There was a wide variety of wing changing techniques used in 18th century theatre. All the wings were flat wings, but some were oblique and some were parallel to the front of the stage. The wing changing devices included vertical capstans, horizontal winch and axel, horizontal drum and shaft and the manual upper and lower groove system. The borders were flown and brailled. The backdrops were tripped, brailled and rolled. The Drottningholm, Gripsholm, Cesky Krumlov, Mnichovo Hradiste, Gotha, Ludwigsburg. and Litomysl scene changes will be explained.
Gripsholm Court Theatre Wing Change
Although the most recent of the three extant theatres, the wing changing machinery at Gripsholm is the most similar to that shown in 17th century illustrations such as those in Motta's treatise, the Palatina manuscript and Skippon's sketch. It uses a central shaft with a larger section to provide mechanical advantage. The rope loop attached to the large section is pulled to rotate the shaft, pulling the wing trolleys onstage.
Gripsholm Wing Change
Cesky Krumlov Court Theatre Wing Change
Cesky Krumlov also uses a central shaft to pull the wings onstage, but it is operated by winch handles. This system is illustrated in Motta's treatise. [Extensive Cesky Krumlov web site with pictures and history of the theatre: http://www.ckrumlov.cz/uk/zamek/5nadvori/i_bd.htm]
Cesky Krumlov Wing Change
Drottningholm Court Theatre Wing Change
Drottningholm has a unique system with a capstan used to pull one set of wings offstage and another set onstage. This allows the center of the under stage area to be free of obstructions. A similar system was used at the Dresden Opera and recorded in the travel journal of Georg Fröman. [See Drottningholm Theatre site with history and pictures: http://www.drottningholmsteatern.dtm.se/index.htm]
Drottningholm Wing Change
The wing change is the most significant element of the this theatre. It is an example of groove system common in England and America, but not on the continent. The lower grooves on the floor hold three wings and have rollers to reduce friction. The upper grooves are attached to a framework. The placement of the grooves is also unique - they are set obliquely rather than parallel to the front of the stage.
The back drops and the front curtain are wound on rollers and controled by a loop of rope at the end of the rollers.
When the wings and the drops are changed together, the change would look like this.
Mnichovo Hradiste Set Change
Two Unique German Theatres
Two important Baroque Theatres in Germany have been restored. Each of the theatres contains unique technical features.
Ekhof-Theatre at Friedenstein Palace, Gotha
The theatre was restored from 1966 to 1968. The original theatre used a central axel for the wing change similar to that used at the court theatre in Cesky Krumlov. This type of mechanism, however, prohibits the use of elevators along the centerline of the stage. At some point the central axel was replaced by three separate axels: two at the sides behind the wing trolleys and one short axel upstage center.
Ekhof-Theater Wing Change
A similar wing changing device was shown in 1687-88 Nicodemus Tessin's 1687-88 Travel diary.
The schlosstheater in Ludwigsburg palace was restored from 1994-1998. Although some of the machinery is original, replacements had to be provided for much of the machinery.
The wing change is similar to that in other eighteenth century theatres. The wings are connected to the central axel. A rope attached to the small drum can rotate the axel pulling a set of wings onstage.
Ludwigsburg Wing Change
The basic border change is also similar to other surviving theatres. Two sets of borders are attached to a axel and drum device at the top of the stagehouse. When the axel turns one set of borders is lowered and the other set is raised. The unique feature is that a rope attached to the drum is connected to the small drum of the wing change axel. Thus when the wing change axel turns, the borders also change.
Ludwigsburg Border Change
The backdrops are brailed and alternate like the borders. The brailing lines are attached to ropes that are connected to the large drum on the wing changing axel. Thus when the wing change axel turns, the backdrops change.
Ludwigsburg Backdrops Change
Complete Scene Change
The coordinated scene change allows all the elements to change at the same time. A counterweight is used to assist this scene change.
Ludwigsburg Coordinated Scene Change
Dr. Frank Mohler
Department of Theatre & Dance
Appalachian State University
Boone, NC 28608