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About The Sunday Oregonian. (Portland, Ore.) 1881-current | View Entire Issue (April 8, 1900)
o PAGES 23 TO 32 '
PORTLAND, OREGON. SUNDAY MORNING, ARRIL 8, 1900.
T7 TTi n n- A T7TS. TP "TNsJL
7 EARLY everybody knows
that a theater to a place
In which to see and hear
plays, but everybody does
not know that seeing a
play from behind the
scenes, while It' takes
away a great deal of the
romance and glamour of
the footlights, brings out
much that Is of curious
Interest. Mechanical ap
pliances that lend realism
to the play, as seen by the audience, is
realism Itself on the other slcje of the big
drop curtain. Aside from those who earn
tbelr dally bread In this way, few people
know much of this stage mechanism. This
Is probably due to the fact that little of
tho machinery, so to speak. Is visible. If
the appliances were exposed to view, the
effect would bo entirely different, because
best Impressions ore created 'by things
that are heard and not seen.
in a thrilling melodrama, while a ter-
rifle storm Is raging, there come strong
dashes of rain and vivid flashes of light,
nlng. High winds sweep by, and thunder
reverberates In the distance. Any one In
the audience, with the least stretch of
Imagination, conjures up" an awful tem
pest. But if this same Interested auditor
could see how these sounds are produced
the illusion would vanish, the spell bt
broken and the blood-curdling melodrama
would fall as flat as the rector's morning
Merexly Rustle of SIlIc
The effect would be wonderfully
changed, should the audience plainly see
that all the noise of rain and wind Is de
rived from a cylinder of silk, turned with
a crank, which draws the cloth rapidly
over the wooden flanges and emits the
deceiving sound. When this machine la
properly constructed, the Imitation Is al
When the heavy villain is kicked from
the seventh story of a building and six
distinct crashes follow each other In rapid
succession, as he falls through the sky
lights to the court below, the audience
Is thrilled and the gallery gods applaud.
This feeling Is caused not so much by
seeing the actor kicked through the win
dow, as by Imagining his fall through six
skylights; but the -play could hardly be
called effective, it the audience could real
ize that the noise of this Imaginary tra
gedy is made by dropping a basketful of
broken bottles on the floor, as many times
as it is desired to prolong the supposed
For these reasons it Is best that as
much secenry should hover around the
mechanism of the stage as possible. The
same play is being produced, but the ef
fect Is entirely different, according to the
point of view.
Ye FootllKht Autocrat.
The autocrat of the theater is the stage
manager There are others who merely
think they have some Importance. The
star, the leading lady, or the prima donna
may arrogate honors to themselves. The
manager may believe it xa his show. The
man who owns the theater may fondly
delude himself Into the belief that he cuts
some ice, but the individual who stands
behind the scenes and directs the work
ings of the hidden forces Is the great "I
am." He is really, as well as literally,
the power behind the throne, and he is
greater than the throne itself. A single
blunder in stage management will read
lly spoil the effect of the best production
Tears ago the narrator witnessed the
production of a melodrama, in a small
town in the South. Everything was going
lovely. The rosy-cheeked heroine had
spurned the advances of the villain for the
twentieth time. These two were walking
on the towpath of a canal. The villain
seized the girl, choked her into insensibil
ity; threw her into the seething waters
and escaped. The effect was splendid. The
audience was spellbound, and hisses In the
gallery were audible. In the nick of time'
the hero appeared on the scene. Quickly
he divested himself of coat and shoes and
leaped headlong into the turbid waters -of
the canal, to rescue the drowning girl, at
the peril of his life. Unfortunately his
foot caught on the crest of the towpath
and brought it down to the level of the
stage. There, lying flat on rugs, safe and
dry, were the drowning maiden and her .
brave rescuer. After that, it was impos
sible to revive Interest in the play. It
fell as flat as did the towpath.
Where Lurid Lightning Flash.
One of the prettiest of stage Illusions is
theatrical lightning. It Is not an illusion,
because it Is lightning. Electricity Is the
same, the world over. Formerly stage
lightning was made by burning magne
sium. Just as amateur photographers do
In making flash-light pictures. But now,
in all theaters with an ordinary electrical
outfit, the lightning is made by touching
en ordinary file, at the end of one wire.
Jy .- Ss, m MwlmwmBmmMiimLM Jwc M , mzzfr
"5f f R 111 ' J
1 V 1 11 '-;-'I MI RS
' VMl ; Ik wA
Ife Wmm, Y NKKfffBS
' ". Wtmvm 111 u IfSBsSs
to a piece of carbon, at the end of another
wire. Of course, the carbon burns bright
ly during the contact which may merely
be a touch, or It may be prolonged, with
the requisite Irregularity, by rubbing the
Ignited carbon along the roughened edges
of the file.
A necessary accompaniment to stage
lightning is stage thunder. The time
honored thunder-maker Is a sheet of iron,
suspended by a rope, shaken hard or
gently, according to the exigencies of the
case. But this contrivance has been,. in a
large measure, supplanted by a long, nar
row trough, with a cannon Ball rolling in
it, similar to the trough that carries the
balls home in an old-fashioned bowling
'alley. Wooden cleats Impede the progress
of the ball, which may be rolled very fast
for a loud peal of thunder, or very slow
for a long, low rumble. This trough Is
placed high over the stage, and. in some
theaters, extends above the auditorium.
This heightens .the effect.
To Produce Rain.
With lightning and thunder, it is often
desired to produce rain. The appearance
of falling rain is sometimes caused by sus
pending many fine, polished wires and vi
brating them in a glaring light. This Il
lusion Is a fine one, if continued but for a
few seconds. The sound of rain is usually
made by shaking shot on a drum. Bits of
paper, gently dropped from above, are
used to Imitate falling snow. These pro
ductions of rain, thunder, wind and light
ning are tha most realistic of the Illu
sions of the stage.
A splendid example .of this was shown
In Portland In the recent magnificent
scenic production of "Anthony and Cleo
patra." by the Walsh-McDowell Company
at .the Marquam Grand Theater. With
the1 exception of a .few flashes of
lightning, nothing was seen; but enough
was heard to make tha storm scene won
'cWi vsl miminmC nMMfc.
' J rs t r- jTL r
derfully realistic No big Eastern, theater
could surpass this effort. In splendid
The illusion of sound Is very frequently
brought into use In the production of a
play. It Is dften essential that 'the arrival
of persons on horseback, or In carriages,
shall, be heard before the persons are
seen.. Humbling of wheels, either of a
light buggy, or of a heavy ordnance
wagon. Is Imitated with a small vehicle,
which looks like a railway freight car. In
miniature. This Is run along a wooden
track and Is left empty or loaded with
weights, to suit the requirements of the
Individual case. Sometimes, the requisite
noise Is made by using oblong. wheels, or
cutting sections out of the round ones.
The clatter of horses' feet Is made by a
man striking soft or hard substances with
Artillery and Rifle Fire.
The real thing Is brought Into use when
single shots from a gun or pistol are re
quired. In 'military plays, like "Shenan
doah," where cannon shots and volleys
of musketry are used, the powder smoke
obscured the view of the stage and the
Invention of smokeless powder was conse-.
quently hailed with delight. In produc
tions where loudness Is not especially de
sired, a hard blow on a. big bass drum
represents the discharge of a cannon, and
a volley of musketry is made by rapid
strokes with rattans on a dried calf
skin. The operation of these devices ,1s ordi
narily left to the stage hands, but some
well-known actors have been known to
perform these duties, if they are connect
ed with their own roles, that they may
guard against blunders. Sometimes a very
small mistake In stage setting or In the
operation of stage mechanism would make
the best work of a Booth or a Barrett
appear Inane, and even ludicrous.
A glaring Instance' of this was noticed in
-i - v ;
Portland, when Frederick Warde last vis
ited this f It) In his excellent presenta
tion of "The Merchant of Venice," In the
trial scene, the Judge's desk was loaded
down with modern law books, bound in
sheep. Codes of Oregon and copies of
Blackstone and Kent were on every side.
By a slight mistake, the entire tragedy
was made supremely ludicrous.
Fntttna; on Comic Opera.
One of the biggest Jobs In a theater Is
putting on a comic opera. Twenty min
utes before the time to ring up the cur
tain, many queer things are In evidence.
None ofthe singers are In view. The
regiment of principals, chorus and ballet
Is yet In Its dressing-rooms, bard at
work "maklng-up," pulling on sHk tights
and getting Into their silks and spangles.
The. stage Is turned over to the "hands,"
but do not Imagine for an Instant that
the boards are empty. Scene shifters are
down below: men to work the ropes are
up In the files; electricians, limelight men,
carpenters and other stage men of one
kind and another are here, there and ev
erywhere. It takes lots of hard work bj
these men, who are never seen by .the
audience, to get the thing going before
the first one of the dozens employed, as
principals, coryphees, ballet and chorus
sets foot on the boards. They run about
carrying furniture or properties and de
positing them wherever they like, .and
shove wings and bits of scenery here and
there In, an .apparently haphazard fashion.
While this is going cm, men begin letting
dowm huge drops, from away up aloft
and pulling up others. Fragments of pal
aces on tha Rhine, whole sections of farm
ing country, lots of city real estate, thou
sands of square miles of sky, a whole
peach orchard, a river and a mill, are see
sawed up and down from the stage to
the files and back again. When the men
aloft and their partners on the stage
get through with all this seemingly aim
less, but. In reality, orderly proceeding,
the last piece of scenery has been shifted
and everything has disappeared, except,
for example, the Interior of a Venetian
palace. In five minutes, order has come
out of, chaos; what looked to be worse,
than three Spring -movlngs has been ac
complished, and the stage Is ready to
Giddy Girls Come In.
By this time the ballet, the chorus and
some of the lesser characters of the east
have begun to put In an appearance, pop
ping up from their dressing-rooms below
the stage. The main portion of the fem
inine chorus Is packed very much like
sardines In a box. While all this para
doxically quiet row-de-dow Is proceeding,
the self-possessed stage manager, unruf
fled by the seeming confusion. Is strolling
around, looking at the men at work, tak
ing In everything at a glance. He orders
this bit of scenery shifted up six Inches:
then he has that one set back a trifled
this) bunch of electric lights is moved to
the right a bit, and so on. Every one of
the stage hands Instantly does what ho
tells him. .
A. few minutes more, and they begin to
get .ready for action. The orchestra is
tuning up on the other side of the curtain,
and the stage manager gives the order
to "call. everybody." Up they come from
tho dressing-rooms. In pairs, groups and
dozens, and In all sorts of costumes bal
let, chorus- and everybody, except the
principals, .who. In a dignified way, keep to
the 'dressing-rooms until their "cues" are
near. All the girls wander In, whether'
they are In the first scene or not, and
perch themselves on anything that comes
handy for a resting place. Some of them
sit down so readily that their shoes must
hurt their feet, and they stretch their
legs out In front of them, so as not to bag
their tights at the knee. It Is a crush and
Jam of ballet girls, chorus people and act
ors; a kaleidoscopic array of color In
satins and silks; a maze and tangle of
elaborate costumes and bright ballet
skirts, a superb confusion. Then the au
tocrat gives the order to "clear the stage."
The "Invisible Chorus."
"Of all the operas that Verdi wrote,
the best to my mind Is 11 Trovatore. "
sang Owen Meredllh. Well. In that pret
ty opera, the prettiest scene Is where tn
Invisible chorus sing "Miserere." This
was rendered with fine effect last week
at Cordrays by the Boston Lyrics. Noth
ing could be seen from the front; but
were the members of the chorus singing
those beautiful words, with classed .hands
and agonizing glances, as1 the unsophis
ticated may have fondly supposed? Not
much, my Mary Ann I
The "Miserere" comes after all but, the
principals ore off the stage, and the ten
der song la not given In costume. The
chorus and the ballet are grouped awk
wardly la the wings, in their street
clothes and wraps, and are Impatiently
waiting for the oysters and hot coffee
that will come. a little later, down the
street. Lots of Illusion Is knocked out
of one, when he sees, from behind tha
scenes, the "Invisible chorus" at work.
Thd fellow who' constructed the line,
.!DIstance lends enchantment to the view,"
probably spent an evening' behind the
scenes. Looking at the chorus and ballet,
at close range. Is an llluslon-klller. A
good "make-up" will make an ugly girl
look pretty at a distance, but, near by,
the effect is something terrible. It would
not be fair to say all chorus girls are
ugly, for some of them aro pretty enougS
to look welL In spite of the make-up,
but It Is only charitable to maintain a
discreet silence on the subject.
Nearly everybody Knows something of
"make-ups," and little will be said of
them In this article. Grease paints which
have held their own for years are Mill
in vogue, and, paradoxical as the state
ment may seem, the poorest "make-up"
an actor can have Is no "make-up" at all.
That Is the way a corpse Is "made up."
The greatest show behind the scenes is
the property-room. This Is a veritable
'Pandora's box. It Is a horn of plenty.
Everything Imaginable can be found here.
A well-regulated property-room is a Junk
shop, where everything has been bought
and nothing sold, from medieval times
down to the present day. Guns, pictures,
skulls, a throne, old clothes, bottles, fur
niture, paintings and bric-a-brac galore,
are plied up in endless confusion.
The larger theaters have nearly every
thing required in the production of a
play In the "make-up" room, but in tha
provincial towns, where plays are Infre
quent "and ' good plays never come, very
little stock is kfept on hand. When the
aggregation of barnstormers does come,
the property man, who is also ticket-seller
and stage carpenter, has to rustle all
over town to procure enough "properties"
to give a third-rate performance of "Uncla
Uffbtlnar the Stage.
The lighting of a stage is a matter of
the greatest Importance. It is an art and
a profession In Itself. Of late years, elec
tricity has generally taken the place of
gas. A complete modern outfit Includes
three rows of footlights across the front,
shaded from the audience. When a strong
light Is desired on the scenes, reflectors
are brought into use. One of tlie rows ot
footlights Is In clear bulbs; one Is In red,
and ono Is blue. They can be used sep
arately or In combination.
Over the stage are from three to five
adjustable rows of border lamps, ar
ranged to be raised or lowered to fit tha
scenery, but always screened from tha
front. Behind the side edges of the stags
opening are other lines of them. The en
tire number In a well-appointed houso
Is from two to three hundred. All these
lights are connected with a keyboard at
the prompter's desk. A bunch light Is a
cluster 'of from seven to 30 electric bulbs
on a standard,' with a polished reflector
behind them like the beacon of a locomo
tive, and a holder for sheets ot colored
gelatine, in front. Of course, the light!
can be set wherever needed.
If it is desired to throw a still stronger
glare, a calcium light, consisting of. a
piece of calcium, burning In combined Jets
of hydrogen and oxygen. Is used. Two gas.
cylinders and a man to operate them rea
der this apparatus somewhat expensive.
Nearly as good results can be obtained
from an electric arc light, placed In a box,
open in the front and mounted on a tri
pod. Designs Adhered To.
The original designs of the scenlo art
ist are adhered to more or less faithfully,
In the practical workings of all the lights.
The effect of moonlight is gained with
a light blue shade. Various kinds of sun
light require amber or yellow mediums.
Firelight calls for a tinge of red. In the
case of a conflagration, the red glows ara
Increased by throwing the lights on clouds
of steam, emitted from pipes. There are
flashes of the same kind of red. Are tha
boys set off on Fourth of July nights.
Actual flames are blown from a torch'
with a hand bellows, but are little used.
Then, on the other hand, are scenes- eo
dark that the moving figures la them ars
Tho Importance of mechanical appliances?
to the profession, or rather the business,
of theaters is growing. Tears ago. In
Shakespeare's day, and even in a much,
later period, scarcely any scenic effects)
were attempted. Acting was merely a
reading of lines. At best, it was a kind of
elocutionary concert. For this reason.
Skakespearlan dramas and all plays of
the Elizabethan era have to be divested oC
much of their tedious dialogue before they
aro acceptable to the modem manager
Should "Hamlet" or "Richard the ThlnH
be produced In their entirety In this age
nothing but empty chairs would witness)
the closing scenes. Many successful playsjj
have been launched In recent years, playa
that have made fortunes alike for man
ager, actor and playwright, that have,
little or no literary merit. Their success
depended almost wholly on the art of tha
scenic artist and the stage manager. As
the seasons go by, the "business" of tha
stage Is more and more recognized as im
portant. It may be harrowing to the soul
of the dramatist to have whole para
graphs and even pages of his most poetla
and beautiful lines ruthlessly cut out, ant
its ttmo and place on the programme given
over to mere mechanical effects, but suci
occurrences come often and may be cata
logued In the "seamy side of the profes-
slon." Not all theater-goers care fop
blank verse ant' epigrams; but few peopls
exist whose souls are not In some degrees
stirred with red fire and glittering tinsel.
Moralists and preachers may lay this
down to the general decadence of tha
stage, but the fact remains that when
only a simple story Is desired, people read
It. They attend theaters to sea things.
On the Other Side.
It may not be commonly known, but it is;
given out as true, that in many of the most
elaborate and perfectly constructed the
aters built In modern times more money la
spent In the cost of construction of that
part of the playhouse behind the drop)
curtain than the other and more frequent
ly seen port cost. The acoustics and the
seating qualities of the auditorium must
be nearly perfect, tho decorations and tho
furnishings must be the most artistic that
money can procure; but It is on the staga
itself and on the wings, flies and dropa
that the most careful work of archltecta
and draughtsmen are employed. Studies
men are sent to all parts of the world to.
study stage effects, and the mechanical
appliances for producing them, that tha
illusions that are produced on tha other)
side of the footlights may be as nearly
natural as human Ingenuity can concelvu,
In an Old Volume.
Roao-leaven who preased Tout
Was It some pale lover.
Who smoothed you ana carased yat
Tou who could not more hert
Bid he steal and bold you
(Burning Uks a lover),
Sid he keep and fold you
Over and overT
Roee-leavee; who hid you
'Neath a leathern coverT
Some coquette who chid 70a
To deem her heart no rovert
Did she smlleT Or, elrhlng.
Over and over,
Sid eha kiss yots. drlnc.
Lut gift of her lortrT
Roee-Ieavea, I care not
If coquette or lover.
Almost I dare not
Let my warm Up hover
Bound rou. so sad seeming.
There! I drop tho cover
'And leave you to your dreammg.
Over and over!
Post Wheeler lb New Tortt