Upon a little more exploration I was able to find out more about Claude Hagen. Robert Grau wrote about him in The Business Man in the Amusement World, even including a photo of him. Grau calls him the “greastest exponent of the technical side of the stage living at this time.” He discusses his life as well. Hagen was born in Chicago on January 21, 1863. He seemed to get his start (or at least became known about his mechanical ability) in Kansas City in the 1880’s. He was reported to work with Robert Cutler a machinist and technician. He built the Gillis Opera house and stayed as the Master Carpenter. This opera house was apparently just a few blocks away from the Grand Opera House that we visited when we were in grad school which had rigging materials that had survived.
Hagen left the Gillis Opera House to work on the Warder Grand Opera House. Dr. Felicia Harrison Londre in her book about Kansas City Theatre talks about Claude Hagen installing traps and mechanical devices in the space, allowing that it kept him “so busy that he could spare no time to build scenery for the opening.” (The Enchanted Years of the Stage: Kansas City at the Crossroads of American Theatre, 1870-1930)
Grau goes on to say that Hagen toured with combinations as “the foremost stage machinist of his time”, landing at the Fifth avenue Theatre in New York on 1898. He evidently opened up a studio to build scenery, patenting effects, and then in 1900 executed the effects for Ben Hur, and traveled with the show for several years. The stint of the Luna Theatres “Fighting of the Flames” was in 1903, followed by the New Theatre in 1908. The author then claims that the space within the book is too limited to describe the rest of Hagen’s career.
Grau, however, does work with Hagen once more in The Stage in the Twentieth Century: Third Volume, where Hagen describes the New Theatre stage and includes drawings. The book also, much later, mentions that Hagen’s rigging “inventions” are built and distributed by JR Clancy.
It is interesting how much cross over there is between film and theatre. While on one hand this should not be surprising, on the other, today they is not as much cross over as one would think. Yet, it seems novel today how much video is used onstage, and how movie like some shows attempt to be (Dirty Dancing for instance). While some of this influence is that some stage productions as of late are being created on the basis of successful films, it is interesting that the interest in moving scenery in a fluent, film like method has been around over the course of the last century, and really isn’t a very new idea at all.
It would seem from some of Hagen’s writing referred to above, and his chapter on “The Intimate Theatre Idea” published in Architecture and Building vol. XLV published in 1913 that his later career evolved into writing, as I have not found much else about his life after his tenure at the New Theatre. According to the 1940 census, he was living in New York at the Hotel Flanders and he was divorced.