Abbé Perrin (Director of...
The first theatre stagehands were former sailors. They had the strength and agility to manoeuvre the machinery. As a result, in the theatre, numerous technical terms and superstitions originated in the navy or from life at sea. Among them is the capstan which is a winch with a vertical axis used to heave the anchor or the rigging. At the Opera, the capstan has a horizontal axis. Counterweights were used to raise the sets, thus reducing the effort required to do so. The weight to be moved corresponded to the (weight of the set) – (the weight of the counterweight). Using this system, stagehands could make pieces of the set appear and disappear (painted canvas, trap door and platform…). The automation of stage equipment systems led to the end of the use of capstans. Nevertheless, in 2012, a production of Hippolyte et Aricie was performed on the stage of the Palais Garnier using capstans the “old-fashioned” way.
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