Propping up the Past: Creating Props for our Steampunk Opera

Posted: April 10, 2013 by Mary Lin in Uncategorized

It’s hard to decide which was more fun in creating Queen Victoria’s Floating Garden of Secrets and Natural Wonders; writing the play, the music, or designing the show.  Truth be told, I have a special place in my heart for the stuff-making. I grew up in a house filled with all kinds of bizarre Victorian oddities, from cracked pottery and rusty kitchen tools to butter clabberers and wringer washing machines (at one point we nicknamed my mom The Collector of  Priceless Antiquities.)

Here’s a few tidbits on just a few of our choices for props in the show:

-The Physiognomy Chart and anatomy lesson reference Victorian attempts at sociobiology, using measurement of physical features  as justifications and confirmation of bigoted stereotypes of class, race and sex. We’re poking at Galton’s  misapplication of Darwin’s ideas in the emergence of social Darwinism, ladies’ social  reformation societies, etc. We’re commenting on the confluence of Empire (colonialism via etiquette) and Empirical method – a main point/trope of the show.

Ye Olde Pharte Collector

Every man can be self-sufficient with this marvelous “Personal Energy Encapsulation Device”

-the Pharte Collector – as steampunk grows in popularity it’s losing its steam – literally.  We’re putting the steam back into steampunk. This personal methane collector demonstrates our own take on “steam power” and comments on alternative energy  and the art of inventioneering. Science is messy. It may not always be pretty but it’s a necessary part of moving us forward into the future.

-swords and parasols — parasols, fans, gloves, and  hats contrast with swords, shivs, knives, other hand tools in the utility garters and belts of the women aboard.  In the Victorian era, women were delicate flowers, the flower maiden archetype … but then again, they were also  dangerous if left without supervision, not only to themselves but to others. HMS Annelid is from another view the Victorian drawing room, itself the updated gynaeceum of the Middle Ages, where women were locked away to protect the men from their wiles, their plans, and their murderous schemes and poison.

On the other hand, perhaps the men are dangerous and the women are simply arming themselves in any way they can to protect themselves, be it via feminine wiles or the quick thrust of a blade. Audiences can decide for yourselves.

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