Stage Wonders Work of Hidden Toilers (Mar, 1924)

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Stage Wonders Work of Hidden Toilers

Tinseled Fairylands Rise from Piles of Painted Drapes While Silent Wheels and Brilliant Lights Add Realism to Scene

TUCKED far behind the footlights of the stage, twenty-five tons of huge counterweights aid in controlling the movements of acres of spangled drops and curtains in the wonderlands of a production that is resorting to concealed machinery to increase the effects of theatrical arts. Instead of the usual painted canvas walls that rise and fall from high over the stage, tinseled and bronzed draperies, lacelike net works of metallic cloth, and shimmering fringed curtains are drawn from beneath the floor balanced by weighted chains and ropes. Figures impersonating gaudy birds of the wilds are sent up through the platform on silent elevators, to hurst suddenly from the midst of brilliant plumage into rays of light that rival the rainbow hues.

Windlasses and cranks help to carry onto the stage huge striped columns and mounds, which are set in motion at a given signal to the attendants, who operate complicated machines to give revolving motions to the ribboned shafts. When the scene is ended, the mass of cumbersome properties disappear in a twinkling through the stage floor on elevators that convey them to their storage spaces.

The carpenters’ craft is called upon to build up frameworks that support immense burdens, but which are themselves unseen by the audience. Stairways that defy detection afford a means for the actors to ascend to dizzy heights among realistic trees bearing feathery fronds that rival the plumage of the forests. From the depths of their foliage, the songs of birds proceed, in imitation of the noisy denizens of woodlands. To produce such sounds, reedlike whistles are blown by hidden players who stand so that the walls of the structure will direct the notes upward and outward.

Wherever the aid of machinery can accomplish a difficult spectacle, it is ingeniously harnessed to the properties. And with it, myriads of colored lights are fixed to flash and rotate from the mysterious depths of the property room below the fringe of footlights. Sturdy electric motors wind up the reels that carry hundreds of ropes belonging to delicately woven tapestries that seem to hang in midair. Every loop and pulley is familiar to the stage mechanics who are intrusted with the proper releasing of thousands of pounds of materials that rest in frames tied far up in the lofty recesses of the “flies.” Cues are closely watched, and no movement is made until the signal comes from the directing source. The loosening of a guy line or the throwing of a switch at the wrong moment might result in disaster that would take weeks to repair.

The electric control panel is carefully guarded from careless hands. One or two men are trained in its operation, and during the entire performance they never leave it. Flood lights that illumine the sets are all governed from this central point. After they have been placed by the property men, they are connected to wires leading to the switch panel, so that at all times distribution of light is in the hands of the electricians.

During a principal scene in the Music Box Revue, which employs these arrangements, one of the cast climbs a steep stairway dragging with her an immense train that seems to be attached to her gown. It is so wide and heavy that it is necessary to unwind it from a reel fixed close under the stage, and to attach it to invisible wires passing over pulleys on a steel frame placed at the top of the steps. A windlass manned by a mechanic on the stage level reels the metal rope on a drum, until the marvelous robe stretches the full height and width of the setting.

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