Part 343: “The Artist in the Flies,” Second Half
This is the second part of an article, “Artist in the Flies,” started yesterday from the New York Tribune (4 Aug 1895, page 14).
“[The scenic artist] is often interrupted in his work, when rehearsals are going on, for while the frame is being lowered it makes a horrible noise, which naturally interferes with the work of the actors.
“Oh, say, up there, won’t you give us a chance to hear ourselves think?” or “Say, just wait a few minutes until se get through the scene and then you can make all the noise you want,” are common cries. Sometimes the assistant, whose work is to run the windlass, pays no attention to the calls from below, and goes right ahead, making all the noise possible, until the stage manager in despair mounts the paint bridge and in a forcible language commands the young man to desist; this he does after growling and grumbling about the delay.
After the scenery has been painted it goes back into the hands of the stage carpenter and his men. In a wood scene or a rural scene there is a great deal of cutting to be done. The leaves and branches are cut away from the canvas which has not been painted.
After the properties have been made – they are usually of papier-mâché – they are sent up to the paint bridge to be touched up with a coat of paint. The stage cloths or carpets are also painted by the artist. The getting up of the scenery is the most expensive part of a production. It is no wonder that a manager is leery of putting on a new piece. The great cost incurred before the curtain goes up makes him hesitate about engaging in a venture which the audience may find dull.
The most expensive scene drop is one which requires a number of faces painted on it, to represent an audience, for instance. Here the services of a portrait painter are generally called in, and each face is actually a likeness. Of course the faces in the background are not as perfect as the front ones. After one season of wear and tear in traveling, the scenery is not a thing of beauty. It is hardly worth storage room. When a piece is to be played a second season, the scenery goes back into the hands of the scenic artist and stage carpenter to be patched up and retouched. A great deal of this old scenery is bought by small out-of-town managers, to whom scenery is only a second consideration. In one-night towns it is often a puzzle to find out “where the actors are at.” The backdrop represents a French chateau and the house in the foreground is an English Inn. The properties used “have nothing to do with the case,” but they help to fill the stage.
It is a small wonder that scenery is in such a tattered condition when it returns after the season is over. The carting of scenery is an important to the stage carpenter, who travels with the company, as the box office receipts are to the treasurer.
In New-York may be found wagons especially built for the transportation of scenery, but few other cities have these wagons.
When “Rob Roy” was on its travels last spring, the scenery was being carried from the theatre to the railroad station. The wagons were not long enough to carry scenery properly, and the tower of Sterling Castle hung way out of the back of the wagon and touched the ground. This almost drove the stage carpenter to despair, until a happy idea struck him. He borrowed a wheelbarrow, and then hired a sturdy boy to follow the wagon, with the top of the tower resting in the barrow. This scheme worked beautifully for a few blocks, until the boy got tired. He demanded his pay, and said the work was too hard. He could not be induced to resume his journey. Again the stage carpenter put on his thinking cap. “Come, boys, let’s have a drink,” he said to his employees. All retired to the nearest barroom, and when they returned each and every many was perfectly willing to carry the tower on his shoulders down to the train.
All of the big railroads have cars especially adapted for the transportation of scenery. Francis Wilson rents a whole house for the storage of his scenery. He has complete sets with properties, costumes, etc., of all his operas from “The Oolah,” his first production, to the “Devils’ Deputy.” In case of accident by fire or railroad disaster, he will not be obliged to close his season, but can resume it after a few weeks of rehearsals, of one of his former operas. The final resting-place of all the beautiful grottos, ballrooms, etc., is the furnace in the boiler-room down in the cellar of the theatre.”
To be continued…