Early Illusionistic (16th Century)

One of the most popular effects on the illusionistic stage was the flying effect. Since most of the early theatres were temporary, the overhead structure was not able to support sophisticated flying effects. The machinery of Furttenbach and Sabbattini is very crude compared with the machinery;y used in the permanent theatre and opera houses of the mid to late seventeenth century. Sabbattini's Cloud Flying Machine Sabbattini described several different flying effects. Most of them required a...
Elemental Effects Sabbattini's Thunder Sabbattini's method for creating thunder (Sabbattini, II, 53) consisted of a stepped channel located in the heavens into which several thirty pound stone or iron balls are released. As the balls roll down the stepped channel, they imitate the sound of thunder. Sabbattini Thunder
The early illusionistic scene consisted of side units (wings), rear closure (back drop) and heavens (sky borders). Due in part to the temporary nature of most sixteenth century theatres, the heavens did not change except for the addition of cloud units. A variety of techniques were (or may have been) used to change the wings and the rear of the scene. The Standing Scene. Inigo Jones used (and may have invented) the standing scene in which the scene change took place only at the shutters while...
A variety of sources describe the sea scene on illusionistic stage. The works of Sabbattini and Furttenbach include some of the earliest descriptions. Sabbattini includes the sea cloth, variations on the profile wave and the column wave. Furttenbach includes several profile waves: still, sliding and profiles on a shaft (a version of the column wave), and the unique upstanding wave. Some of these machines continued in use in the 17th and 18th centuries. Furttenbach's Sliding Wave Furttenbach...

Later Illusionistic (17th Century)

Palatina Manuscript Flying Machine Manuscript 3708 at the Biblioteca Palatina includes a drawing that shows several flying machines that may be placed anywhere onstage and do not require masking the apparatus with clouds. One of the devices consists of a sled with a graduated shaft that can be pulled across the overhead beam of the theatre. Palatina MS Mercury Flying Machine
Typical 17th Century Mechanized Wing Change The typical 17th century wing change mechanism utilized a series of banks of trolleys running in tracks located under the stage. The trolleys have poles or frames that extending through slots in the stage floor that are used to support scenic wings. The trolleys are connected a central shaft that was connected by ropes to a wing in each bank. When the shaft rotated, the ropes were wound on the shaft pulling the wings onstage. The offstage ends of each...
Palatina Wave Machine The Palatina Manuscript includes a drawing which shows two types of wave machines. The simplest device is located in the inner stage area and is composed of a series of profile wave board strung on ropes. There are also four downstage units that rise through traps and cover the main down stage area. The wave profiles are mounted on cams which allow them to rise and fall in a rotary motion. Palatina MS Wave Machines Palatina MS Wave Detail
The Palatina Manuscript shows four types or locations of traps: two small corner traps with elevators four long traps to allow the wave machines to be brought up in the main stage area a large mid-stage trap and elevator a small trap located under the upper inner stage The following movie shows the first three traps opening and elevators or wave machines emerging. Palatina Traps and Elevators

18th Century

Cesky Krumlov Footlight Elevator The footlight elevator is essentially a parallelogram. The base is fixed, the top (which has the candles mounted on it is movable. Four upright beams are joined to top and base boards with bolts. As the uprights are moved from a vertical position to an angled position the top board drop below stage level. controlled by a winch located near the downstage wall in the substage area. It winds up a rope attached one of the pivoting upright beams moving the beam from...
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,...

the development of scenice spectacle


usittThis material is made possible, in part, by a grant from the New Initiatives Fund, United States Institute for Theatre Technology and by grants from the University Research Council, Cratis D. Williams Graduate School, Appalachian State University.


Dr. Frank Mohler
Department of Theatre & Dance
Appalachian State University
Boone, NC 28608

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