Basic Stage Machinery
One of the misperceptions of the machinery used in the Renaissance and Baroque theatre is that it was very complicated. It was actually based upon simple machinery that had been used in other fields for centuries. Some machines become complicated only because they combined a several simple machines. In fact many of the more complicated machines used in industry were never adapted for theatre use. The most obvious example is the use of gears. There are few examples of the use of gears until the nineteenth century.
The basic machine used in Renaissance and Baroque theatre is the winch and its variations. From left to right the devices below are a winch, winch and axle, drum and axle, and capstan (essentially a vertical winch). Each device uses the difference in radius between the rope shaft and the length of the handles or radius of the drum to provide a mechanical advantage.
Pully and Counterweight
The pulley is used primarily to change the direction of the force, although a few theatre machines use multiple pulleys or block and tackle to provide a mechanical advantage. Counterweights can be used two ways: balanced systems like the counterweights systems used in modern theatres, and unbalanced system that, when the counterweight is released, provides the motive force to move objects.
The track and telescoping shaft were used to keep elements moving in the right direction. This was often used to raise objects from under the stage or to lower objects from over the stage.
Dr. Frank Mohler
Department of Theatre & Dance
Appalachian State University
Boone, NC 28608