A Tale of Two Bags - When historically accurate is NOT what the story needs

by Jay Duckworth
in Props

Rehearsal Report -Props: 
Add – Newspaper with headline “King is Cured” 
Add – Leather doctor’s bag with things a 1750’s doctor would have to work on a gunshot wound.  

If you’re good at history and research, you know that these notes are both historically inaccurate. Now I know what you are thinking, Jay is going to poke fun at stage manager reports. Or, he is going to give us a lesson in historical accuracy. No, my dear friends, I want to share a few secrets with the props folk out there. Some things that I hope will ease your pain and also pull you back from the edge of that pedantic cliff. 

Let’s take these notes one by one. 

The Newspaper Headline — Now, newspaper headlines are great at sharing information quickly to an audience but COME ON! Headlines like Civil War Divides America! or America Wins Independence! Charles Dickens Writes New Book! aren’t correct. Like I said, these are good to inform an audience, but headlines didn’t exist until 1885. Before that newspapers were dense with text-only chunks of advertising and deeds. In roughly 1910, there were some titles to stories but also had a lot more advertisements. So, take a deep breath, make the headline, understanding the production’s need to use it but please make sure at least the font is from that time.

A Doctor’s Bag—this one is right out of Hamilton. In the "Ten Duel Commandments" scene there is a line about the doctor— “You have him turn around so he can have deniability.” Tommy [director Thomas Kail] asked me for a bag for the doctor. So, on our dinner break, I knocked together an 18’’x6’’x8’’ doctor’s box that was complete with brass fittings, corner protectors, and a leather shoulder strap. It was lacking some detail that could be added later, but I brought it out to show Tommy just before we started tech. He said that it looked great and may be exactly what they would have had at the time, but I was over-thinking it. A leather doctor’s bag would be all he needed to indicate who the character is upon entering. Indignantly I looked over my glasses and asked, ‘a Gladstone bag? Like Gladstone, the Victorian Prime Minister Gladstone?’. Tommy looked at me, and said, ‘If that’s the best way to tell a complex story quickly, that would be great.’ Well I felt like a total asshat! Here I was trying to show how damn clever I was, and Tommy sweetly and kindly took me back to our goal—to tell great stories. Doc Bag 1 Doc Bag 2

In the end, that’s our collective job, to be good storytellers. So, we need to get past the bag or the headlines; find a pair of eyes in the room who can tell you what’s going on beyond the report and they can help inform your decisions for your work and help you make better choices that support the story as it is being told by the particular production.