Tuesday, July 12, 2011


THIS WEEKEND ONLY! Limited engagement-

Embark on an excursion into the past with New Old Theater. A delightful study of strangers on a train. Not seen for over 100 years. The journey is farcical and the destination is comedy in:

EXPRESS! - A Railroad Romance in One Compartment by John Maddison MortonStarring: Ian Blackwell Rogers and Allison Plourde
Directed by Steven Lampredi
Gowns by New Old Theater
Scenery by Ider P. Malnevets

Saturday, July 16 · 8:00pm
Fell's Point Visitor Center

1724 Thames Street

Baltimore, MD

Only $10 at the door.

Parking is available in the Caroline Street Garage

Show ticket from PMI or PMS garage and get $2 off admission.

Sunday, July 17
3 o'clock in the afternoon
and 7 o'clock in the evening

The Old Parish House

4711 Knox Road

College Park MD

General seating-$5 Part of the College Park Arts Exchange.

Near Metro!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Melodrama a la Disney.

Click for a "mellerdrammer" starring Mickey Mouse. Watch for claptraps, stage machinery, audience participation, and standard gestures!!

Friday, April 9, 2010


I've posted here a few examples, most from the 1860s, of actors made up as standard characters -- stock or stereotype roles. Except for the woman in the breeches role, any actor could take any of these parts, using heavy makeup, wigs, characteristic costume and movements understood as the basic vocabulary of stage language.











It was the general practice that actors had to provide their own make-up and costume; most actors would perforce specialize in a role or roles, taking it up as a "line of business." E.A. Sothern was a light comedian; Madame Celeste was a tragic actress. Utility actors, or supernumeraries, would generally take on most of the roles above, which would be small or unnamed parts. The cross-dressing parts were more important. A breeches role for a woman could be the main character, such as William Tell, above, or Sarah Bernhardt's Hamlet. The Dame role, a widow or old maid of a certain age, played by a man, survives in British pantomime.

You can see by these pictures that the part relied on audience recognition, even before speech, of the type of character. The same thing still occurs in today's comics and in television melodramas.

Friday, March 26, 2010


I have eight depictions of period actors, each showing one of the Ten Major Emotions actors trained to express. Can you identify them?

1. The pose in question is that of the woman on the right. From Box and Cox.

2. Again, look at the woman's pose, from unidentified play and actors.

3. Both these pictures of Dame Ellen Terry show the same emotion.

4. Edwin Booth as Iago bristles with a particular mood.

5. Edmund Kean, here as Othello; is he communicating his feeling clearly?

6. Julia Marlowe is overcome by her mood as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing.

7. Mary Anderson; the play is unknown, but her emotion should be obvious.

8. How do you respond to this attitude by Marie Wilkins in Two Orphans?

An earlier post of The Ten Major Emotions has a drawing and verbal description for each, included under the link "stage gestures."

Friday, March 19, 2010


While stance and gesture were primary tools in portraying character, there was also facial make-up and expression. The positioning and movement of the eyes were especially important...one of Edmund Kean's strong points was his unusually short eyelids, which meant motions and expressions of his eyes were easily seen.

Actors brought attention to their eyes by making up with dark shadow (even the poorest could apply soot with a knitting needle) and by pointing phrases through the silent use of eye and brow motion. Here are some pictures of extremely effective non-verbal communication through the eyes. (Some of the pictures are viewed better in larger form by clicking on the image.)

Edmund Kean himself, as Richard III.

Charles Fechter "showing the whites of his eyes", as it was called, as Hamlet, with his gravedigger friend similarly using his optics.

An early example -- Sarah Siddons as Lady Macbeth. A pause to take a stance and direct one's eyes off character or off stage created a frozen moment of emotion.

Madame Celeste freezes another moment. Note the typical positioning of the face away from the body to increase mood.

From the sublime to the ridiculous...unknown actors silently emote.

Edwin Booth in one of his more famous roles as Cardinal Richilieu. Notice the eyebrows' effect in exaggerating the eyes, reminiscent of Kean.

Another Hamlet, this time Beerbohm Tree. You can see that actors who can show white completely around the eye were better equipped for expressing strong emotion.

A carte de visite (sold in theatres and stationery stores) of light comedian E. A. Sothern in a sober mood.

Maude Adams, showing demure charm by the feminine stereotype of "looking through the eyelashes".

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Maria Marten or, Murder in the Red Barn

Contemporary drawing of The Red Barn

If not the most popular Victorian play, then certainly a close runner, Maria Marten or, Murder in the Red Barn was inspired by a real-life murder in Polstead, Suffolk in 1827. The story had all the hallmarks of melodrama: an unsuspecting woman, an upper-class deceiver, illicit sex, murder, a hidden body, and a gruesome exposure through a series of dreams. William Corder, the murderer, who lured Maria to the Red Barn, then shot and buried her, was hanged, his body flayed, and the skin used to bind an account of the murder. Broadside ballads and stage representations were an immediate consequence of the immense public interest in the case. (Visit http://music.metafilter.com/4337/The-Murder-of-Maria-Marten for one version of the song.)

1859 playbill for Murder in the Red Barn

The fictional representations of Maria and her lover fitted them to familiar characters of ingenue and heavy villain, deleting Maria's previous affair with Corder's brother and her illegitimate children (and possible child-murder). Her stepmother, only a year or so older than she, became an elderly doting mother. The maternal nightmares which led to the digging up of a decayed body were taken at face value as ghostly messages, while in real life they may have been the a subterfuge of a scorned woman. Maria's stepmother had been intriguing with William Corder and did not report any nightmares until she received word of his marriage to another woman.

Still playing in 1928

In the 20th-century, the play continued to draw theatre audiences, and at least three silent films were made of the story, one on the site of Maria's death. In 1935, Tod Slaughter filmed a suitably creepy version, well worth watching for his claustrophobic atmosphere and his effective use of melodramatic stage conventions. Especially interesting for Victorian theatre fans is the opening scene of a period theatre company presenting the characters, ending with Death himself. The play is still performed in the UK.

Tod Slaughter as William Corder (1935)

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Old Trouper - Archy and Mehitabel

The Old Trouper by Don Marquis is a masterpiece of characterization and embodies the spirit of the "Crushed Tragedian" down to the namedropping and melodramatic gesture.

Marquis (1878-1937) created the characters Archy and Mehitabel -- the latter a stray cat, the former a cockroach who typed by jumping on each key which is why there are no capitals or punctuation marks in the poems). Marquis supposedly found the typed pages on his desk the next day and published them.


i ran onto mehitabel again
last evening
she is inhabiting
a decayed trunk
which lies in an alley
in greenwich village
in company with the
most villainous tom cat
i have ever seen
but there is nothing
wrong about the association
archy she told me
it is merely a plutonic
and the thing can be
believed for the tom
looks like one of pluto s demons
it is a theatre trunk
archy mehitabel told me
and tom is an old theatre cat
he has given his life
to the theatre
he claims that richard
mansfield once
kicked him out of the way
and then cried because
he had done it and
petted him
and at another time
he says in a case
of emergency
he played a bloodhound
in a production of
uncle tom s cabin
the stage is not what it
used to be tom says
he puts his front paw
on his breast and says
they don t have it any more
they don t have it here
the old troupers are gone
there s nobody can troupe
any more
they are all amateurs nowadays
they haven t got it
there are only
five or six of us oldtime
troupers left
this generation does not know
what stage presence is
personality is what they lack
where would they get
the training my old friends
got in the stock companies
i knew mr booth very well
says tom
and a law should be passed
preventing anybody else
from ever playing
in any play he ever
played in
there was a trouper for you
i used to sit on his knee
and purr when i was
a kitten he used to tell me
how much he valued my opinion
finish is what they lack
and they haven t got it
and again he laid his paw
on his breast
i remember mr daly very
well too
i was with mr daly s company
for several years
there was art for you
there was team work
there was direction
they knew the theatre
and they all had it
for two years mr daly
would not ring up the curtain
unless i was in the
prompter s box
they are amateurs nowadays
rank amateurs all of them
for two seasons i played
the dog in joseph
jefferson s rip van winkle
it is true i never came
on the stage
but he knew i was just off
and it helped him
i would like to see
one of your modern
theatre cats
act a dog so well
that it would convince
a trouper like jo jefferson
but they haven t got it
they haven t got it
jo jefferson had it he had it
i come of a long line
of theatre cats
my grandfather was with forrest
he had it he was a real trouper
my grandfather said
he had a voice
that used to shake
the ferryboats
on the north river
once he lost his beard
and my grandfather
dropped from the
fly gallery and landed
under his chin
and played his beard
for the rest of the act
you don t see any theatre
cats that could do that
they haven t got it they
haven t got it
once i played the owl
in modjeska s production
of macbeth
i sat above the castle gate
in the murder scene
and made my yellow
eyes shine through the dusk
like an owl s eyes
modjeska was a real
trouper she knew how to pick
her support i would like
to see any of these modern
theatre cats play the owl s eyes
to modjeska s lady macbeth
but they haven t got it nowadays
they haven t got it
mehitabel he says
both our professions
are being ruined
by amateurs


Tom's Friends

Richard Mansfield
Anglo-American actor and producer, known for the beauty of his Shakespearean performances, his work in Gilbert & Sullivan, and his production of and starring role in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Resented by colleagues for his arrogance, short temper and duplicity.

Edwin Booth
Considered by critics and theatre historians the greatest actor of his time, according to some, of all times. Son of famed actor Junius Brutus Booth, he surpassed his father and inaugurated a more naturalistic and introspective acting style. He founded Booth's Theatre in Manhattan and became famous for his roles as Hamlet, Cardinal Richelieu and Iago.

Augustin Daly
Playwright and theatrical manager. His play Under the Gaslight featured a character tied to railroad tracks and saved in the nick of time by his sweetheart, starting a melodramatic trope we all now recognize. He ran a stock company, the "company of stars", and was famous for his attention to detail and paternalistic handling of his actors.

Joseph Jefferson
The most famous actor of the post-Civil War stage, he played the title role in Rip van Winkle for almost forty years. He also played the lead in Our American Cousin, the last play President Lincoln attended. Rip van Winkle's dog Wolf was a ghostly presence, never appearing on stage but frequently mentioned as a loyal and faithful friend.

Edwin Forrest
American actor of Shakespearean and popular roles, seen as a native challenger to British classical actors MacReady and Kean. He played Othello, Lear and MacBeth, but his Romantic heroes, such as Spartacus and Metamora, depended as much on his physical training and muscular presence as on classical artistry.

Helena Modjeska
Polish-born actress, known for her Shakespearean interpretations. Lady Macbeth was considered one of her finest roles, but audiences also knew her as Camille and as the star and producer of the first U.S. staging of Ibsen's A Doll's House.