Skip to Content

Art Gallery of Ontario

Keyword Site Search

Art Matters Blog

Sneak Peak: Stage Props and Theatrical Effects in Drama and Desire (Video)

June 17th, 2010

Designer Gerard Gauci, together with a team of set painters, has created a seductive entry into Drama and Desire: Artists and the Theatre. It’s based on 18th trompe l’oeil painting techniques used in the theatre. The arches behind the lush draperies were inspired by the most famous painting in the exhibition‚ Jacques-Louis David’s Oath of the Horatii.

If you look carefully, you can see the way these recreations of 18th century stage flats were constructed and how they would have appeared to performers. In-house painters have aged the new plywood to give visitors a real sense of what it was like to be on stage over 250 years ago.

stage props

The AGO is borrowing stage props from the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, the Canadian Opera Company, Canadian Theatre Museum and Opera Atelier to enliven the lobby as well as the exhibition itself. Alec Guinness’s sword from the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s 1953 production of Richard III and the head of John the Baptist from a COC production of Salome are just a few of the surprises in store for visitors.

The AGO has negotiated the loan of archival books and a toy theatre from the University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library. The Toronto Public Library is lending personal memorabilia of the most famous actress of the late 19th century, Ellen Terry, to complement the startling portrait of her as Lady Macbeth by American painter John Singer Sargent. We’ve also borrowed jewel beetles (dead ones that is) from the Royal Ontario Museum to replicate the ones sewn into her very controversial costume.

In the 18th century several different machines were used to create sounds effects in the theatre. This is an authentic recreation of a wind machine. Visitors can turn the crank and create a really believable simulation of howling winds.

Lighting and sound technicians are busy concocting a storm with waves crashing, thunder, and lightning bolts to bring an English landscape painting to life. 18th century style stage machines that make the sound of rain and wind have already been constructed and only await visitors to activate them. The sound of rain  is made from putting beads in a drum and rotating it, while the sound of wind is created from canvas passing over wood.

French painter Edgar Degas loved to hang out at the Paris Opera House observing ballet dancers both on and off stage. Elaborate red velvet drapes and crystal chandeliers will evoke the atmosphere of a reception room at the Opera and create an appropriate setting for seven wonderful Degas paintings of dancers. (We intend to move the sky-jack before the show opens!)

Drama and Desire starts with a recreation of an 18th century stage set and concludes with one from the early 20th century. Englishman Edward Gordon Craig designed this set for Hamlet in 1911. At the time, its stark white forms made it the most revolutionary of the day. It still looks remarkably contemporary today. Hamlet’s voice performing the famous “To be or not to be‚” soliloquy will be heard as visitors approach the columns. A strong light from behind visitors will cast their shadows onto the set and make them feel they are part of the drama.

Drama & Desire: Artists and the Theatre opens this Saturday, June 19, with an exclusive Members’ Preview on now!

2 Responses to “Sneak Peak: Stage Props and Theatrical Effects in Drama and Desire (Video)”

  1. Des Joseph says:

    I saw this yesterday. One of the best exhibits ever! Loved it. Thank You.

  2. Des Joseph says:

    I was taken back in time with this lovely Drama & Desire exhibition. The paintings chosen are superb with Masters like Degas,Delacroix,David,Ingres,Blake,Beardsley,Toulouse-Lautrec,and Vuillard to only name a few. I enjoyed sitting in the Degas room ,like it was my own with the chandeliers, I could return again and again and never see everything; indeed this is an exhibition that Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet would die again and again for. Thank You so much for this experience.
    Des joseph

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.