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1950-51 Theatre Catalog, 9th Edition, Page 114 (94)

1950-51 Theatre Catalog, 9th Edition
1950-51 Theatre Catalog
1950-51 Theatre Catalog, 9th Edition, Page 114
Page 114

1950-51 Theatre Catalog, 9th Edition, Page 114

Overhead Stage Structure Requirements

All Expert Analysis of Correct Gridiron Design From the Operational and Serviceahility Angles


Sophocles is credited by Aristotle with the introduction of the stage curtain in a Roman theatre at Pompeii. The operation of this curtain was just the reverse of our modern stage drops in that it lowered into a narrow slot in the front of the stage and was raised by slaves from a catwalk above. For the same effect, centuries later, a similar curtain with a modified method of raising was long used at the old Hippodrome Theatre in New York.

Up to the sixteenth century, stage effects were mostly suggestive. Scenery, however, came into use with the popularity of masques and pageants at the Court of Charles II. Available records show that the first theatre to use movable scenery was the Dorset Garden Theatre in 1660, although it is not unlikely that elaborate "set scenes" were used in the epoch of Louis XIV, as found illustrated in engravings of that period.

Garrick,s scene painter, one De Loutherbourg, was one of the most popular artists of that day, and many innovations are credited to him. He designed the scene on a flat piece of canvas and inaugurated the fashion of ffset pieces" and ffraking pieces." He also invented transparent scenes with representations of moonlight, sunshine, firelight, and volcanoes, and achieved new effects by the wise use of silk.

Previous to 1870, most of the existing theatres of the better class in America were of the old European type with a large apron extending many feet in front of the curtain down to the footlights and running at the sides along tiers of proscenium boxes. At that time there was practically no height to the stage, and such hanging as was used was confined to a few small borders. At each side of the stage, approximately 20' above the floor, were located wooden grooves in which fiats were used. They were framed pieces of scenery, usually 20/ high and 12 or more in width, which were closed in at the conclusion of the scene. These stages required considerable room off stage, approximately twice as much as the stage proper, especially as the larger productions came in, for the storing of the large scenery which Went on and off stage en bloc, a bit of stagecraft practiced by the Romans as early .as the year 63 AD.

Such a stage today would be imprac"tical from the standpoint of cost per :square foot of stage area, and thus the 'method of adding additional height to the :stage to permit the fffiying" of drops, painted scenery, etc., came into use and, incidentally, produced a more complete :and better theatrical atmosphere. The Old Bowery Theatre in New York is said .to have had the first "fly" gallery and

By C. E. TOMPKINS Presidenl. I. R. Clancy, Inc.

loft which permitted the raising of drops straight up and out of sight.

On September 12, 1866, the "Black Crook," the first great American spectacular production, was presented at Niblois Garden by Jarrett and Palmer. Later came those really great Drury Lane melodramas of the type of ffThe Lights Oi London" (produced in America at the Union Square Theatre, December 6, 1881), which gave us the ultra-realistic combination of artistic and mechanical effects that set the standard for many great scenic productions that followed.

In order to accommodate the mechanical equipment necessary for raising and lowering a multiplicity of drops, lights, sound horns, picture screens, painted sets, etc., and also to carry the load imposed by these pieces, the modern type of upright gridiron came into use and is now generally employed in all modern theatres.


There is an old axiom among the stage crafts that ifa stage is no better than the gridiron," and to those who are called upon to do what appears to be the impossible in the handling of scenery, heavy props, curtains, drapes, etc., and the readying of various types of road

BRIEF: Well-grounded though they may be in all other matters pertaining to the motion picture house and its construction . . . many theatre designers are believed to be sorely lacking in a thorough knowledge of one of the most important elements in its layout . . . overhead stage structure requirements . . . Without a well-designed and smoothly functioning gridiron . . . for example . . . curtains and drapes cannot be handled properly.

In keeping with THEATRE CATALOGis avowed mission of bringing to its readers the most comprehensive information available . . . on all matters pertaining to the theatre building and its equipment . . . the editors requested one of the nationis leading stage designers and engineers to cover this important aspect a] construction in complete detail . . . DiScuSSed in this authoritative survey are such important points as: screen selection and location . . . asbestos curtain height . . . spacing of carrying beams . . . spacing of head-block beams . . . distribution of loads . . . setting of off-stage head blocks . . . use of supporting hangers . . . head clearance . . . loading platform . . . accessibility . . . underhang type of gridiron, etc. . . . Even the design of ventilators is treated in conclusion.

shows on short time, there is ample proof that this axiom holds true.

The stage gridiron is called upon to support all of the working mechanism for the stage at practically any point of suspension, since many shows carry specialized equipment that requires spot lines in positions other than on the regular loft-block channels. It follows, therefore, that the gridiron should be amply constructed from the standpoint of strength, be readily accessible, and well lighted, so there will be no delay in placing these extra spot lines when the show comes in. The layout and construction of the gridiron obviously controls the flexibility of the stage. Placed as it is, high above the stage fioor, and usually accessible by only a straight ladder up the side wall (which few men outside of the mechanics care to climb), this important part of the stage is given comparatively little thought. It is seldom, if ever, inspected or studied by architects and engineers making the design. l

Screen Factors and Sight Lines

The design of the gridiron starts by first selecting the proper size picture screen for the proposed auditorium and, second, by properly locating the picture screen on the stage. The location of the screen is the second set back of the Main Act curtain, which usually works out approximately 6 back of the proscenium wall. Third, the elevation of the projection room portholes should be established, and then sight lines taken from the projection room portholes to the top of the picture screen proper. It should be borne in mind that the image size of the picture screen should be at least 18" above the floor of the stage. The sight lines should pass at least 3' under the proscenium arch to permit the use of a valance to enhance the appearance of the proscenium. It will be noted that the image area of the picture screen will be somewhat lower than the bottom of the proscenium valance, due to the angle of the sight line, and, in general practice, the Grand Drape is used to trim down to the top of the picture screen.

Asbestos Curtain Height

After the above preliminaries have been completed, the height of the ashestos curtain, which in all cases must lap the proscenium opening at the top by 18" in order to comply with regulations, is calculated. It would, therefore, seem logical that, in order to clear the bottom of the asbestos curtain above the proscenium opening when it is in the "up" position, one should have twice the height of the asbestos curtain so as to get it up out of sight, but this is not quite enough. It is necessary to attach

1950-51 Theatre Catalog, 9th Edition, Page 114