The general prompt for this post was to track your characters journey throughout the show – I decided to parallel this prompt and track the journey of a prop from merely a brief mention in the script to an actual physical object on stage.
Tateh’s silhouette display stand spends approximately 8 minutes on stage, which in a three hour long show is hardly any time – the guns get a lot more stage time for a lot less work. But the display also speaks to Tateh’s character and humble beginnings – he is an artist whether he is working out of a shabby little suitcase or with a movie camera and famous celebrities.
The cart starts out in the script as a brief mention at the end of “A Shetl Iz Amereke,” – “Tateh begins to set up his cart.” The first stage of creating the display was purely logistical – is there time to get a cart on stage? Can we build a cart? In our research we came across a lot of street vendor stands that looked like this –
But, as anyone who has seen the choreography of the switch from “A Shetl Iz Amereke” and “Success,” would conclude, a roll on cart was just not going to work. The stand was going to have to be something that Tateh could carry with him throughout the entirety of “A Shetl Iz Amereke” and then set up as he started singing “Success.” We then looked into what had been done before for the role of Tateh.
The above image comes from the 1984 movie version of Ragtime – the general idea matched what we wanted – a display to show off some already made silhouettes, a place for him to keep his materials, etc. but again there was the issue of how was he going to get it all onstage? Thats when we got inspiration from this image:
An X-stand that could fold up was certainly manageable and we could rig a suitcase to act as a display and a suitcase – now all we needed to do was make it all! This process started with a trip to prop storage to pick out the rattiest suitcase we could find – the winner was handle-less, the covering had been completely ripped off the top and it smelled so bad on the inside I had to let it air out for about five minutes before I could even start working with it. In other words, it was perfect. A rope handle, some string to hold it open like a display and some febreeze and it was ready for silhouettes.
The silhouettes were one of the things I had the most fun making for this show – they are surprisingly easy to make and there is something extremely calming about sitting and cutting paper. I originally got the idea of a simpler way of doing silhouettes from this blog post
But instead of using paint I wanted to stay more true to how Tateh would have made a silhouette. I searched the internet for images that would work – the center silhouette is an example of the “Gibson Girl” hairstyle – one Evelyn Nesbit was known for sporting. The silhouette of the man is meant to resemble J.P. Morgan, although I could not actually find a picture in profile of the man himself. The third image was inspired by Mother’s costume and hat from the photoshoot. I printed out the images and traced them onto black paper. A little glue to secure the images to their background and the silhouettes to the suitcase, some aging to make it look appropriately battered and it was ready for the stage!