Page images




Stage Dresses.-Hair Dressers and the Like.-Exigencies of Attire.-The

Art of Dressing a Part to Suit the Character and the Period.-Ristori's Attention to such Details.-Mistaking Dress for the Chief Requirement of an Actor.-Absurd Anachronisms by Ignorant or Careless Actors.-The Wardrobe Keeper.-Curious Instances of Effect in Costume.-A Living Pack of Cards.-Exaggerated Idea of Value of Stage Jewels. The Mountain Robbers.—The Stolen Crown.-My Jewel Bag in a Western Town.

All theatres of any importance have “dressers.” Male dressers for the actors, and women dressers for the actresses. These help the players in change of dress, and fold up and put away their stage clothing after the piece is over. The leading players, I should say; for the poor ballet girls, who are most tired of all, are not vouchsafed the luxury of a dresser.

In French theatres a hair dresser is also furnished for the players' convenience, and a useful person he is. It is his duty to dress the heads of all the leading players in every piece each night; and to be sure that he shall dress it in the style worn at the time the play represents. Thus he must dress it fashionably if it is a modern play, or in the style of the Cavaliers, Round Heads, Greeks, or Roman, or powder it a la Pompadour, as the case may be. This useful person has not been adopted in American theatres, and we often see very stupid anachronisms committed on the stage by a character appearing in a style of head-dress not worn perhaps for a hundred years after the individual he is representing was dead and buried.

This matter of costuming has been in some cases carried so far as almost to reach a fine art.

In some theatres, where much attention is given to the



costumes worn, the name of the costumer is printed on the evening playbill. This causes him to be known to the public, and his services are often sought by persons who are desirous of hiring or having made costumes for masquerade balls, private theatricals or charades.

Ristori was inimitable in her careful attention to details in dress. Macauley himself could scarely have had a better knowledge than she of the different peculiarities of the epochs in which her plays were laid. Her costumes in Marie Antoinette were copied from pictures taken from life; and her court dress in Elizabeth was one which it was asserted old Queen Bess had actually worn.

Those who saw Ristori in this play will not easily forget her wearing clumsy white cotton gloves. Kid gloves were not known in Elizabeth's time.

It is a great mistake, however, for a player to suppose that attention to dress will compensate for inattention to matters of even greater importance; and, as has been remarked, it must be extremely galling to a bad and imperfect performer to have a warm reception given him entirely on that score, as it sometimes happens, and to hear the gallery-gods shout heartily, “Brayvo the dress!" One should try to hit the happy medium in this respect, and to pay due regard to propriety of costume, without neglecting other essentials. The style and cut of a stage garment are of more consequence than the quality or nature of the material of which it is composed, and the correct dress of the period certainly enhances the beauty of the play; yet in the “School for Scandal” and other elegant comedies of the same date the gentlemen generally sport moustaches; and a “star" appears in “Guy Mannering” without previously shaving off his whiskers and imperial. But carelessness in these and other such instances is not half so censurable as the downright ignorance that is occasionly to be met with in the profession.


[graphic][merged small]



All sorts of anachronisms do manage to creep in, even at the best theatres, at times. .In a leading London theatre one of the most celebrated actors of his day once made the blunder of wearing spectacles in a piece, the time of which was one century antecedent to their invention; Kean, as Crichton, played on a modern pianoforte; and pistols and guns are used in all our theatres, in many pieces, the supposed dates of which are prior to the invention of fire-arms.

At the Fifth Avenue Theatre in New York, a short time ago, Mr. James Lewis played the part of John Hibbs a London dry-goods drummer, in Robertson's comedy of “ Dreams.” The scene is of course laid in England; but at one point it was funny to see the generous-hearted Hibbs, take out his pocket-book, and present the suffering hero with a liberal donation of greenbacks, instead of notes of the Bank of England. This mistake-trifling as it seems -was amply sufficient to destroy the stage illusion for the moment; for the idea of a London cockney presenting a fellow foreigner with American greenbacks was a little too ridiculous.

The costumer or wardrobe keeper is generally a very humble individual of either sex.

It is not an unusual occurence for the wardrobe keeper to have lodgings in the theatre. These are of course furnished gratis by the manager, who gets his reward in their adding one more watchman to those specially engaged for the purpose. But I may here remark that I should have to be placed pretty low on fortune's ladder before I would consent to pass my days and nights sleeping or waking with the lugubrious surroundings of musty stage duds,-odds and ends of a more multifarious character than were ever found in any old curiosity shop, unceasingly about me. But tastes differ.

One of the most novel and brilliant effects I ever saw

« PreviousContinue »