Theatre trades are created, transformed and sometimes lost.
From day-to-day management to running performances, many employees, known as “gagistes” were tasked with both administrative and artistic tasks. These “gagistes”, so called because they were paid in gages, wages, could be theatre boys, ushers, guards, upholsterers incharge of billboards, barrel cleaners, water carriers, glaziers, rope makers, suppliers of feathers, gaiters or blouses, fabric painters, fixers of sabres, belts, shoes, furs, guns, chairs or pouches.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, central heating replaced the chimneys and the fire lighter who up to that time was responsible for lighting the fires in the dressing rooms and foyers. The lamplighter lit up the theatre and the candle snuffers made it dark on stage until the electric fairy did away with illuminators, chandeliers, lamplighters and gasmen.
From rehearsals to performance, jobs have also disappeared, due to technical evolutions and economic constraints. The orchestra, formerly a permanent fixture, is now only occasionally present.
The orchestra pit housed the prompter’s box, who also served as the secretary and copyist in charge of the play manuscript. The actors were given a count down before the curtain was raised by the barker or “warner” who assisted the stage manager and would knock at the door of the dressing rooms. The public, on the other hand, was informed of the programming by the Troupe speaker. If there were a lot of empty seats, spectators came in, on the fly, free of charge, or even for remuneration!
Later, and until 1902, paid applauders followed the lead of a claque, the head clapper who made a deal with the director of the theatre to decide on the fate of a play. No, it wasn’t always better in the past...