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The Collation

Let there be light! Kliegl lights on the New York Stage

Once again, I seem to have underestimated the level of esoteric knowledge held by our readers. Y’all are delightful (and I’m guessing have worked technical theater at some point…).

Yes, yes, indeed. The Crocodile Mystery posted last week does seem to be referring, despite the… umm… creative spelling, to a Klieglight.

The image itself comes from Folger manuscript T.a.81, which contains lighting plots for productions of Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, Taming of the Shrew, Merchant of Venice and Hamlet. All of these plots were done for Julia Marlowe-E. H. Sothern productions sometime in the early 20th century.

Folger MS T.a.81, inside front cover.

There are generally two pages for each scene of a play; one page has general notes for the lighting of the scene, while the other page contains the actual lighting plot, showing the placement and coloring of the lights.

Left: description for Hamlet 1.4
Right: plot for Hamlet 1.3

These plots can range from fairly simple, as the one above, to quite complex:

Left: Merchant of Venice, 2.2
Right: Twelfth Night, 2.1

Practicals, those lights that appear on stage as functional light-giving objects, are also noted, along with cues for them:

Left: Taming of the Shrew, 3.1
Right: Twelfth Night, 2.1

Which brings us back to our “Kleg” or “Klegal” light.

The Kliegl Brothers Universal Electric Stage Lighting Company (which is a delightful mouthful) was founded in 1896 when Anton and John Kliegl bought out an existing stage lighting company in New York. They quickly grew to become the premiere theatrical lighting company and were around for a century, before closing up shop in 1996.

Advert for Kliegl Brothers in The Sun (NYC), March 7, 1909

One of the Kliegl brothers’ first big jobs was to outfit the Metropolitan Opera’s theater with dimmable electric lights.1

Metropolitan Opera House, ca. 1910. Their home on 39th St was resplendent with electric lights. (The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. “Metropolitan Opera House, New York, Which Seats 3200 Persons.” New York Public Library Digital Collections.)

The brothers produced (and patented) lights that would become standard for American theaters and studios, from their 1906 “baby spot” (the first incandescent spotlight) to their 1911 eponymous Klieglight, a carbon arc floodlight. The Klieglight was designed to produce a brilliant white light, meant to mimic daylight, and was originally intended to allow for motion picture filming on indoor studio stages; however, it seems to have quickly been adapted for theater use, with the application of frosted and colored “gelatine” films (basically squares of heavy-duty cellophane) in front of the carbon rods to soften and disperse their harsh light.

“Klegal Amb”, that is, have an amber gel on the Kliegl light to provide the warm light, while the footlights are blue, providing the cool light. (Romeo and Juliet, 5.1)

So which Kliegl light is being referred to in these lighting plots? Based on the notes for some of the scenes, I’m more inclined to believe that this was the Kliegl arc light, rather than their baby spot (else why the distinction, seen in various images, between the “spots” and the “Kleg/Klegal”?)

Another instance of “spots” and “kleg” being distinct in the notes. (Hamlet 3.2)

The other question that remains, of course, is in which theater these productions took place. The basic outline of the proscenium stage is identical on all of the pages in this manuscript (including a few that are blank save for the stage outline), which (to me, at least) implies that they were either designed for the same theater, or were intended to be so generic that they could be applied to any space in which Marlowe and Sothern were playing.

Based on entirely too much time spent digging through NYC newspapers (thank you LoC’s Chronicling America project), I suspect if they were all designed for the same theater, it was either for the Academy of Music (the one in Manhattan, on 14th St and Irving Place) or for the Broadway Theatre (41st St and Broadway).

In 1904, Marlowe and Sothern partnered up under the management of Charles Frohman. They tended to spend 4-8 weeks in New York in the fall (October-November, sometimes into December), and sometimes did a late winter or spring engagement there as well. The rest of the time was spent on tour, mostly in the United States, but sometimes also in Britain and western Europe.

In the summer of 1906, unhappy with Frohman’s management, Marlowe and Sothern switched over to the management team of the Shubert brothers.2

In the late winter of 1910, they were at the Academy of Music where, in the month of February, they presented Romeo and Juliet, Taming of the Shrew, Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, and Hamlet. This does match up exactly with the shows recorded in T.a.81.

But, if the “Kleg” in the plots is, in fact, the Klieglight arc light, we’re still a year too early—as far as I can tell, the Klieglight wasn’t marketed until 1911 (although I suppose it is possible that someone got their hands on an early version…)

Perhaps a more likely candidate was Marlowe and Sothern’s summer engagement in 1911, when they spent the month of July at the Broadway Theatre, presenting Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Taming of the Shrew, Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, and Hamlet. Here again, with the addition of Macbeth, are the same five plays.

Were these plots done with one of the first Klieglights in mind? Were they done for a specific theater? We’ll probably never know for certain, but the circumstantial evidence of this wonderful plot book is intriguing!

I don’t even need to tell you which play and scene this is, do I?

  1. I’ve seen conflicting dates for this job—some sources say 1903, but an interview in The New Yorker with John Kliegl claims 1905. (July 13, 1957 p.21)
  2. Yes, those Shubert brothers.