THANKS to my friend Marnie T for the link to this fascinating blog about weirdo Victorian photography customs for today’s inspiration!
Two Victorian cameras upstage, on tripods, pointed downstage centre. Further downstage, one in the focal field of each camera: an ornate chair of the period (back to the audience), some bizarre prop (a scepter, or a headdress or something), and a large tapestry, crumpled on the floor, furthest downstage. One of these for each camera. The cameras are closer to the wings and focused on a diagonal, so that the two crumpled decorative throws are almost touching, downstage centre.
A moment alone with the cameras.
Then, from opposite sides, enter two PHOTOGRAPHERs in period dress. They come just onstage and then gesture into the room, “after you” for someone offstage.
Enter two young BOYs, 6-8 years old, followed by two MOTHERs, early-mid 20s. All in period dress. The two groups do not take notice of each other.
Though there is much similarity between the two groups and their actions, it is important that it is not perfectly symmetrical or exactly choreographed. These are individuals, and though they are doing the same things, there ought to be personal variations.
The two groups go about their preparation with a practiced demeanour, as quietly as possible. The MOTHERs do not wait for instruction, nor is any given. The PHOTOGRAPHERs are readying the cameras. The MOTHERs guide the BOYs to the chairs, and get them kitted out in their props. The only sound is of their movements. The odd muted exchange between MOTHER and BOY, perhaps, not for an audience’s benefit.
When the BOYs are ready, the MOTHERs guide them to the chairs and seat them, facing upstage toward the cameras. They encourage the BOYs to strike a pose, and stand beside the chairs, facing toward the PHOTOGRAPHERs, waiting patiently.
The PHOTOGRAPHERs finish their prep and indicate to the MOTHERs they are ready. As the PHOTOGRAPHERs get under the hoods of their cameras, the MOTHERs step behind the chairs, and begin to gather up the crumpled throws. The BOYs express some concern about being left alone, but the MOTHERs assure them that they are not going anywhere and get them to resume their poses.
A signal from the PHOTOGRAPHERs from behind their cameras and the MOTHERs quickly pull the throws up in front of them. As they do, the lights dim on all but the MOTHERs who now seem quite alone behind their throws. They both heave a little exhausted/relieved sigh.
And hear each other. They look to each other and acknowledge each other for the first time. There is a stunned kind of wonder, and then they exchange a smile. They look back to their own worlds, peek slightly around the throws they are holding up and then look back to one another.
The smiles become conspiratorial.
With great care and effort, a real physical ordeal, they slowly switch places behind the throws while continuing to hold them up and keep them as still as possible. This can take some time and ought to require an impressive degree of physical virtuosity (and likely a little cheating from the props department).
Eventually they succeed and find themselves behind the opposite throw. One final, winded, victorious grin between them, and the lights return full to the stage. The PHOTOGRAPHERs come out from behind their camera hoods, and the MOTHERs disconnect from each other, and lower the throws, bringing themselves into a strange but familiar situation.
As the PHOTOGRAPHERs do some final fiddling with their cameras, the MOTHERs interact with these unfamiliar BOYs, warily at first, but with growing confidence as the BOYs don’t seem to notice a difference. They remove the props from the BOYs, reset them on the chair, and lead the BOYs upstage to the PHOTOGRAPHERs. Thanks are exchanged, and the PHOTOGRAPHERs again move to the edge of the room and gesture, “after you”, offstage.
The MOTHERs exit with their strange children, into their strange lives, with one furtive grinning glance back to each other before they are gone from view.