Tag Archives: backstage

No Fooling with These Stories

Cinefex has a very awesome and very thorough look at the use of puppets in cinema.  They cover the history from 1906’s The Witch all the way up to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The article also features interviews with a whole bunch of practical effects artists using puppets in film.

“Once you have the basic set of tools and know how to use them, your work will dictate the specialty tools you might need.” Chris Schwartz reminds us that the most common tools are the most useful. Rare tools are rare either because they are commercial failures or they have highly specialized uses. When buying your tools, be sure you have the ability to do the tasks you do on a daily or weekly basis before you buy the tools that you will only use once a year.

The New York Times takes us backstage at the Metropolitan Opera in this fantastic photo essay showing the lead up to the first performance of Roberto Devereux.

The Daily Record takes a glimpse into the props stock at Central Washington University. They talk with David Barnett, who runs the stock and props the shows, as well as Marc Haniuk, who teaches a props class every year.

Yahoo TV talks with John Sanders, prop master on The Walking Dead, to learn more about Daryl Dixon’s motorcycle on the show. They claim it’s “everything you need to know”; I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s certainly all you could possibly care to know.

Friday Link-o-Rama

My shows have all opened for the season, but plenty of other people are still doing cool props stuff around the Internet. Let’s check them out:

Tested has teamed up with Punished Props and Smooth-On to document the construction of a replica alien assault rifle from the film District 9. Part 1 is up now, showing how Bill drew out the design and cut all the layers from MDF and styrene.

The most incredible parts of Carnegie Hall are offstage. As a theatre person, I’m more interested in the backstage and behind-the-scenes parts anyway, but Carnegie Hall has some especially interesting and historical details going on under the hood. Atlas Obscura takes us on an illuminating tour deep into the depths of this famous performance hall.

Dug North continues his 16-part series of automata tips with this article on cams and cam followers. A cam can give some pretty intricate movement to a prop just from a single spinning shaft.

We’re going back to Tested with this great article on creating the practical creatures from Gremlins. Videos and photographs show how Chris Walas and Joe Dante made dozens of ground-breaking animatronic puppets on a shoestring budget to bring the story to life.

Finally, Popular Woodworking tests out some methods for removing rust from steel using only lemon juice and vinegar. It’s a nice little technique to keep your tools in tip top shape, or when you need to spruce up that antique you just bought for a show.

Behind the Scenes part 2, 1890

The following comes from an 1890 news article in the San Francisco Morning Call. The first part can be found here:

Though he borrows household effects and commonplace things that can be readily had, he manufactures much. In the banquet scene of “Macbeth,” which is often represented with fully 100 persons before the audience, the shining tankards, brilliant cups, luscious-looking aggregations of fruits, even the fowl, are made of this unique paper [papier-mâché].

Who has ever gazed upon the immense cannons, the lifelike horses, the warlike accouterments in the battle scene of “Henry V,” and was not impressed with their faithfulness to the real? Yet the admiring spectator would laugh himself tired if he saw the “property boy” pick up a horse with one hand, put a cannon under the opposite arm and walk off complacently after the curtain went down.

The hankering of the propertyman after imitation has originated many interesting effects by novel methods. Several times in the American drama, “Held by the Enemy,” there is occasion to feign the sound of horses’ hoofs moving rapidly on a hard road, as if the animal were carrying his rider at a deep gallop. This noise is counterfeited by a patent wooden clapper, slapped on a marble slab covered with a piece of rubber. The operator using both hands can moderate as he chooses the steps of the supposed horse, from apparently a long distance to just outside the scene, with startling vividness.

Published in The Morning Call, San Francisco, December 25, 1890, pg 19. Originally written by Felix Barnley in 1887.

Behind the Scenes, 1890

The following comes from an 1890 news article in the San Francisco Morning Call:

Behind the Scenes

The property-room is a theatrical sepulcher. Buried in dust and stage debris are mementos of histrionic grandeur. A warrior’s helmet is crowded by a three-legged stool; the figure of a proud god, whose presence shed luster on the perspective of a “bleached alley,” is degraded by the oppression of a big old candlestick that hangs across his breast; the soft-toned mandolin, (the fellow in the orchestra was making the music) whose notes as they wafted into life under the gentle touch of the fair player, wooed back her recreant lover, hangs on a wall, a veritable “fake.”

It never had any strings, nor had its companion, the crazy-looking violin. With dented sides and lonesome looks vessels of golden hue are piled in one corner beside a lot of rag carpet.

Here is a stack of muskets not one which was fired in a century, if appearances go for anything. There is an ink-well that never was blackened by writing-fluid, and a pen used to sign death-warrants and marriage-certificates that had its point blunted in inditing signatures that never showed on paper.

There are huge letters and pretentiously sealed packages with never a line in them.

All about, in shabby disillusion, is seen the mechanical mimicry of the objects in real life.

The propertyman is an artist in his way and in these days of stage realism as essential to the success of a play as the author himself. Gone are the times when a table and a few chairs were all he had to “set” in a scene. This age demands that he be a skilled mechanic, able to manipulate the stage substitute for wood and minerals, papier mache, so that his talent will produce anything from a strawberry to an armored knight or the skull used in the grave-digger’s scene in “Hamlet.”

As a result his worth to the stage has been elevated, and his salary climbs up into high-priced figures.

Published in The Morning Call, San Francisco, December 25, 1890, pg 19. Originally written by Felix Barnley in 1887.

Backstage Videos from 1926 and 1933

I recently began checking out the YouTube channel of the British Pathé, one of the largest historical video archives on the planet. Pathé news was filming nearly everything between 1910 and 1970 in the UK and around the world. They have a few recordings of theatre life in decades past. I really enjoyed this 1933 “Peep Behind the Scenes”:

Or how about this 1926 look backstage at the London Coliseum (there is no sound in this one)?

How’d you like to do scene changes while wearing a coat with tails?