Entrances And Stage Positions
( Originally Published 1916 )
Not many years ago, before flats were joined to make the continuous walls of interior settings, a side wall was represented by three or four upright pieces of scenery, ranged in a row from front to back, each piece parallel to the others and run on from the wings. A character entered literally through the wall, for he came between any two of these pieces. There were no real doors, such as are in use today. In fact, the novel use of continuous side walls and actual doors is said to have had much to do with the great success of the first production of " London Assurance."
The four—sometimes six—early wing pieces, for interior use, were slid upon the scene in grooves in the floor of the stage and in slots above. These grooves and slots were permanent features of practically every stage of the time, and are to be found even yet in some of the older theaters. The heritage of this device is that it is still found convenient at times, to say that an act is played in one, two, three, or four, meaning that the set occupies the stage as far back as the point once marked by the first, second, third, or fourth set of grooves. So, by the regular interspaces between these wing pieces, side entrances be-came permanently fixed.
They soon become numbered. In following, it must be remembered that the actor's right and left are always op-posed to those of the spectator. There was the tormenter entrance upon one side, which became R. I E., or Right First Entrance, and the opposite one that became L. I E., or Left First Entrance.
Next came R. 2 E., R. 3 E., and finally R. U. E., or Right Upper Entrance, the corresponding entrances on the left being numbered accordingly. One, all, or none of these entrances may be used, or even really existing as entrances; but the positions are always there for possible employment. It is certainly more convenient to describe a door as R. 2 E. than to say that it is about eight feet from the right side of the proscenium. William Archer, the distinguished English critic, advises abolition of these terms, and probably he is right; but it seems difficult to place entrances accurately in fewer words. These theoretical entrances remain the same in interiors and exteriors.
The three back entrances are C. E., or Center Entrance; R. C. E., or Right Center Entrance, and L. C. E., or Left Center Entrance, all being terms that are self-explanatory.
In most theaters, the tormenter entrances are seldom used, because a character, stepping across the curtain-line, or where the act drop rises and falls, comes out of the picture. Hence, in these houses, such entrances are made narrower. Also, most playhouses aiming to confine their work to the so-called " legitimate " stage, ignore the tormenter en-trances altogether, and begin numbering with the first en-trances back. In vaudeville, variety, or burlesque houses, where drops and scenes " in one " are frequent, the tormenter entrances, which are necessarily in constant use, are made very wide.
When a play goes into rehearsal, the stage director tells each actor just where to stand at certain moments during his occupancy of the scene, where to enter, and where to exit. That these instructions may readily be given and as readily remembered, the stage is divided and subdivided by imaginary markings.
The first division is into two parts, upstage, toward the back wall—a relic of the time when the stage was inclined down to the footlights—and downstage, toward the curtain-line. Practically all the older stages had an incline toward the footlights of about half an inch to the foot. Sir Herbert Tree was one of the first to use a level stage. That was at His Majesty's Theater, in London. I remember how bitterly the members of the Serge de Diaghileff Ballet Russe complained about the level stage of the Century Theater, New York, when all their training had been on inclined stages.
Then the stage is separated into three parts, from right to left, and called Right, Center, and Left. Each of these sections is subdivided into three, from front to back. The middle of the Center section becomes Center, or C., which is just what its name conveys.
The parts above and below C. are Up Center, or Up C., and Down Center, or Down C. The middle of the Left section is Left Center, or L. C.; the parts Up and Down-stage, Up Left Center, or Up L. C., and Down Left Center, or Down L. C. The Right section conforms : Right Center, or Right C.; Up Right Center, or Up R. C., and Down Right Center, or Down R. C.
For example, a table stands Down L. C. Jack sits R. of table; Will sits L., and Tom and Jerry sit Up and Down (or Above and Below), respectively. All words, save Up and Down, which are written in full, are abbreviated to their initial letters in the manuscript.
Playwrights use these terms very sparingly, avoiding them altogether whenever possible to express themselves without, unless, perhaps, they stage their own pieces, when they are apt to employ all manner of phonographic symbols. They are intended for use by the stage director, stage manager, and the actors, and seldom any more by them.