The Survival of the Mechanized Flat Wing Scene Change

Wednesday, December 15, 1999 - 1:00am

Mohler, Frank, "THE SURVIVAL OF THE MECHANIZED FLAT WING SCENE CHANGE,"Theatre Design and Technology, Winter 1999, pp.46--56.

The basic technology for the mechanized illustionistic scene change was invented in the early16th or early 17th century and became the standard on the European stage for over 200 years, only three theatres survive with their scenery and machinery in working order. Each of these theatres is a court theatre: Cesky Krumlov (1766), Drottningholm (1766) and Gripsholm (1782). These theatres, built within 20 years of each other, use three different techniques to change the scenic wings.

Each technique consists of 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 device that is used provide the energy to roll each trolley on or offstage. It is this device that is the main difference between the systems.

The following animations are further explained in "The Survival of the Mechanized Flat Wing Scene Change" in the Winter 1999 issue of Theatre Design and Technology, pp.46--56.

Typical 17th Century Mechanized Wing Change

The typical 17th century wing change mechanism utilized 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 wing to be pulled on stage was connected via a direction-changing pulley to the wings to be pulled offstage. Often the shaft was revolved by the energy provided by a falling counterweight.

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. [SEE Gripsholm Castle information - no theatre pictures:]

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:]

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:]

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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