stage machinery


stage machinery
Devices designed for the production of theatrical effects, including rapid scene changes, lighting, sound effects, and illusions.

Such devices have been in use since the 5th century BC, when the Greeks developed a crane to lower to the stage an actor playing a god (see deus ex machina), as well as movable scenery mounted on wheels. Medieval mystery plays used trapdoors to allow the emergence of devils and used flying machines for angels. In the Italian Renaissance, elaborate machinery was used for spectacles produced in the churches on holy days. In the 17th century the Italian Giacomo Torelli (1608–78) invented a system for moving the stage wings that made it possible to change scenery quickly. In the 19th century magical illusions were created with mirror devices and refined trapdoors. By the late 20th century spectacle had fallen out of fashion except in musical theatre, but hydraulic stage machinery allowed for swift and soundless scene changes. See also stage design.

* * *

      devices designed for the production of theatrical effects, such as rapid scene changes, lighting, sound effects, and illusions of the supernatural or magical. Theatrical machinery has been in use since at least the 5th century BC, when the Greeks developed deus ex machina (q.v.), by which an actor could be lowered to the stage. During the Hellenistic period, the Greeks also used movable scenery, mounted on wheels or on revolving prisms called periaktoi (see periaktos). The Romans elaborated on these devices, adding traps (see trap) and underground pumping systems so that their outdoor theatres could be flooded for aquatic shows. The mystery plays of the Middle Ages also used stage machinery, including a trapdoor, or a hellmouth, for the emergence of devils and flying machines for angels. But the art did not reach its zenith until the Italian Renaissance.

      In the late 14th century Italian artists, architects, and engineers began to design elaborate machinery for spectacles produced in the churches on holy days. One such device was the Paradiso, a system of ropes and pulleys by which a whole chorus of angels was made to descend, singing, from a heaven of cotton clouds. Greek and Roman stage machinery was rediscovered, and Bastiano de Sangallo developed new variations on the ancient method of using periaktoi for quick changes of scenery. Italian stage machinery eventually became so elaborate that it was necessary to introduce a highly decorated proscenium arch to hide it. The early Italian operas were famous for their special effects: ocean waves were simulated on stage by painted spiral columns, laid across the stage in diminishing perspective and slowly turned; mock sea monsters and other fabulous creatures were operated by teams of men inside them; deities mounted on clouds flew on complicated systems of wires; and portions of the theatres could even be flooded for water spectacles.

      In the 17th century the English masque designer Inigo Jones (Jones, Inigo) and Giacomo Torelli (Torelli, Giacomo), one of the greatest Italian stage engineers, invented many important pieces of stage equipment, some of which are in use today. The most famous was a system for moving the wings at either side of the stage, thus making it possible to change scenery almost instantaneously.

      The tradition of mechanical spectacle on stage was carried on into the 18th century by court theatres and by the Jesuit college theatre, but there was little new development. When lighting methods improved enormously in the 19th century, with such inventions as the limelight (q.v.), it became possible to spotlight the actors and to create special effects such as sunlight and moonlight. Magical illusions were also developed to a high art on the 19th-century English stage, which produced great refinements in the use of trapdoors and mirror devices for the simulation of ghosts and apparitions. In general, the “picture frame” stage of the later 19th century allowed the refinement of extraordinarily vivid spectacles, realistic and otherwise, by the use of treadmills, moving panoramas, and other stage machinery.

      In the early 20th century, particularly in Germany, much use was made of revolving turntables and hydraulically elevated stages, on which complex scenes could be preset and then brought into view when needed, but such machinery was generally found to be too elaborate and expensive. The trend toward increasing intimacy between the actor and his audience led in the second half of the 20th century to the return of open stages and theatre-in-the-round, which require little scenery or stage machinery of any kind.

* * *


Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • stage design — Aesthetic composition of a dramatic production as created by lighting, scenery, costumes, and sound. While elements such as painted screens and wheeled platforms were used in the Greek theatre of the 4th century BC, most innovations in stage… …   Universalium

  • machinery — [mə shēn′ər ē, məshēn′rē] n. pl. machineries 1. machines collectively 2. the working parts of a machine 3. any combination of things or persons by which something is kept in action or a desired result is obtained [the machinery of government] 4.… …   English World dictionary

  • machinery — (n.) 1680s; from MACHINE (Cf. machine) (n.) + ERY (Cf. ery). Originally theatrical, devices for creating stage effects (which also was a sense of Gk. mekhane); meaning machines collectively is attested from 1731. Middle English had machinament a… …   Etymology dictionary

  • machinery — /meuh shee neuh ree/, n., pl. machineries. 1. an assemblage of machines or mechanical apparatuses: the machinery of a factory. 2. the parts of a machine, collectively: the machinery of a watch. 3. a group of people or a system by which action is… …   Universalium

  • machinery — /məˈʃinəri / (say muh sheenuhree) noun (plural machineries) 1. machines or mechanical apparatus. 2. the parts of a machine, collectively: the machinery of a watch. 3. contrivances for producing stage effects. 4. personages, incidents, etc.,… …   Australian English dictionary

  • Mansion stage — Contents 1 Mansion stage 2 Sociohistorical context 3 Specific characteristics of mansions 4 See also: 5 …   Wikipedia

  • theatre — /thee euh teuhr, theeeu /, n. theater. * * * I Building or space in which performances are given before an audience. It contains an auditorium and stage. In ancient Greece, where Western theatre began (5th century BC), theatres were constructed… …   Universalium

  • theatre, Western — ▪ art Introduction       history of the Western theatre from its origins in pre Classical antiquity to the present.       For a discussion of drama as a literary form, see dramatic literature and the articles on individual national literatures.… …   Universalium

  • Grand Théâtre de Genève — is an opera house in Geneva, Switzerland.As is the case with many other opera houses, the Grand Théâtre de Genève is both a venue and an institution. The venue is a majestic building, towering over Place Neuve, officially opened in 1876, partly… …   Wikipedia

  • Austria — Austrian, adj., n. /aw stree euh/, n. a republic in central Europe. 8,054,078; 32,381 sq. mi. (83,865 sq. km). Cap.: Vienna. German, Österreich. * * * Austria Introduction Austria Background: Once the center of power for the large Austro… …   Universalium