Online Encyclopedia


Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V26, Page 736 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Spread the word: it!
CRO55 SECTION THRO A B. F1c. 6.-Plan and Section of Covent Garden Stage. drenchers above fire-resisting curtains and tc so arrange the working of the curtain that it can be lowered from four points, i.e. from both sides of the stage, from the prompt side flies and from the stage door. According to the Lord Chamberlain's rules, fire resisting curtains must be lowered once during a performance. This is a wise measure for testing the efficiency of the appliances. Au-mom-rms.—Modern Opera Houses and Theatres, 3 vols. grand folio, by Edwin O. Sachs (1896-99) ; Stage Construction, 1 vol. grand folio, by Edwin O. Sachs (1896) ; " Engineering ": Articles on Stage Mechanism, by Edwin O. Sachs (1895-97) ; Fires and Public Entertainments, 1 vol. quarto, by Edwin O. Sachs (1897); Le Theatre, 1 vol. net., by Charles Gamier (1871); Les Theatres The following is a detailed description of the Covent Garden installation. The stage may be described as consisting of a series of six horizontal sections running parallel with the curtain line from front to back, each section being 8 ft. wide, and the whole being followed by a large back or rear stage. The first section contains nothing but a plain " carpet cut," and openings to take the old-fashioned " grave " trap, " star " trap, or other similar contrivances. The second and third sections comprise large bridges, which can be raised 6 ft. above the stage or lowered 8 ft. below the stage, constructed in two levels, on the lower level of which appliances can be installed for the purpose of raising minor platforms above stage level or sinking traps and the like. The fourth, fifth and sixth sections comprise large bridges running right across the stage front, which can be raised 9 ft. above the stage or lowered 8 ft. below it. The back stage has no openings or mechanism beyond certain trap-doors to a scenery store, and the necessary electrical mechanism for raising and lowering scenery for storage purposes. Between the various sections of the stage, long longitudinal flaps, 2 ft. wide, have been formed, which can be easily opened to allow scenery to be passed through below for transformation scenes and the like. Each section is equipped with what is termed a pair of chariots, to hold " wing " lights placed on so-called wing ladders. All the electrical bridges are worked from the " mezzanine " level and from ordinary switch-boards, and can be raised and lowered at various speeds, and take loads up to 2 tons. They can be moved without vibration or noise at a cost of about id. for power on a full rise when loaded. Above the stage level each section has its series of lines to take cloths, borders, &c. Each section has a batten, from which the electric battens are suspended, and has also a large wooden lattice girder, from which heavy pieces of scenery can be hung. There are, on the average, about ten lines for ordinary battens, a girder batten, and a light batten to each section; besides these lines, heavy and require counter-weighting to a nicety, but if well made there are the equipments of flying apparatus and the like, whilst I and fitted may be deemed satisfactory. It is advisable to fit in front there are, of course, the necessary lines for tableaux curtains, act-drops and draperies. Everything that is suspended from above can be worked at stage level or at either of the gallery levels, every scene being counter-weighted to a nicety, so that one man can easily handle it. No mechanical contrivance is required, and in practice quite a number of scenes can be rapidly changed in a very short time. Throughout the structure and mechanism steel has been used, with iron pulleys and wire cable; and the inflammable materials have been absolutely reduced to the flooring of the gridiron and galleries and the hardwood flooring of the stage and mezzanine. In other words, an absolute minimum of inflammable material replaces what was almost a maximum; and seeing Aneiais, by Georges Bourdon (1902); Die Theater, Wien, 2 vols. Quarto, by Josef Bayer (1894). (E. O. S.) "SPECTACLE" The appeal to the eye has been the essential feature of dramatic production in its many stages of development from the earliest times of the miracle plays and " moralities," mummers and morris-dancers, down through the centuries, in the form of masques and ballets, to the luxuriance of scenic and costume display that is lavished on the latest forms of theatrical entertainment. Considering the enormous advance that has been made in mechanical appliances, more especially in the increased powers of illumination supplied by gas and electricity' as compared with oil and candles, we must acknowledge that the artistic achievement of spectacle has hardly kept pace with the times. If we may credit the veracity of contemporary chroniclers, the most elaborate effects and illusions were successfully at-tempted in the various courtly entertainments that are recorded under the Tudor and Stuart dynasties, and found perhaps their most sumptuous expression in the courts of Louis X1V. and Louis XV. It would be a difficult task for the most experienced of modern stage managers to rival the splendours of apparel and the ingenious devices that were exploited in increasing magnificence during successive periods, as described by Froissart, Holinshed, Cavendish, Stow, Pepys and other writers. The sums expended on these entertainments were prodigious, and a perusal of the extraordinarily detailed descriptions of such lavishly appointed masques as those designed by Inigo Jones in particular renders credible the statement that a certain masque presented before Charles I. at the Inns of Court in 1633 cost 121,000. Spectacle in its earlier phases appears to have existed chietiy in connexion with court and civic ceremonial: as evidenced in the wonderful pageantry of the Field of the Cloth of Gold; in such princely entertainment as the Revels at Kenilworth, when the Earl of Leicester welcomed Queen Elizabeth in a series of splendid fetes; and in the more accomplished imaginings of Ben Jonson, decorated by Inigo Jones, such as the Inns of Court masque, already cited. The scenic effects and illusions which had evidently been brought to great perfection in these masques were not devoted to the service of the drama in the public theatres until Davenant introduced them at the period of the Restoration, although simple scenery, probably mere background " cloths," had been seen on the stage as early as 1605. The built-up stage pictures, familiar to us as " set-scenes," are said to owe their origin to Philip James de Loutherbourg. R.A., and to have been first used in 1777; but it is difficult to believe that some such elaborate constructions had not already enjoyed a term of popularity in view of the contemporary paintings and engravings of the epoch of Louis XIV., who was himself not averse from appearing (in 16J3) as " Le Roi Soleil " in the midst of an entourage combining much that was artistic and fanciful with the most pompous and most absurd incongruities of character and costume. A greater measure of elegance and refinement distinguished the spectacles of the reign of Louis XV., inspired by the delicate ' The Savoy Theatre, London, was first entirely lighted by electricity in 1882. The various methods of lighting used have been an important item in the production of striking effects. The old system of a row of " foot-lights, " with their unpleasant upward shadow, is now almost obsolete. Dip candles were used till 1720, when moulded candles were introduced into French theatres. The next improvement was the lamp of M. Argand, with its circular wick. In 1822 gas was first used in a Parisian theatre, next came the oxyhydrogen lime-light, used for special effects, and then electric lighting. The old way of producing lightning was to blow lycopodium or powdered resin with bellows through a flame, and this is still used in realistic effects of conflagrations. More effective lightning is now made by flashing the electric light behind a scene painted with clouds, in which a zigzag aperture has been cut out and filled with a transparent substance. Thunder is made by shaking large sheets of iron. Wind is imitated by a machine with a cogged cylinder, which revolves against coarse cloth tightly stretched. he sound of rain is produced by shaking parched peas in a metal of Watteau, Boucher and Lancret, and preserved for our delectation in their delightful canvases. Under the French Revolution the spectacular ballet lost much of . its prestige; and its decorative features were for a time principally associated with the fetes inaugurated by the Republic, and presented in the classic costume, which the severity of the new regime adopted as a reaction, or as a protest against the frivolities and furbelows of the obliterated monarchy. The Festival of the Supreme Being, decreed by the National Convention, designed by David and conducted by Robespierre, was perhaps the most impressive spectacle of the close of the 18th century. The rgth century saw spectacle devoted almost exclusively to theatrical entertainment. In London, melodrama, both of the romantic and domestic description, claimed its illustrative aid. At Drury Lane Theatre (which, with Covent Garden, the Adelphi and Astley's, was first illuminated by gas in 1817—18) the Cataract of the Ganges, with its cascade of real water and its prancing steeds, made a great sensation in 1823, and the same stage in 1842, under Macready's management, displayed the " moving wave " effect in the Sicilian views, painted by William Clarkson Stanfield for Acis and Galatea. The Lyceum Theatre from 1847 to 1855 introduced a long series of elegant extravaganzas from the pen of J. R. Planche, elaborately illustrated by the scenery of William Beverly. The Golden Branch, the King of the Peacocks and the Island of Jewels (Christmas 1849) were the most remarkable of these productions, and were noteworthy as originating the fantastic fairy pictures that became known as " transformation scenes," and were copied and popularized in all directions. Beverly's skilful brush was at a later date employed at Drury Lane to enhance the attractions of a succession of spectacular versions of Sir Walter Scott's novels, Amy Robsart (1870), Rob Roy (with a beautiful panorama of the Trossachs scenery), Rebecca, England in the Days of Charles II., and others. Later still, under the regime of Sir Augustus Harris and his successors, spectacle at Drury Lane assumed even more costly proportions, and modern melodramas, representing well-known localities with extra-ordinary fidelity and all kinds of disasters from earthquakes to avalanches, have been alternated with sumptuously mounted pantomimes (so-called), in which the nominal fairy-tales were almost smothered by the paraphernalia of scenery and costume. It is remarkable that, for a " run " of ten weeks only, such a sum as £16,000 each can have been profitably expended on more than one of these productions. London playgoers will recall the processional glories of A Dream of Fair Women, designed by Alfred Thompson; The Land of Fairy Tales, by Percy Anderson; and The Silver Wedding (Puss in Boots), The Paradise of the Birds (Babes in the Wood), and The Gods and Goddesses of Olympus (Jack and the Beanstalk), for which Mr Wil helm was responsible. The Armada, a historical drama (1888), also deserves to be remembered for the completeness and excellence of its spectacular features. In addition to the names of Clarkson Stanfield and Beverly, already cited as masters of scenic art, it must not be forgotten that the skill of David Roberts was also devoted to the embellishment of the stage; and the names of Grieve, the Telbins (father and son), Hawes Craven, and J. Harker have in successive years carried on the best traditions of the art. Alfred Thompson was one of the first to revise the conventionalities of fanciful stage costume, and to impart a French lightness of touch and delicacy of colour. A ballet, Yolande, which he dressed for the Alhambra in the 'sixties, was the first Japanese spectacle to grace the English stage; arid he was also mainly responsible for the attractions of Babil and Bijou, which cost upwards of £11,000 at Covent Garden Theatre in 1872, and was at the time considered to have surpassed all former spectacular accomplishments. It achieved, however, merely a succes d'estime, and has bequeathed to a later generation only the recollections of its " Spring " choir of boys, and of the brilliant danseuse, Henriette d'Or, who revived memories of the great days of the ballet, when Taglioni, Cerito, Elssler, Duvernay and other " Deesses de la Danse," appeared under Lumley's management at the old Her Majesty's Theatre in the Haymarket. Since the memorable tenancy of Sadler's Wells Theatre by Phelps (1844—62), Shakespeare and spectacle have been honourably associated. Charles Kean's revivals at the Princess's Theatre (1850—59) deservedly attracted considerable attention for the splendour and accuracy of their archaeology. Byron's Sardanapalus was also a triumph for the same management in 1853; and the same theatre three deca-les later witnessed the production (December 1883) by Wilson Barrett of Claudian, a romantic poetic drama of classic days, mounted so exquisitely as to gain Ruskin's enthusiastic praise But undoubtedly the earliest noteworthy alliance of spectacle with Shakespeare was made by Sir Henry Irving at the Lyceum. The art of Royal Academicians was happily enlisted to add lustre and distinction to his productions. . Ravenswood and the sumptuously presented Henry VIII. (1892) owed much to the co-operation of Mr Seymour Lucas. Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema supervised Cymbeline and Coriolanus (1901), whilst Sir Edward Burne-Jones inspired the decoration of King Arthur (1895). In Tennyson's Cup (produced in January 1881) and in the beautiful revival of Romeo and Juliet it was felt that perfection of stage illusion could scarcely go farther, but the next production, Much Ado about Nothing, with its superb church scene by Telbin, was admittedly Irving's crowning success, alike from the artistic, the dramatic, the spectacular and the financial standpoints. Great praise was equally won by the version of Faust, which was frankly spectacular, and by the more recent Robespierre by Sardou. Shakespeare and the poetic drama were also finely illustrated by Mr Beerbohm Tree, who secured Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema's interest for Hypatia at the Haymarket, and Julius Caesar at the new His Majesty's; whilst for his later productions, King John, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Herod (by Stephen Phillips), Twelfth Night (1901), and such later plays as his revival of Antony and Cleopatra (1907), he was assisted by the designs of Percy Anderson, an artist who made his mark in the costumes for a series of the operas at the Savoy Theatre, notably the 15th-century dresses for the Beauty Stone. Spectacular features of exceptional refinement distinguished the pantomime of Cinderella, presented by Mr Oscar Barrett at the Lyceum Theatre in Christmas 1893, and designed by Mr Wilhelm. This production also enjoyed a prosperous season in New York. The system of international exchange seems to hold good in stage spectacle as in other cases, and in return for English successes that have been welcomed in America, Augustin Daly's Shakespearean productions were greatly admired in London. Other entertainments of a more absolutely spectacular order found acceptance in London. In connexion with Barnum and Bailey's Hippodrome, Imre Kiralfy's show, Nero, constituted a "mammoth combination," and attracted crowds to " Olympia " in 1890. The success of this latter spectacle of colour and movement, which was also designed by Mr Wilhelm, induced Mr Kiralfy to produce a still more ambitious entertainment the following season, Venice, designed by the same artist. A spectacle on these lines may be regarded as the outcome of such ballets as have long been popular on the continent of Europe—especially in Italy, where grace of movement and spontaneity of gesture are natural to the people, and greatly facilitate such an enterprise as the famous Excelsior ballet of AMIanzotti, which lasted a whole evening, in several acts, and required the services of hundreds of figurantes. Excelsior was originally produced at La Scala, Milan, in January 1881, and was subsequently given with great success at the Eden Theatre, Paris, in 1883. The revived popularity of the modern ballet, as at the Empire Theatre, London, has also been associated with some memorable triumphs of spectacle with which the name of Mr Wilhelm was closely identified as designer. (C. WI.)
End of Article: CRO55 SECTION THRO A B

Additional information and Comments

There are no comments yet for this article.
» Add information or comments to this article.
Please link directly to this article:
Highlight the code below, right click and select "copy." Paste it into a website, email, or other HTML document.