Academic journal article Theatre Notebook

Antonio Brunati, King's Company Scenekeeper (1664-65)

Academic journal article Theatre Notebook

Antonio Brunati, King's Company Scenekeeper (1664-65)

Article excerpt

One of the most important innovations that the reopening of the theatres in 1660 brought was the introduction of scenery, yet there is barely any substantial information on who was in charge of the design and construction of scenic pieces and of their handling before, during and after performances. The records of theatrical activities for the period 1660-1700 are very scant, and are much more so with regard to this particular aspect; they are mostly limited to several lists of company personnel in the Lord Chamberlain's office, which identify some employees as "scenekeepers" only by their name and the dates in which they were sworn in as members of the theatre companies. (1) But these references are--to say the least--confusing, as it is not always possible to associate a name with a definite date; and they are also probably incomplete. What can be gathered from these sources concerns mainly personnel attached to the King's Company--some fifty in all--whereas the references to servants at the Duke's Company are much sparser. (2) This lack of information has proved a considerable handicap for theatre historians, and may in part explain why this type of personnel has been neglected in accounts on Restoration theatre companies. In part, too, this neglect may also be motivated by a common, though unstated, assumption that scenekeeping was a mechanical rather than a creative task. The present essay seeks to revise this assumption and to shed some light on one of the scenekeepers employed by the King's Company in 1664, Antonio Brunati, a person who may have worked in France and Sweden as well as England, and whose contribution to the Restoration stage might be rather significant.

I

Very little is known on the tasks that scenekeepers would be expected to undertake. It can be assumed that they coincided with the ones assigned to Henry Glover, a "Keeper of the Theatre" at Whitehall. His contract states that he must take care of "Our Scenes, Machines, Engines, & other things to ye same belonging" and that he must be paid 30 [pounds sterling] a year "out of the money by Vs allowed for the makeing & entertaneing the sd Scenes" (in Boswell Restoration 76-77) (3) According to Boswell, he was probably "a mechanic, or perhaps the Restoration equivalent of stage-electrician" (Restoration 77), but as the machines and scenes were made mainly with wood--together with ropes and canvas--it is more likely that he was a carpenter. This is indeed the profession that is attached to the appointment of "scenemen" in a project for a company that would have been created in the first decade of the eighteenth century, amalgamating the two existing companies; this is a rare and very valuable document, for it offers a complete list of "under Officers" needed by the company, including four "Scenemen yt are carpenters". (4) The connection between carpentry and scenery is found also in the opening lines of the Prologue in Richard Steele's The Funeral (Dec. 1701), when the speaker complains that theatrical art "is the Skill of Carpenter, not Player" (6) owing to the excessive attention given to scenery over the actors' skills.

The description of Glover's duties at Whitehall suggests that a scenekeeper was also expected to fulfil those that would later on be assigned to stage machinists. The Lord Chamberlain's records show that already by the 1670s there was some recognition of the distinction between both posts, for the title of "machinist" is attached to the names of several employees in the King's company while others continue to be identified as scenekeepers. The first, John Guipponi, was sworn in as a member in 1671, then was confirmed in September 1673 as "Groome of the Chamber in ord wthout ffee in quality of machenist to attend the Theatre Royall" (Wilson 28; Milhous and Hume, Register 39,49 and 127). (5) Then, when the company moved to Drury Lane, they hired another machinist, William Taimes (Wilson 29; Van Lennep 210; see also Milhous and Hume, Register 127, who list him as "William Tanner"). …

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