Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring the Fort Scott Scenery Collection for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. Part 158 – Jack of All Trades Continued

Part 158: Jack of All Trades Continued

From Frank Leslie’s Popular Magazine, 1893, Vol. 36.

The Chicago Sunday Tribune had a Sunday Supplement titled “Worker’s Magazine: For the Man who Works with Hand or Brain.” On April 9, 1905, L. G. Pick wrote the article, “Stage Carpenter is a Star, Jack of All Trades.” Here is the second, and final, installment for what I posted yesterday:

“The stage carpenter’s work on a production begins a week or two weeks before a play is to be produced. Then he receives what is termed a “property plot” of the coming play. A property plot for certain shows reads more like a catalogue of a house furnishing goods firm than anything connected with the theatrical business. Everything which is needed for a play except the scenery, which is generally carried by the company listed on the “plot.” Each act generally requires altogether different “props.”

From Frank Leslie’s Popular Magazine, 1893, Vol. 36, page 618.

Here are a few things that were on the “property plot” of a recent play. Four carpet rugs, dark red; one card table, round top, thirty inches, dark oak; two bronze statues; one glass for whiskey sour; fifteen packages, assorted sizes to represent packages of groceries; one late; one tin water pail; four bound books; four clubs for crowd, one “wood crash.” This is about one-tenth of the items required on this plot and this was a small play.

When the stage carpenter gets this plot it is “up to him.” He has to get the things called for and he had to get them without paying anything for them. This is the only one of the puzzles to be solved in connections with staging a play. He must use his judgment and decide what size many of the various articles are to be and other things that go to make them applicable to a particular scene. Having decided this, he must go out and get them – without paying for them. This he does by borrowing from large downtown stores, paying them with passes to the show or occasionally with an advertisement on the program.

Often “props” has troubles that turn his hair gray before his “plot” is filled. For instance, in a play now playing in the city there was called for one étagère, filled with ornamental pieces.”

The stage carpenter who got this plot looked at this line, scratched his head, and took it to the head of the house. “See a furniture man,” said he. A furniture man was sought out and shook his head. “Not hear; never heard of it,” was his reply. Then the advance agent of the show came to town. “What’s an étagère?” was the first question fired at him by the carpenter. “Search me,” he smiled. Then the stage carpenter went to a friend of his who conducts a small antique furniture store and there, he found than an étagère was an old-fashioned “what-not,” and he breathed easier.

Some of the jobs that the stage carpenter is in charge of from Frank Leslie’s Popular Magazine, 1893, Vol. 36, page 621.

Something much akin to this comes up with each production that is made. Still the stage carpenter manages to smile through it all. When the “props” are all assembled and the old play leaves town and a new one comes to the theater is when the stage carpenter really begins work. The old scenery must be torn down and made ready for shipment, the old props taken off, and the new scenery and props put on.

The work of tearing out an old play and putting on a new one begins generally directly after the Saturday night performance and continues until the new play is put on and ready for the first performance. If one or both of the plays are being produced on a large scale, the time required to make the change is from thirty to thirty-six hours. During this time the stage carpenter must always be on duty, overseeing everything that is under his charge, and under these conditions nearly everything on the stage is under him.

On ordinary days the carpenter generally comes to work at 10 in the morning and works until the evening performance is over. His pay runs from $25 a week for the ordinary carpenter to $35 for the “star.” Thirty dollars is a high average. His work is hard, besides the length of the hours and there is little chance for promotion. A few stage carpenters have risen to positions as stage managers, but they are merely the exception to the rule. There is a season in the summer time when most of the men who fix stage settings for plays are thrown out of work through the closing of their theaters. Then some of them go into other branches of carpenter work and others, having saved some money, live on what they earn during the winter. But when the season opens again they are sure to be found back where the scenes are made unless some uncontrollable circumstance prevents.”

The 1903 pay range of $25 to $35 a week is the current equivalent of $660 to $924.62.

To be continued…

From Pittsburgh Daily Post, April 23, 1911, page 12


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