Magazine article American Theatre

Avid Barbour, the Author of This Issue's Feature

Magazine article American Theatre

Avid Barbour, the Author of This Issue's Feature

Article excerpt

story about the proliferation of projections in theatrical design (page 28), has some great backstage stories to tell. After a sprint through the early history of the technology--which, he figures, dates back to the invention of the magic lantern in 1650!--Barbour brings us up to date with some juicy anecdotes about the difficulties, practical and political, of introducing change into an art form so set in its ways.

There's the story Tony Walton tells about his pioneering efforts in the early 1960s to use projections for a big-cast revue on the Shakespeare Theatre stage in Stratford-upon-Avon. Dry tech went fine, but when the show's cast hit the trapped stage, it began to quake and shudder, discombobulating the projected images. Walton and fellow designer Richard Pilbrow managed to solve the crisis by stabilizing the stage with sliced bottle corks they borrowed from a cooperative bartender at the nearby Dirty Duck pub.

Pilbrow has an equally colorful tale to tell about the New Haven tryout of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, for which projection slides were manufactured in London. A box of the hand-crafted slides fell and smashed, and Pilbrow had to fly to New York with a newly fabricated set at the last minute. It was not until years later that Pilbrow learned that the "accident" was in fact a futile gambit by the scene-painter's union to inhibit the success of scenic projections and thereby save its members' jobs.

These are the kind of stories that American Theatre seldom told in years past, because the topic of stage design, in all its rich and varied manifestations, tended to get short shrift in the magazine's pages. …

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