Amazing articles on just about every subject...

Creating The Stage Picture

( Originally Published 1921 )

FOR setting realistic plays a good general rule is to set them realistically. This does not mean that one should go so far as the limits of inclusiveness exhibited by Mr. Belasco in The Return of Peter Grimm, ever since its run held up as the absolute reductio ad absurdum of fidelity to things as they are. But it does mean that the setting should be in the tone, in the style, in the atmosphere of the drama itself. When a director turns to drama of other kinds, he must invoke different methods. Romantic, historical, poetic, costume, fanciful dramas admit of treatments in the same veins. They allow originality, bizarre effects, pictorial settings, spectacular appeals.

Some directors have peculiar talents in one or another of the preceding kinds. One will be at his best with realistic matters, another will be successful only with the historical, a third will always be able to create unusual stage decorations. In your amateur organization, therefore, you should try to fit the group producing it to the play itself. One pair who will be applauded for oriental scenic and costume effects, may fail ignominously with the G. Bernard Shaw dentist's office in You Never Can Tell. There is as much real stage ability in a good realistic set as in any other kind, but most amateurs will always feel that there are more opportunities for original creation in the others.

If you are going to present even a few dramas outside the realistic field you will likely find many chances to use a back-drop answering the purposes of a cyclorama. For this, in all usual amateur productions, a back-drop as large in both dimensions as possible is all that need be provided. In having it painted, do not make the mistake of having it colored a flat bright blue. I know of one like this; it was evolved as a notable experiment. It looks always like nothing except a kalsomined kitchen wall. Have your back-drop painted quite light at the bottom, gradually growing bluer as the color rises. Take a discriminating squint at the heavens from the horizon up towards the zenith on any clear day, and you will get about the proper gradation of color. Dark blue lights will make this as deep as any night sky, while red and yellow will tint it beautifully for dawn or sunset. White, in varying degrees, will make it cold and chill.

Before such a drop you can suggest practically any-thing demanded by plays. A medieval town can be pictured if you set a wall across the stage near the rear, then mask at each side by showing the ends of houses. You can represent four streets converging in an open space. Or at one side you may set the corner of a house, at the other trees or formal hedges to suggest the garden, and across the back a wall or high trimmed hedge with high barred gates. A few low rock pieces, some scrubby trees, and a few gaunt, taller ones to mask the sides, will suggest a bleak wind-swept plateau or table-land against the clear blue sky. Put a low line of hills some feet before this same back-drop, or the blue of a distant river with the silhouette of a town on its further side, erect an angled oriental house-wall at one side of the stage with a few palms projecting above it, and at the other side erect a city gate, and you have an eastern exterior setting to serve for many different plays.

If you set a pair of wood wings at right and left of the stage, giving the suggestion of hedges and clipped copses, a pair of lower hedges towards the rear, behind them some Lombardy poplars lower than the side trees, and directly behind the break in the hedge at the center, some flower urns and the top of a flight of steps, you will have the ter-race of a formal garden quite suitable for all of Love's Labor's Lost and Olivia's garden in Twelfth Night.

A blue sky is usually exactly the proper backing to be seen through the windows of an interior set. So useful is such a back-drop that one might almost say it should be the first piece of scenery to be purchased for an amateur stage.

Though your available equipment of scenery is restricted, try to avoid monotony. Remember that amateurs have made greater strides in the material aids to production than in anything else. Try in your case to make your acting as good as the sets your artistic staff can evolve. Do not adopt any single device of stage decoration and use it so frequently that it becomes monotonous. Try for as many different kinds of effects as you can conceive. Monotony will always repel audiences. Lord Dunsany's most recent skit, A Good Bargain, may be set unconventionally, but the interior for his tragedy, A Night at an Inn, can be nothing except a room in an abandoned hostelry. Ingenuity would be not only wasted on it, but dangerous for the effect of the tragedy. Many plays of Shakespeare can be acted before curtains, but hardly Strindberg's The Stronger, which prescribes " A corner of a ladies' restaurant." That charming French pantomime, Pierrot the Prodigal, may fittingly be performed in settings which suggest a child's picture-book but it would be the height of ridiculous folly to put Shaw's Candida or You Never Can Tell in such surroundings. Alfred Kreymborg's Lima Beans may be as futuristic as you please. But the first act of Molière's Le Médecin Malgré Lui cannot be acted among trees fantastically created by folds of colored cloth drop-ping from the stage loft, because every one in the audience would recognize the silliness of trying to cut faggots from any part of that impossible forest. It is in such spreading of devices, excellent within limitations, to the wide field of all drama that enthusiastic art directors make their monumental blunders.

Let us consider a few detailed specifications for stage settings of the kinds of plays for which amateurs are likely to need help.

First considerations are that there must be something at the back of the stage, and something at each side to mask the spaces beyond. This necessity of providing scenery to cover the sides of the stage has frequently had a decided influence upon the setting which the dramatist chooses for his play. We are told that Synge first planned to have The Playboy of the Western World open in the plowed field where Christy strikes his father, but he could not see any possible side wings for that wide, windy corner of high, distant hills. Eugene O'Neill gave the scenery designer a difficult task in his descriptions of the open spaces in Beyond the Horizon, the last scene of which was not even put upon the stage.

Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors might be acted in a picturesque, conventionalized Elizabethan stage, such as Walter Hampden used in his Hamlet except that Shakespeare so definitely demands knocking on a gate in full view of the audience that some provision must be made for that comedy feature. If a different kind of set is attempted, let me suggest one which will answer.

Hang a blue back-drop across the rear of the stage. Several feet in front of it erect a wall some six or seven feet high, above which extend several tree profiles. Have a gate a little to one side of stage center. Having placed as much of this as space permits, erect in front of it all the interior for the first scene of the play. This may be merely a small boxed interior, decorated with shields, hangings, and furnishings to suggest a room in the Palace of the Duke of Ephesus. Easily removed, it does not delay the action of the first act. If you want some slight novelty, you might make only two walls visible, sloping one gradually almost fully across stage, then bringing the short one sharply down towards the corner. Or you might have columns at the back mark open spaces through which show stretches of the trees and sky, which are already set for the subsequent scenes. After the interior has been re-moved, place a couple of houses, right and left; arrange a few Greek stone benches about the open space, and you need make no further changes for any following scenes of the play. In the last act the nunnery from which the long-lost mother and wife is summoned can be imagined as off-stage. As the last act proceeds, an effective change in lighting will enhance the scene. One character remarks, " The dial points at five," so sunset colors may spread over the back sky, then advance to the fore-stage to tint the entire picture.

Such a method will produce attractive, beautiful settings at little cost. This plan might almost be called a stationary setting.

Quite different are the demands made by Calthrop and Barker's The Harlequinade, a play admirably suited to amateur actors and audiences.

This fantastic excursion requires five different sets. They are the Banks of the Styx, an Italian Garden, Lord Eglantine's Room, the Ninety-ninth Street Theater, exterior and interior. The last scene shows the Banks of the Styx again.

So many sets present difficulties for amateurs. For this play the matter is all the more complicated because the changes of scenery must be made within a certain time, as two characters before the curtain go on talking and announce the next scene. They even give the signal for the curtain. To have the play move smoothly, the stage must be completely set by that time. These requirements were met in the first production in America of The Harlequinade by hanging a blue back-drop at the extreme rear of the stage. Just in front of this was set as much of the terrace, ballustrades, trees, and shrubbery of the Italian gar-den as space would permit. For borders, black draped hangings were used, while long black curtains served as wings. These borders and side draperies remained unchanged throughout the whole performance, serving as black frames around the colored pictures set within and behind them.

Before the portions of the garden already set were stood two rock-like profiles to suggest the bleak Banks of the Styx. Under a cold blue light they seemed as unreal as Hades should be. In direct lines parallel to the foot-lights, shafts of colored lights were thrown straight across the stage, making various planes of light. Such distribution made possible the entrance of Mercury in a brilliant high light, while all the other characters on the stage stood in subdued amber.

When this scene was concluded only the two profiles and a couple of rocks had to be removed. A couple of tree wings were set and the Italian garden was complete. To dress the eighteenth century room of Lord Eglantine colored drapes were lowered from above, and a blue and white wall was set straight across the rear. Furniture, pictures, and costumes did the rest. The exterior of the Ninety-ninth Street Theater was a shallow scene before a garish curtain containing advertising signs, lowered near the front. Behind it was set the black, white, and green futuristic interior made by a single back-drop. The removal of this, and the replacing of the rock profiles of the first scene revealed again the blue back-drop and the Banks of the Styx.

The recommendation has been given that scenery should be constructed by professional scene builders. There may be a great deal of fun and some experience involved in concocting amateur sets carpentered, covered, and painted by tyros, and in some instances where that peculiar educational fetish " self-expression " is sought, such practices may be indulged in. If such sets indicate their origin and growth by awkward angles, crooked lines, sprawling de-signs, yawning gaps, and difficulty of manipulation, the audience will be tolerant and generous in allowances, but the fact remains that what they are being offered is not a good production but a makeshift. For amateurs the ease Of changing, the lightness, and the durability of well-made scenery overweigh all objections against it.

I know of one school which had built in 1912 an interior set of which each flat is fourteen feet high, seven feet wide. There are two jogs to make alcoves or projections, bringing the number of pieces to ten. Two of the large flats, hinged, make an arch, ' or wide doorway, which is usually draped with curtains. There are two ordinary doors. Carrying out the principle laid down some pages back of not having the interior walls suggest too decidedly any one period, an artist and a professional scene builder were consulted by the director of plays. Hundreds of colored sketches of interiors from the scenery company's plates were examined, stage settings were compared, and finally a rather severe, lined, paneled wall was decided on. The color scheme was determined with relation to possible future uses as well as the one then contemplated. As the auditorium walls and curtain were tan, the scenery colors were chosen in tan, gray, and gray green. The features of the walls are the plainest of moldings and panels. In its years of frequent and none too gentle handling it has served in a score of totally different plays from Acts I and V of A Midsummer Night's Dream to a modern apartment. Treatment of the walls, and the furniture make these settings convincing. It has been modified and amplified in the following ways.

For a modern original comedy, French doors were added to the wide doorway. When The Far-Away Princess by Sudermann was produced the effect of a porch had to be secured. The wide doorway was set with a large gauze panel. An extra flat exactly like the original was built, but in it was set a corresponding gauze panel. To make a smaller window through which the young student climbs, one of the doors of the original set had a panel built across the bottom. Above this was hung a swinging gauze panel to represent a glass window. Behind all these was set foliage, tree, and sky backing.

At another time, Zaragüeta, by the two popular Spanish playwrights, Carrion and Aza, was staged. The culmination of this two-act farce-comedy depends upon drenching the faultlessly tailored Zaragüeta with water from a garden force-pump. The hose is stuck through the transom of a door behind which a different person is believed to be hiding. The old interior, with pictures, furniture, hangings, added, and the brilliant Spanish costumes of the characters, served admirably. All that had to be constructed was another flat, this time with a door above which swung a practicable transom. One little incongruity was easily eradicated. This transomed door had to be very close to another one. The two doors of the original sets had no transoms. It would not do, of course, to put in the same wall one doorway without a transom and one door-way with that addition. There was no need to have constructed another flat for the second transom is not used in the play. The scene painter duplicated on a piece of canvas the transom which had been carpentered. This small rectangle of canvas was fastened above the second doorway. After the play it was removed and kept for future use. As a matter-of-fact, some five years later it was used in a second production of the same play.

For Fanny and the Servant Problem, also known as The Second Lady Bantock, by Jerome K. Jerome, it was easy to provide furniture, fire-screens, rugs, hangings, and paintings. The central feature of this English drawing room is a portrait of a family ancestor. To emphasize this an alcove was set in the rear wall by means of the jogs. As the best feature to center attention in one part of a room is a fireplace, one with a mantel was built for this occasion. Above it the portrait of the former Lady Bantock was hung. An electric bulb on the mantel shelf below it gave another chance to center interest upon it by having the young hero turn on the light as he explained to his wife the veneration of the family for the original of the painting. In a side wall the wide doorway became the opening to a wide recessed window, the sides of which were made of the two French doors, while the window itself was the wide gauze panel, already described as having been made for Sudermann's The Far-Away Princess.

With little upon the walls this same set framed The Dear Departed by Stanley Houghton and the later acts of Le Médecin Malgré Lui. More recently it was utilized for Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, but for this play the flats were covered with beautiful long tapestries borrowed from a director who had them made to hang upon the walls of the English country house required in Art and Opportunity by Harold Chapin. Incidentally, ten days after they had adorned the Paris house of Monsieur Jourdain they draped the small stage of a little theater as a room in a Sultan's harem. In Monsieur Jourdain's house, these draperies came almost to the floor. The strip of wall space below them was broken from the view of the audience by calculated placing of pieces of furniture, or screens with strips of brightly-colored cloths thrown across them to catch and hold the eye. Denuded of its tapestried coverings this same interior three days later with different furniture was housing a fashion and food show to exhibit the work of the domestic science department of the school.

The foregoing is some indication of the varied uses to which the front of this scenery has been put. This set had also another side. Its frames were very well made. About seven feet above the bottom, cross-pieces of wood were placed. Strips at forty-five degrees brace the bottom and top corners.

The rear side of many sets built for amateur use is quite usually decorated as a kitchen in the walls of which the frames just described are painted as wooden joists while the canvas panels are covered with a flat tint. Or some other room may be indicated by utilizing these same divisions. Many amateur directors do not seem to realize the practicability of such rear views. I know of one school organization which, during the war, was to present a one-act comedy of the district behind the lines in France. Knowing that during the next autumn the school wanted to produce The Taming of the Shrew, this first group, when it had its scenery built, generously had its French kitchen painted on the rear so that the next users could paint upon the level canvas front a wainscoted Elizabethan room.

There are more things to enumerate concerning the first interior being considered here.

When The Comedy of Errors was put into rehearsal it was decided to make only one change of setting after the first scene. In order to do that quickly, as much of the stage as could be was set with suggestions of an " open space in Ephesus " for the main portion of the drama. For the first scene, " A hall in the Duke's palace," only one corner of the spacious room was shown. This was done by setting in a long, gradually receding line several flats to represent one wall stretching almost entirely across the stage; then from its corner a short wall was brought sharply down stage to the edge of the proscenium opening.

The wooden frames which show on the rear of the interior pieces were painted black, and the canvas was tinted tan. The rear of one door was painted to suggest a heavily timbered gray and black one. Upon the upper panels were hung round silvered Greek shields. A couple of stone benches, several animal skins flung over them and on the floor, and the characters in their Greek costumes, set the stage quite effectively for scene I of The Comedy of Errors. When the rear of such scenery is turned toward the audience it may be necessary to devise some method for fastening it other than by lacing, for the ropes stretching from near the top to near the bottom may appear in-congruous. In this case the flats were overlapped a few inches. The lines were thrown over the top and tied to stage braces which thus were held tight against the scenery frames. This facilitated quick striking.

A few years later these black and tan flats were in-creased in number to set the drinking scene in Twelfth Night.,

For The Chinese Lantern by Laurence Housman, some adaptations were made. The open arch was used as the frame of the painting by the old master from which the painter himself miraculously comes to life. Behind this opening the picture itself was built—a platform, vase, railing, rug, mandolin, a tree branch painted on paper, and black velvet curtains being used. The placing and manipulation of lights to effect the mystery belong to the discussion of lighting. The large gauze window prepared for the porch of A Far-Away Princess was outlined in black, then covered with translucent paper through which colored light might be thrown. To bind the room together a Chinese design of straight lines, a few curves, many squares and rectangles, was painted in black, tan, and blue in sections upon pieces of ordinary brown wrapping paper. These were hung around the tops, both decorating the chamber and hiding the corner braces, some of which for other uses had been painted black and seemed slightly out of harmony in a Chinese studio. It would have been a grave mistake to paint that border on the scenery itself. Although the stage may appear large and slightly bare in an illustra.. tion it must be remembered that Oriental costumes are brilliant and beautiful, and that this play provides for large numbers of people and much action upon the stage. This school stage set should be compared with the set de-signed and especially built for this same play by Sam Hume pictured in Theater Arts for February, 1917.

This one set of scenery, front and rear, has in eight years served for two original plays, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Far-Away Princess, The Dear Departed, Zaragüeta, Twelfth Night, The Comedy of Errors, The Chinese Lantern, The Birds' Christmas Carol; Le Médecin Malgré Lui, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomrme, Fanny and the Servant Problem, Ulysses, and Green Stockings.

One little theater had an interior set built for one of the acts of The Honeymoon by Arnold Bennett. It is an English room in which the brown timbers show around the plastered panels. Had there been a need of economy this might have been painted upon the rear side, utilizing the necessary wooden frames as part of the room woodwork. One third of the set consists of a low piece about ten feet wide by eight high. Almost the entire upper portion of this, down to about twenty-four inches from the floor, is cut out. This opening is filled at times by window sashes hinged at the sides. Behind it the eye of the spectator meets either the blue back-drop, a cyclorama, or some backing of foliage. At each side edge of this section is hinged another which has an upper line sharply rising until it reaches the ordinary ceiling height of a room, say, some twelve feet. All the other pieces belonging to this room are this latter height. The general effect is of a cozy, irregular English house, with quaint odd corners about it. Another advantage is that a small ceiling covers the larger part of the room. Variety can be secured by placing the doors at various points, by shifting the position of a right-angled projection which must eke out the three flap combination to make the wall long enough, by the hangings, and the furniture. Shortly after its appearance in The Honeymoon it served admirably for the villager's humble cottage in The Point of View by Eden Phillpotts. It also represented the first scene of Hindle Wakes, and the one set in The Tragedy of Nan. The last time I saw it it had risen in dignity. Sobered by evening lighting, soft rugs, religious pictures and books, a library table, a reading lamp, a green crucifix upon the wall, and darkness outside, it was the Canon's study in the third act of Don by Rudolph Besier. Thus, within a few months this one small interior had served at least five different purposes.

Interiors can be so easily decorated and beautified by hangings and furniture that they lend themselves more flexibly to differentiation than do exteriors. Some of the attempts of professionals with space, material, and experience at their command are so ludicrous that amateurs need not be discouraged at their shortcomings. The boldest professional instance of utilization of equipment, which I am trying to outline here for amateurs, I saw in New York in the winter of 1919-1920 in the stage settings of Acts I and III of a crude melodrama entitled The Storm. The scene is laid in a deep forest of the Canadian Northwest. Behind the mechanical tree trunks rising high above the eye line was hung the back-drop upon which more forest was painted except down the middle where a break was left in the trees to show the distant windings of a wood-land stream meeting far away the dull gray of the sky line. These two features of the landscape—sky and water—had to be in light colors to take the red glow of the onrushing forest fire, which supplies the real thrill of the uncouth woodland bedroom melodrama. Straight across the back-drop, not so clearly discernible among the darker colors of the trees, but as plain as black lines, stretched the; horizontal ends of the seams of the canvas, which, unquestionably, painted on its front for some other play, had been resurrected from the storehouse to be utilized again. Perhaps I should never have noticed this if the play had held my attention more closely, and if I had not myself used the rears of several back-drops in amateur productions.

The first portion of any exterior, I should recommend, is the light blue sky back-drop already described. This should be as wide and as long as the outside limits of your space will permit. If you can afford two, so much the better. Have a straight one clear across the back of the stage. Have a curved one long enough to extend quite around past the line of sight at the edges of the proscenium opening. Unless these go extremely far above the stage you may have to add borders before them to mask the border lights, hanging scenery, tackle, etc. It is not absolutely necessary to stretch them tightly, as small folds sometimes produce agreeable and natural variations of tone in color and lighting, but the fewer folds there are the better the effect. If painted, the blue should not be a flat tone; let it reproduce the actual color of sky—light at the horizon, gradually deepening towards the zenith, as already described. Make it light enough to take such colors as you consider necessary. The effect of a tightly-stretched, evenly-colored canvas panel has been described already; it resembles a kalsomined kitchen wall.

Before such a back-drop you may put practically any-thing you design, and light it exactly as nature or your fancy directs.

Several years ago such a back-drop was made for a stage upon which was to be produced Love's Labor's Lost. To save money it was agreed to enact all the scenes in a single set. The artificiality, the balance, the preciosity of the comedy gave the cue for the scenery. At each side were set hinged wood-wings in balanced pairs. Those nearest the footlights showed clipped dark green hedges above a low border of pink and blue flowers. Above the hedge stretched outlined Normandy poplars and other garden trees, painted in flat tones. Only a few peeps of blue sky appeared in this first pair. The second pair of wings had more color. They were similar to the front pair in general design, but the greens were brighter, the foliage less dense. An additional splurge of brilliant color was furnished by painting several tall clumps of flowering bushes high above the level of the hedges which bordered these wings. Behind these, and extending until they almost met in the center were two hedges, along the base of which were repeated the pink and blue flowers from the wood-wings. Exactly behind the opening in the center, quite close to the bottom of the blue drop, was set a low profile piece suggesting the summit of a flight of steps leading down to lower terraces of this formal garden. Four terra cotta urns overrunning with flowers carried this effect further, but it was finally emphasized by silhouetted trees against the blue sky, lower than those in the foreground, evidently rising high from the next terrace below. Towards the conclusion of the play sunset changed the appearance, and finally moonlight and lantern light tinted the ending picturesquely.

A few years later in The Comedy of Errors this back-drop and the silhouette trees and some of the wood-wings were requisitioned again. With the addition of a wall and gate, and the ends of a couple of houses, the open place in Ephesus already described in this chapter was set.

That same year Twelfth Night was staged by older per-formers. Some rocks used in an earlier season for Ulysses by Stephen Phillips served for the first scene. A group of forest trees—some wings, other forms for other places about the stage—were used for the Duke's grounds. Being rather heavy and sober—they were built first for the forest in which Sganarelle does so little work in Act I of Le Médecin Malgré Lui—they bore out the tone of the Duke's sentimental rhapsodies and Viola's whimsical sallies on unrequited love. For Olivia's garden the scenery first pre-pared for Love's Labor's Lost, with its brightness and balance made an adequate setting. Street scenes for Malvolio's return of the ring to Viola, and scenes between Antony and Stephano took place in what had already been an " open place in Ephesus," in The Comedy of Errors. The drinking scene setting has already been discussed.

Except when demands for realism curb originality, de-signers of sets for one-act plays have a wide field for the exercise of individual talents. There is always a risk in decorating the stage in a novel manner if the audience must gaze upon it for some three hours. In a short play, the danger of fatigue or of diverting attention is not so great, for the picture if it shock, startle, or offend, is be-fore the eyes for only some half hour or less. In a bill of three short plays one of them should be so different as to stand out boldly in contrast with the other two. It is in this securing of the right degree and kind of unusualness that the sympathetic decorative instincts of a producer or scene designer find their congenial scope. He must recall always that an audience is an entity sensitive to suggestion, willing to follow if properly led, open-minded to good intentions and results, but suspicious of tricks, hollowness, sham, insincerity._ Beginning controllers of amateur groups will endeavor to seize the temper and temperament of their anticipated or actual public, and appreciating it at its real best—not its assumed best, strive to lead it to an acceptance and approval of the most honest exemplification of theatrical art embellishment.

It would be impossible even to hint at the possibilities of originality and variety in providing surroundings for short plays. It is beyond the power of one person to record the achievements of the past. No one spectator could at-tend all the performances in which new effects are being attempted, frequently achieved. If he could read every program for a year, study every photograph taken, examine every light plot, he would still be unable to de-scribe, much less, explain and criticize, all the methods employed and the impressions registered. A comparative consideration of a few settings as actually carried out may help directors who want to try new methods but are hesitant before the uncertainty of their chances which hover between a possible success and a probable waste of time, energy, and what is far worse for amateurs, money.

It will be instructive to look at a few descriptions pre-pared by dramatists, then see how their specifications have been carried out. I shall cite first two entirely different kinds of plays.

" The room disclosed to view is an attractively furnished living-room or library. Well-chosen pictures are on the walls, good books are about. In the rear wall is the heavily curtained wide doorway. At the right is a wide window. In the middle of the wall which has been re-moved between the stage and the audience was an open fireplace. The andirons, logs, and hearth remain. At the left of the fireplace sits the Wife gazing into the red glow. At the right sits the Husband reading by the light from the candle in an artistic holder upon a small table at some distance from his left shoulder. Its flame is hidden from the spectator's eye by a small screen."

Notice that this setting is modern, realistic. It is such a room as may be found in most homes of refinement. The description is fairly definite. It is true that no particular color scheme is specified, but there is really no need for insistence upon such a detail. That can certainly be left to the taste of the producer. The next paragraph is the description by the director of the Little Theater of Indianapolis of the setting he devised for this play.

" Most of my staging was done with lights, of course having the fireplace, the andirons, fender, etc., at the foot-lights, the two chairs facing it, and a small mahogany table beside the Husband. I took the liberty of backing the Wife's chair with a big screen, over which was draped a geranium-colored silk shawl, which was the one spot of color in the scene. It formed a perfect background. The window was indicated simply by a flood of blue light from one side. The whole thing was concentrated into a twelve foot proscenium which served to localize the effect."

The following is another illustration of the same kind of original interpretation, applied to Pokey by Philip Moeller.

" The scene is in the neighborhood of the unpronounceable Werowocomoco where Powhatan is chief. The entire beautiful legend is played on top and at the foot of a tall cliff on a plateau overlooking a valley. Far away spread the plains, and in the distance are the mountains on the horizon beyond Werowocomoco—if there are any mountains on the horizon in the distance beyond Werowocomoco .. . The scene should be wild and beautiful—beautiful with all the wildness of an unrestrained and savage school. It should be permeated with a J. Fenimore Cooperish autumnal atmosphere, because—though the piece is played during Spring and Summer—one always associates Indians with Autumn, and so we'll have the time autumnal."

One production of this carried out the author's specifications in quite an original manner. A cyclorama was hung across the rear and at the sides of the stage. Upon this was cast a strong yellow light which never varied in intensity throughout the two scenes. At the right of the stage as viewed from the audience was a cube shaped rock about five feet high upon which the action began between Rolfe and Pocahontas. This rock was colored a brilliant dark red. Upon the two sides visible t0 the spectators were painted large green flowers shaped like daisies, out-lined in wide black lines. Across the stage near the rear extended a profile line of low red boulders, red stumps of trees, and large flowers, all painted red, green, and black. From the rear of this shelf and from the rear of the table at the right of the stage there was supposed to be a sheer drop of hundreds of feet down the vertical cliff. For the second scene no tent was erected, as described in the printed play. A couple of tree branches were stuck up. Between them stretched a rope from which dangled a red flannel shirt and three long scalps.

This colorful, rather conventionalized setting was entirely in keeping with the frivolous burlesquing intention of the play itself.

Sometimes a clever masking of the space above by some device utilized at the front of the stage will save a great deal of otherwise necessary scenery. For some plays this can be erected, for others not.

In a performance of The Rising of the Moon by Lady Gregory, I saw two wooden posts' standing close to the curtain line. Resting on them were boards rising vertically as though to meet a roof above. To right and left irregular piles of barrels and boxes masked the side spaces. Further back were coils of ropes, and a couple of anchors. Some square timbers laid parallel with the footlights, and a couple of round posts indicated the edge of the wharf. Around the entire set hung the cyclorama in dark blue to suggest night sky. The effect was that the spectator was under such a shed as usually covers wharves, and was looking beyond that shed to the end of the wharf and further across the water to the dark blue sky. Everything except the cyclorama—for the nautical details could be varied—could be borrowed or easily built. Except the cyclorama, there was no scenery, in the usual sense of that term.

In a performance of Altruism, by Carl Ettinger, the quais of the Seine were represented. Hanging from above the proscenium opening and sloping back was a striped awning above the tables of a café terrace. Strips of this same awning at the right and left completely masked the sides. The entrance to the café was through these side curtains. Towards the back, as though across the street, a slightly raised platform was the pavement. The low parapet extending across stage was the stone wall beyond and below which flowed the Seine. A few profiles of buildings on the opposite side of the river were backed by the blue cyclorama. The whole stage was bathed in the brilliant yellow of the Parisian afternoon sun. The general effect was perfect, yet the contributing elements were simple.

Exactly this same kind of pictorial effect was secured in a production of The Tents of the Arabs, by Lord Dun-sally. The stage setting for this well-known short play re-quires a gate beyond which lies the desert into which the tired king goes with the wild child of its distances. I have seen a half dozen different conceptions of this, but only one which in any way made emphatic the contrast between the city and the level sands. Half way back from the footlights the city wall was erected, in the middle of which was the gate leading the gaze beyond it across the track-less expanse to the blue depths of the cyclorama. Just be-hind the proscenium arch a few brilliant strips of oriental cloths were fastened. Their other ends were fastened to the top of the city wall. Sweeping in graceful curves from front to rear they made a grateful shade in which passers-by naturally paused to chat before stepping out into the merciless heat of the unshaded sands. The corresponding dimming of light on the forestage also marked the heightening of the yellow glare beyond the archway of the wide gate. In this arrangement, as in the previously de-scribed ones, there was actually only a little scenery, in the strict sense, required to set the stage. The wall was the only constructed part. A couple of low platforms served as steps to take persons over its sill. For the impression made, this setting was extremely economical.

It would probably be a mistake to utilize this device too frequently, but it will save money and trouble in many cases. Somewhat like it is another forestage treatment serving somewhat the sanie purpose.

In the second scene of The King and Queen, by Tagore, the courtyard of a palace was shown. Most of the stage was bathed in brilliant yellow light upon cream-colored walls. The dazzling effect of this was enhanced by having no footlights; in fact there were no lights from the front. Just behind the curtain line was hung a silhouette of three oriental archways, so that spectators in the auditorium felt that they were in a darkened alcove, peering out into the broad sunlight where the story was being enacted. A slightly mysterious effect was added by having the open archways covered with gauze which mellowed the light without detracting from its brilliance. The solid portion of the wall above the arches masked nearly all of the space above and behind them. Only a few usual wood-wings were required to suggest the garden at both sides. By keeping this foliage well off-stage attention was kept from it and centered upon the characters. In this stage setting as in others already discussed there was secured a maxi-mum of effect at a minimum of expense and effort.

A few other uses of draperies in connection with regular scenery may contain hints for adoptions in similar instances. One of the Diminutive Dramas by Maurice Baring, The Aulis Difficulty, calls simply for " Agamemnon's Tent at Aulis." On one stage a back-drop and wings of a forest were set, then there was caught up in the middle a great square of brightly colored stuff which, raised to some twenty feet above stage, could be draped back in realistic representation of a Greek warrior's tent. Had there been no back-drop of forest trees, the tent could easily have been drawn to the sides until no back-drop would have been necessary, or the regular standby of the blue cyclorama would have answered the requirement.

In interiors of whimsical or fanciful decorations, draperies will often take the place of the usual flat ceilings or of the inexcusable painted borders. In an amateur revue I saw the entire stage draped beautifully for a dance number by using a single large cloth of black and white squares. It had been fastened to the usual drop lines, three across the front far enough from the edge of the material to allow a border just behind the top of the proscenium opening, then along a line which let enough hang in irregular folds to reach the stage at the rear. In this pavilion-like space a brightly-costumed group performed an unusual dance.

The same scheme can be used in a room for certain kinds of plays. In Whims, the title under which the Washing-ton Square Players acted Caprice, by Alfred de Musset, the walls were covered with pleated blue silk, while the ceiling was a dome of the same material caught up into a rosette in the center. With the French costumes of a century ago, the effect was charming.

Exactly the same thing was done by Winthrop Ames in his production a few seasons ago of Pierrot the Prodigal. In the second act Phrynette's boudoir in Paris was taste-fully decorated in filmy chiffon, with a tent ceiling drawn up into a center rosette.

The ideas here suggested can be carried out with a say ing of money but they entail extreme care in designing, perfect skill in coloring, and exquisite taste in execution. There is the nicest line in stage matters between simplicity and skimpiness, between art and decoration, between color and gaudiness, between richness and show. To overstep the allowable limit and pass into the cheap imitation spells failure in the amateur realm. Endless experiment, pains-taking consideration, ceaseless adapting, ingenious innovations, form the experience and develop the knowledge from which come later the surest successes, even when they are the most audacious.

Home | More Articles | Email: