advisable. If it is imperative that swords be drawn on stage, a scabbard for a foil may be made from tin piping, built out and covered with leather. Swords used for personal adornment need only be a scabbard with a handle. These may best be made of wood, following some fine model, and the hilt and decorations made in metal. The armourer of the company will do well, however, to consult a book or an encyclopaedia article upon these and all weapons before setting to work.

Spears or lances may be made out of wood. It is a mistake to put on hollow tin points. It is better to shape a point out of wood and silver it. Tin tops are continually working loose and clattering down on somebody’s head. Make lances at least ten feet long, especially where several are carried together. Nothing looks meaner than a feeble lance or spear, and nothing finer than a tall one. Halberds need not be so long, especially if they carry ornate heads. Figure 15 shows typical spear, pikes, maces and halberd.

Figure 15: Typical spear, pikes, maces, and halberd
Figure 15: Typical spear, pikes, maces, and halberd

Bows should be tall and decorative, and are carried unstrung. Figure 16 shows a typical long-bow, crossbow, and arquebus. These may all be of soft pine or cedar cut with a jack-knife.

Figure 16: Typical long-bow, crossbow, and arquebus
Figure 16: Typical long-bow, crossbow, and arquebus

Reprinted from Shakespeare for Community Players, by Roy Mitchell, J.M. Dent & Sons ltd., 1919 (pp 63-64)

Shakespeare for Community Players: Tableware

This is the second excerpt from a chapter concerning prop-making in “Shakespeare for Community Players”, by Roy Mitchell. Be sure to check out the first part, concerning furniture.


Figure 14: Candleabra
Figure 14: Candleabra

Tableware, such as trenchers, bowls, flagons, goblets, jars, mugs and vases, may be made out of heavy crockery stoneware, and glass utensils painted or gilded. A jaunt through a crockery store will reveal a host of fine decorative pieces at a very low price which can be treated by the maker of accessories to give fine results. If it is desired to use liquid in a glass vessel, any gilding, silvering or painting should be put on the outside. If the glass is not intended for use with liquid, paint on the inside is best, because the glass gives a burnished surface. For gilding, do not buy the prepared leaf. It is too expensive. Buy the metallic powder, mix it with banana oil and apply with a soft brush. These metal powders may be had in several tones of gold, silver, copper, rose and green. With so ample a palette of colours the propertymaker need not stop at solid tones, but may secure bold inlaid and modelled effects in his metal table-ware.

Under the heading of table utensils should come foods. The best material for soup is sawdust or birdseed, which should be served with a ladle. Chops, steaks and roast meat may be made of brown bread cut to the desired shape. A fowl may be sculptured from a stale loaf of brown bread with a sharp knife, and made to steam by pouring boiling water over it. An appetizing looking dish is made by heaping a trencher high with white bread and brown crusts, and drenching it with boiling water just before it is carried on. Cold tea in various degrees of dilution will serve for most liquors, but if red wine is required, water may be safely coloured with the red colouring matter used by confectioners. Soda waters are not advisable for wines. They cause “frog in the throat.”

Cheap wooden kitchen-ware, bread-boxes, salt-boxes, knife and fork trays, hinged together and so on, may be painted or gilded, or both, to make caskets, table-boxes, despatch-boxes, and jewel-cases.

Reprinted from Shakespeare for Community Players, by Roy Mitchell, J.M. Dent & Sons ltd., 1919 (pp 62-63)