The Court Theatre at Litomysl

Litomysl Stage
Wednesday, September 15, 2004 - 12:00am

Mohler, Frank and Blaha, Jiri, "The Chateau Theatre in Litomysl and the Scenery of Josef PLatzer" Theatre Design and Technology 40, Fall 2004, 24-31.

Litomysl is a small town in eastern Bohemia. They earliest records indicate theatre was performed at the chateau in the late 17th century. Several theatres were built in the chateau during the eigthteen century, but the surviving theatre theatre opened in 1798. It survives with its wing change system, border change system, footlight mechanism and thunder machine.

The Theatre

The theatre occupies a large vaulted room on the ground floor that was formerly used as the laundry and salt rooms. It measures about 66 feet long, 32 wide and 22 feet 6 inches to the top of the vault. The stage is about 33 feet long occupying approximately half of the hall and the proscenium arch is 20 feet wide by 14' 9" high. The front of the stage is raised 3 feet 3 inches above the level of the auditorium.

The auditorium consists of two levels. The lower level, which is entered directly from the chateau courtyard, is raked and contains benches, those near the stage have backs and those in the rear are without backs. Fourteen columns support the upper gallery and duke's box, creating sightline problems at the rear of the auditorium as shown in figure 5. The gallery and duke's box are entered via stairs located at the rear corners of the auditorium. A single row of benches is located immediately behind the gallery railing. The duke's box occupies the center of the upper level and staircases on each side of the upper gallery lead down to the stage.

Stage Machinery

Four machines have survived although the rigging is no longer present: wing change machine, border change machines, footlight machine and thunder machine. In addition several lighting panels have survived.

The Wing Change

The wing change uses a variation of the mechanised system found in many theatres in the 17th and eighteenth centuries. Six set of tracks are located in the substage area on each side of the stage. Wheeled wing frames ride in the tracks and extend up through slots in the stage floor. There are two wing frames in each set of tracks. the offstage ends of the wing frames are connected together with a rope that passes around a pulley. This allows one wing to be pulled offstage as the other is pulled onstage.

The wings are connected to a central shaft and drum unit centered in the substage area. A control rope is wound around the drum and when it is pulled the drum and shaft rotates pulling the one wing frame in each set onstage.

The Border Change

There are two sets of border shafts, although the rigging has not survived. The borders had a batten attached approximately one third the distance from the bottom and were tripped. The tripped border would be raised as a unit to the overhead grid. Each set of borders was attached to a overhead shaft mounted at the side of the stage. A rope wrapped around a drum at the end of the shaft. When the rope was pulled the shaft rotated raising (or lowering) the borders.

The back drops and the front curtain were brailled, although, again, the rigging has not survived. The current front curtain in a roller curtain similar to the one at Mnichovo Hradiste and was installed when the theatre was used for a movie.

The Lighting

The lighting equipment at Litomysl consists of footlights that can be lowered below the stage floor and lighting boards that can be installed behind each set of wings.

The footlights may be controlled by raising and lowering the boards upon which they are mounted. The boards are attached to two vertical shafts that may be raised and lowered by a rack and pinion gear mechanism operated a racheting winch under the stage.

Thunder Machine

An unresolved question regarding the machinery at Litomysl is the purpose of the long box at the back of the stage. The device consists of a long wooden box hung from a bracket mounted on the upper framework. A rope was attached to each end of the box to pull one end or the other end up allowing stones or pellets inside the box to tumble from one end to the other. The box is now empty and nailed closed.

Although a castle inventory from 1828 refers to a rain machine (regenmaschine) placed on the stage, it is similar to a pivoting box used as a thunder machinelocated at Drottningholm Theatre.

Special thanks to Jiri Blaha. The research for this material was assisted by grants from the University Research Council of the Cratis D. Williams Graduate School at Appalachian State University.

Litomysl Stage Plan
Litomysl Auditorium
Litomysl Stage Machinery
Litomysl Wing Shaft
Litomysl Border Shaft

the development of scenice spectacle

Grants

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.

Contact

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

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