Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Claude Hagen, Technical Director

I came across a New York Times article published on February 11, 1910 that Claude Hagen has tendered his resignation for his position of Technical Director at the New Theatre. He left to establish a “fire show” which he is credited for inventing.

Looking a little further, I found that he was the IATSE International President in 1895-1896.

In the book The New Theatre New York (available for free on google play) lists Claude as the TD under Executive Staff. The book seems as though it was written as part of the founding of the theatre, describing their purpose to be a stock company. The book talks about the German influence, which is interested as some of the other research I have done suggests that the title of Technical Director may have been developed in Germany first. The stage was 100’ wide (between fly-galleries), 119’ to the grid and had a 32’ deep pit. The book credits Hagen for development of stage machinery for the theatre, including a turntable, “sinks” and “bridges”, as well as rigging improvements.

The Green Book Magazine Volume 6 in The Two Years of the New Theatre by Johnson Briscoe states that the opening ceremonies of the New Theatre was on November 6, 1909. Perhaps this is an indicated that the 1906 reference in the above book can be attributed to the start of the company.

Theatre in the United States: Volume 1 expands the description of the stage, saying that the machinery alone cost $250,000 and that it “revolves, moves backward and forwards, or transversely and up and down, as a whole or in parts. It also permits sections of the transverse stage to be dropped, and the rest of the sections to be opened so as to form sinks or cuts through which to lower whole sections.”

Play Production in America, as part of its section on scene shifting devices also mentions the theatre and Hagen, this time in reference to a rigging apparatus that allows ceiling pieces to be placed and moved in coordination with the turntable. This is mentioned in a brief article called Scene Shifting Devices on a website called Old and Sold.

The New York Architect, Volume 3 also discusses the New Theatre and its stage mechanisms.
JR Clancy has a PDF about their company and the history of rigging. John R Clancy started as a stagehand in Syracuse, NY. A show arrived in town, and the theatre’s current rigging system could not handle the shows requirements. Clancy set to work and changed the way that scenery was moved throughout the country. Clancy started to work with Claude Hagen, who is credited with being the TD at both the New Theatre and the Fifth Avenue Theatre. It implies that this relationship predates the New Theatre’s opening of 1906. The Iroquois Theatre Fire of 1903 moved the pair to start working on asbestos curtains and rigging for the curtain to be automatically released.

The American Architect {and} the Architectural Review Volume 122, Part 2 also mentions Hagen as developing a piece of rigging equipment that was able to automatically adjust the counterweight needed for a load (p455). His designs are further supported by patents (these are a few among many):

The Kid of Coney Island: Fred Thompsan and the Rise of American Amusements also mentions Claude Hagen, crediting him for doing stage effects for a chariot race in Ben Hur, directing Fire and Flames in 1903 for Luna Park, and was connected to Thompson as he was hired to design a stage for the Hippodrome. This would have occurred concurrently to his work at the New Theatre as the Hippdrome opened in 1905.

A New York Times article from 1908 mentions that in Dreamland, Hagen has a “Fire Exhibition”, calling Hagen an owner or the Surf Avenue Fire Show.

Hagen’s work with Ben Hur Is referenced in an article called Filmed Scenery on the Live Stage by Gwendolyn Waltz. This actually referenced an earlier article that appeared within Scientific American that described the effect in detail. Steam at Harper's Ferry talks about the article as well (which I don't currently have access to, which describes the way the race scene was executed. Of not in the blog entry is that Hagen is reported to be from a firm called McDonald & Hagen.

Dr. Felicia Hardison Londre in The Enchanted Years of the Stage: Kansas City at the Crossroads of American Theatre, 1870-1930, also mentions Claude Hagen. Occurring in 1887, this predates the work mentioned above. In this case he was working on a tour (I assume he was traveling with the company) with Edwin Booth and Lawrence Barret. In the scenario mentioned Hagan was working with Augustus Thomas (playwright) when a stagehand let a flat fall during a strike. It isn’t clear from the entry what Hagen’s role was.

I also found a piece written by Claude Hagen, an introduction to The Theatre of Science: A volume of Progress and Achievement in the Motion Picture Industry by Robert Grau. What he wrote though does not elaborate on his own contributions to the entertainment industry.

While this is certainly not a complete history, it is an interesting introduction to an early American TD.

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