Nicola here. Today it is my very great pleasure to welcome back Honorary Word Wench Shana Galen! Shana is the bestselling author of fast-moving and fabulous Regency historical adventures including my personal favourite Lord and Lady Spy. When I heard that Shana had a novella out that was part of the Lord and Lady Spy Series I could not wait to snap her up for a blog piece about the fascinating theatrical background to the story. Over to Shana:
Thank you so much, Word Wenches, for having me back again!
When I was in middle and high school, I desperately wanted to perform on the stage. The problem was my acting skills were pretty limited. But I could sing, and once a year the theater department always put on a big musical. Finally, I had the chance to get out of the prop room and step onto the stage. When I went to college, I decided to combine theater and voice, and I majored in opera for a semester. That’s about how long it took for me to realize I had no future as a professional opera singer.
I didn’t have a future as a spy or a pirate or a courtesan, either, but I could write stories about them! And that’s exactly what I did when I wrote The Spy Wore Blue: A Lord and Lady Spy Novella. Blue is a renowned spy for my fictional Barbican group. Helena is an opera singer performing at Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, Italy. Blue and Helena have a past, and they’re brought together again when Blue tracks an assassin to Helena’s theater in Naples.
But as much as I know about opera and set design (not much since the director was always reluctant to allow me to use a saw or a nail gun), I knew virtually nothing about theaters during the Regency. I knew I was constantly researching the theaters I made mention of in my novels because it seemed whenever I wanted to set a scene at a theater, it had burned down that year.
My research for this novella revealed one of the reasons theaters so frequently burned down. Without gas or electric lighting, theaters had to be lit using torches, oil lamps, and candles. The auditorium stayed lit during the performance and footlights highlighted the actors on stage. Jars of colored water might be used to create colored effects. Mirrors might reflect colored water to add an effect to a scene. Stage designers were creative, but they couldn’t control the risks so much fire in one location posed.
In the image of Drury Lane, right, note the footlights on the stage and the presence of lit chandeliers throughout the auditorium.
Theater architecture also figured into my novella. Two crucial scenes in the novella relied heavily on theater construction. Unfortunately, theaters in the nineteenth century weren’t built like modern-day theaters. I had to rewrite a catwalk scene when I learned catwalks weren’t present in Regency-era theaters. Instead, stage hands utilized fly systems to hang and move scenery. But I needed a character to fall from above, so I started thinking about what would happen if the fly system needed repairs or how the carpenters changed scenery for a new show. I studied several blueprints and found that, just like present times, Regency-era theaters had fly lofts, where materials were stored and the fly system could be accessed.
During the regency, scenery itself was composed mainly of flats, which were huge painted pieces of scenery, which were placed on stage to give the illusion of a building or another setting. For years these flats were stationary or time-consuming to move, often requiring up to sixteen stage hands to move the flats and change scenes. A set designer named Giacomo Torelli solved this problem in Venice in the early 1640s. He designed a chariot-and-pole system, whereby the flats were mounted on poles and attached through the flooring to wagons, or chariots, under the stage. Many flats could be so outfitted, and stage hands could use a pulley to move one flat off stage as another replaced it, thereby quickly changing scenes. Not only did this result in an increase of sets per opera, it provided me with the perfect setting for the climax of my novella.
You can find out more about Shana and her books on her blog at http://www.shanagalen.com/