Silk Flame Campfire Prop


Battery operated silk flame campfire prop

Battery operated silk flame campfire prop

This silk flame campfire prop was made for a theatrical production that needed a safe but realistic campfire effect onstage. Real pieces of timber were arranged around a circle leaving a space in the middle to accommodate a rectangular light box.

The light box was made from ply with several non-symmetrical holes cut in the sides with orange gel glued over them. Two small electric fans were mounted in the bottom of the light box along with three amber 12V automotive stop lamps mounted on the inside of the box.

Three layers of 10mm egg crate diffuser was fitted on the top of the light box to stabilise the airflow and to provide a platform to mount the silk for the flame effect.

Two of the 12V lamps were connected to a flickering candle effect so their intensity varied over time. The fans and lamps were run on a small 12V 9Ah battery. A long lead with a switch was used to control the campfire when it was on stage.

Timber arranged with a space for the light box

Timber arranged with a space for the light box

Top view of light box with the egg crate diffuser removed

Top view of light box with the egg crate diffuser removed

Below is a brief video of the silk flame campfire in operation.

Illuminated Organ Console Surrounds

Wurlitzer with an illuminated surround

Wurlitzer with an illuminated surround

During the silent movie era a live musical accompaniment was often used to add atmosphere and drama to the film being shown. This was usually provided by a piano or, in the larger theatres of the day, a pipe organ. The organ console was mainly kept out of sight as there was little reason to do otherwise. With the advent of the talkies in the late 1920’s the role of the theatre organ changed to one of a showman’s instrument for musical entertainment. During intermission an organ console would appear from nowhere, usually from below the stage on a lift, with an enthusiastic performer milking the instrument for everything it was worth. At the end of the performance the organist would, with great bravado, sink back below the stage waving goodbye to an appreciative audience.

The Plaza Theatre, Sutton

The Plaza Theatre, Sutton (from the Ivor Buckingham Collection)

Unfortunately a timber paneled organ console quickly becomes boring to watch – even in a coloured spotlight. Many consoles were mounted on a revolve to add a bit of movement and the organist had to become quite animated at times to maintain the attention of the audience. The personality of the organist and organ became the big draw card and the organ console itself was becoming a secondary aspect to the performance. There was a need to make it a more integral part of the performance .

The Compton organ with illuminated surround at the Odeon Theatre, Swiss Cottage

The Compton organ with illuminated surround at the Odeon Theatre, Swiss Cottage (from the Ivor Buckingham Collection)

The John Compton Organ Company in England created many exciting and innovative new designs for organ consoles using exotic timbers and sculpted panels. The first major new design was a French-style console in 1930 which bore more than a passing resemblance to a Wurlitzer.

However the big innovation happened in September 1932 when “The World’s First Luminous Organ” opened at the Capital Theatre in Forest Hill. The idea took flight immediately and demand for the new illuminated surrounds soared. Many fine examples of these consoles can be found in the “Stories of London” blog. Here can be found many examples of the organs made by John Compton. The Compton List is a detailed record of the 261 theatre organs built by the John Compton Organ Company, and installed in theatres, town halls, and studios throughout the UK and overseas before and, in a few cases, just after the Second World War. It is the result of continuous research and documentation begun early in 1990 by Ivor Buckingham.

Donald MacKenzie playing "The Duchess" at the Odeon in Leicester Square.

Donald MacKenzie playing “The Duchess” at the Odeon in Leicester Square.

The use of illuminated surrounds was a predominately British phenomenon which was not used in the United States or elsewhere. The most famous instrument, known as “The Duchess”, is located at the Odeon Theatre in Leicester Square. The surround was a special and it can be seen in this youtube video with Donald Mackenzie playing the signature tunes of the presidents of the Cinema Organ Society (COS) at a concert on the 25th August 2014. The audience were joined by members of The Cinema Organ Society who were celebrating their 60th anniversary.
the Rainbow style surround at the Gaumont Theatre in Chelsea

Terrence Casey with the Rainbow style surround at the Gaumont Theatre in Chelsea (from the Ivor Buckingham Collection)

As of 2015 there are only a few theatre organs still in use in Sydney. The Cremorne Orpheum on Military Road is the only theatre providing regular intermission entertainment during screenings. The Orpheum Theatre is the jewel in the crown of Art Deco theatres in Australia much to the credit of its owner, Mike Walsh. The Wurlitzer console itself is a white and silver paneled unit mounted on a revolve which rises up from under the stage floor. Many of the polished consoles were painted ivory or white to make them look better under coloured spotlights. In the city this happened to the organs of the Regent, Plaza and Capitol theatres. This treatment was also done to some of the suburban theatre organs as well. At the State the console was ivory from new.

Other theatre organs that still exist around Sydney include the following;
– Orion Theatre (Campsie) : Ex-Sydney Capitol Theatre (Wurlitzer – owner TOSA)
– Marrickville Town Hall : Ex-Prince Edward Theatre, Castlereagh Street (Wurlitzer – owner TOSA)
– Epping Baptist Church : Ex-Duke of York Theatre (later the Odeon), Eastwood (Christie)
– Anglican Church (West Ryde) : Ex-Kings Theatre, Gordon (Christie – owner TOSA)
– State Theatre ; Being restored – currently unplayable (Wurlitzer)
– Wesley Theatre, Pitt Street: Ex-Lyceum Theatre on the same site (Christie)

The Theatre Organ Society of Australia (TOSA) organise regular recitals at some of these venues so these marvelous instruments can be heard.

A few years ago Decoworks submitted a proposal to build an illuminated surround for the Orpheum Wurlitzer to give it a more Art Deco feeling in keeping with the overall theme of the theatre. The story of its design and final submission pictures can be found here.

The Hayden Orpheum Revisited

I visited the Cremorne Hayden Orpheum picture palace in Sydney again yesterday. Its Art Deco decor is stunning and it was such a pleasure wandering around the foyers and stairs admiring all the detail. I took some more pictures of some of the Hayden Orpheum light fittings which capture the spirit of the place.

Hayden Orpheum refurbishment

The Orpheum was restored by entrepreneur Mike Walsh and reopened in December 1987 as the Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace. John Love created the Orpheum project with Bill and Avgoulla Hendrickson. This included the creative concept for the original auditorium and the five new cinemas in addition to the ancillary areas. The restoration of the old light fittings, as well as the planning of all new ceiling and wall light creations, interior and exterior doors, were manufactured by Bill and Avgoulla Hendrickson.

Hayden Orpheum corridor to toilet

Light in corridor to toilet

Hayden Orpheum Main foyer light

Main foyer light

Hayden Orpheum Small main foyer lights

Small main foyer lights

Light outside Hayden Orpheum main auditorium

Light outside main auditorium

Another light near the toilets

Another light near the toilets

A fitting final photo

A fitting final photo

Regent Art Deco Chandelier

Baccarat Art Deco chandelier 1925

Inside the Baccarat/Christofle pavillion, 1925
(courtesy Lourve Library, Paris)

A large 3 metre tall Art Deco chandelier designed by Georges Chevalier was the centrepiece of the Baccarat/Christofle pavilion at the 1925 “Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes” in Paris. The design was based on fountains of water which was a motif of the exhibition.

The Art Deco chandelier was sold after the exhibition and sent to Australia where it was installed in the foyer of the Regent Theatre in George Street, Sydney. The Regent opened in 1926 and was demolished in 1990. The chandelier was dismantled and stored in cardboard boxes in a basement in Sydney. There it remained for 20 years until it was re-assembled in July 2009 to prepare it for sale.

Regent Art Deco chandelier sold

In December 2010 the Art Deco chandelier was sold to a buyer in Paris and left Australia for good. The chandelier is of world significance and hopefully its whereabouts will not remain a secret for too long so it may once again be admired. A full size replica was built in 1992 for the Metro Theatre in George Street, Sydney. Infomation on that Art Deco chandelier can be found here.

Art Deco chandelier

Hanging in a Sydney basement in 2009

Regent Theatre Art Deco chandelier

The chandelier hanging in the foyer of the Regent Theatre

Baccarat/Christofle pavillion Art Deco chandelier

Baccarat/Christofle pavillion at the 1925 Paris exhibition

The Regent Theatre Art Deco chandelier was the only Art Deco feature in the Regent Theatre.

Art Deco Chandelier

Regent Theatre Art Deco chandelier

Regent Theatre Art Deco chandelier

The Art Deco chandelier that was salvaged from the demolition of Sydney’s Regent Theatre in 1990 has an interesting history. The Art Deco chandelier was made by Baccarat and was the centrepiece of their pavillion at the 1925 “Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes” in Paris. This important exhibition was the birth of the Art Deco movement and, as a result, makes the chandelier of world significance and a unique piece of Art Deco history.

Art Deco chandelier in pieces

Stored in pieces for many years in cardboard boxes in a basement in Sydney it was recently reassembled to prepare it for sale. In December 2010 it was sold to a buyer in Paris and the chandelier left Australia for good. More details and photos of the chandelier can be found on this page.

Further background information about the Art Deco chandelier and its lightweight replica can be found here.