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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: May ::
Re: Staging Sinking
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0590.  Friday, 23 May 1997.

[1]     From:   Jerry Bangham <
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        Date:   Thursday, 22 May 1997 09:38:08 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0587  Re: Staging Sinking

[2]     From:   John Cox <
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        Date:   Thursday, 22 May 1997 11:09:26 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Sinking on Stage

[3]     From:   Leslie Thomson <
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        Date:   Thursday, 22 May 1997 12:01:01 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0587  Re: Staging Sinking

[4]     From:   Kurt Daw <
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        Date:   Thursday, 22 May 1997 14:22:50 -0500
        Subj:   Re: Staging Sinking

[5]     From:   Franklin J. Hildy <
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        Date:   Thursday, 22 May 1997 18:00:34 -0400
        Subj:   Re: Staging Sinking


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jerry Bangham <
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Date:           Thursday, 22 May 1997 09:38:08 -0400
Subject: 8.0587  Re: Staging Sinking
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0587  Re: Staging Sinking

>I believe that great Italian invention, the Star Trap, was used
>somewhere in Renaissance London. It was so called because of its
>iris-like construction that closed in upon itself, was made of thick
>enough leather to support human weight,

This (all-leather) seems a bit unlikely. I'd opt for wood with leather
hinges. I'm not sure when it first appeared, but I've seen later star
traps, perhaps in the Museum of London.

This used segments that wore more wedge shaped than irised, however.

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Cox <
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Date:           Thursday, 22 May 1997 11:09:26 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Sinking on Stage

Thanks to many respondents, both private and public, to my inquiry about
"sinking" on stage.  I was privately referred to John Astington's
article, "Descent Machinery in the Playhouses," MRDE 2 (1985).  Others
may find this a useful reference as well.

John Cox

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Leslie Thomson <
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Date:           Thursday, 22 May 1997 12:01:01 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 8.0587  Re: Staging Sinking
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0587  Re: Staging Sinking

To my knowledge, the most exhaustive, and reasonable study of descent
machinery in the theatres is by John Astington, in *Medieval and
Renaissance Drama in England*, vol. 2.

Leslie Thomson

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kurt Daw <
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Date:           Thursday, 22 May 1997 14:22:50 -0500
Subject:        Re: Staging Sinking

There are certainly a wide variety of ways to handle sinkings, but the
simplest is to set up a structure like a children's see-saw under the
stage. One end is weighted to just slightly less than the actor's
weight.  When the actor steps on the quaint leather covering (as
described by Harry Hill in an earlier posting) he is, in effect,
stepping on the other end of the see-saw, which is positioned just under
the trap covering. If the weighting is done correctly, the actor will
then "sink" is a slow and dignified manner. This process takes the some
skill and balance on the actor's part, but it works very nicely in a
decidedly low-tech fashion. It is still used in the theater on occasion.
Lots of theaters used some simple variation on this device to produce a
required disappearance at the end of Tony Kushner's adaptation of
Corneille's "The Illusion" when it was in vogue a half-dozen years ago,
and it was described more thoroughly and intelligently in *Theater
Crafts* magazine about then. Sorry that I don't have the exact issue
number handy.

Kurt Daw

[5]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Franklin J. Hildy <
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Date:           Thursday, 22 May 1997 18:00:34 -0400
Subject:        Re: Staging Sinking

I am not sure I fully understand the perceived problem with stage
traps.  Why would there be a trap door on a sinking trap?

As far as I know there is no evidence of a star trap being used in the
17th century and in any event I've never seen an illustration of one
like that described by Harry Hill.  An "iris-like construction that
closed in upon itself, was made of thick enough leather to support human
weight" sounds deadly.  There is a good illustration of a 19th century
star trap in the 7th edition of Brockett's History of the Theatre, p.
402.  It is really an elevator trap (or sinking trap if you like) with a
star cover to it.  The star cover was shaped much like the rubber gasket
that covers most garbage disposal openings.  Its purpose was only to
hide the fact that the trap was down, so the audience would not know
that someone or something was about to come up.  When the trap was down
you would not want to stand on the star trap cover because whether it
was made of leather or rubber you would go right through it-it was only
safe when the trap was in the up position.

Elevator traps seem to have been used in some Italian plays and in some
of the French Corpus Christi plays at least from the early 16th century
and probably long before.  Such a trap consist of a reinforced platform
that makes up part of the stage floor when it is in the up position.
When an actor steps onto this section of stage floor it can be lowered
down below the stage level where the actor can step off and the platform
can then be  raised back into its stage floor location.  Such traps are
guided by four corner posts and are easily operated by one person.  They
can also move as fast or as slow as you like.  But they do create an
aesthetic problem if you wants to raise someone or something up-the
problem is,  you have to lower the trap down first, allow the actor to
get on, then raise it again.  Needles to say this ruins any possible
element of surprise.   Star trap covers and bristle trap covers were
designed to mask the fact that the trap had been lowered to pick someone
or something up.  (But again, they were not designed to stand on unless
the trap was in the up position)

The problem with elevator traps in the Elizabethan playhouses is that
there was less than 5 feet of clearance between the stage level and
ground level.  Elevator traps need more room than this to operate
smoothly,  generally 18 inches plus the height of the actor at a minimum
-unless, of course, the actor is willing to bend his or her knees and
crawl off when the trap is down-this was apparently done often in 18th
century theatres.  Excavation below ground level would provide the
needed room at the Globe  but in the archaeology done on the Rose there
was no evidence of such excavation.

Does anyone have Lily Bess Campbell's >Scenes and Machines on the
English Stage During the Renaissance< handy?  I don't have the book to
hand at the moment.
 

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