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theatre of the


Staging the Ritual Space of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, 1896-1929


Wendy Waszut-Barrett

Tbis arlicle previeu's a nell' musenm exbibit, guest

curated by US/IT member, C. Lance Brockman, providing a glimpse bebind tbe scenes o/tbe Scottisb
Rite 0/Freemasolll:)'. Tbe exbibit examines tbe influence and lise o/nineteentb- and earu' twenlietbcentlll)' tbeatrical tecbniques/or enbancingjraternat members' initialion experiences. See sidebar on
p. 49, 'II Traveling Exbibit, "/or in/ormalion about
Costumes avaliable for use in the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. From an
1896 fraternal supply catalog, Henderson-Ames Company; Kalamazoo,
MI. Courtesy of the author. Photo: C. Lance Brockman.

Rep""",,ti'"'" pm'tice, [mm"", theatr;ca! pOS'

can often be found as echoes within many of the nation's fraternal structures. The multi-faceted surface of Freemasonry
has permeated many areas of popular culture and history
since its arrival to the nited States in the eighteenth century.
Likewise, the theatrical practices of a dominant popular culture have continued even today to influence many Masonic activities.
For most of us today, Freemasonry and fraternalism conjure up hazy, distant images. Some remember the unusual
symbols upon a relative's lapel pin and signet ring, or perhaps
family discussions about "meeting night" at the lodge. The
enormous impact of fraternal organizations upon late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century society is virtually unknown
by younger generations and often forgotten by others.

wbere tbe exbibit can be seen in person.

Throughout this century our collective and public knowledge

has been shaped by fleeting images of parades, charitable
works, and impressive architectural structures. However for
the members, the private, dranlatic initiations offered many
the opportunity to p3J.1icipate in a form of hybrid anlateur dramatics.


Freemasonry is composed of several organizations or bodies.
All males wanting to join first enter the Blue Lodge that provides a basic dramatic and moralistic allegory in three degrees
or acts. Beyond this, there are V3J.'ious advance-degree systems
that provide additional moral lessons. Of these, the Scottish

Scenery created in 1952 by the Great Western Stage Equipment

Company of Kansas City; MO, painted by Don Carlos DuBois. Courtesy of
the Scottish Rite Bodies of Kansas City; KS. Photo: C. Lance Brockman.

A set piece used in

the "Treasury" scene
is indicative of an
early style of scenic
art. It was painted in
1904 by the Sosman
and Landis Scene
Painting Studio of
Chicago. Courtesy of
the Scottish Rite
Bodies of Tulsa, OK.
Photo: Kent M. Neely.

5 U M ~I E R


Rite of Freemasonry proYides in twenty-nine degrees a rich

theatrical opporlllllity with stories and dramatic allegories that
take place in many exotic and historical locations from antiquity. In 1896, a smalJ group of Scollish Rite Masons decided to
supplement the basic properties and simple robes used in initiations and to embellish the degree Iyork in imitation of the
popular-cult1ll'e stage. The uccess was immediate and the addition of "state-of-the-arr' scenery. COSlUmes. and lighting created for the Scottish Rite. proYided an opportunity to break
with past initiation practices, to "corner the (fraternal) market," and to mass produce increased numbers of members.
Scenery in the popular theatre of this period \\'as romanticalJy painted on gossamer fabrics in a style preferred by the
Victorians. A central backdrop \\'a.~ framed by a series of
painted side IYings that together create a total illusionary
space. This two-dimensional Iyorld lI'as easily concealed in the
fly space of a theatre, transported to another touring location,
or re-painted for another production. Therefore, theatrical
scenery was a temporary artifact that sunil'ed mainll' in photographic reproductions. Fortunately. the Freemasons hal'e continued to use these historical materials. preserYing a rich
aesthetic heritage that had been largell' discarded bl' the popular-culture stage from this time.

Scenery for Solomon's Temple created by Thomas G. Moses for the

Scottish Rite Temple in Ft. Smith, Arkansas. Moses was one of the most
prolific painters of scenery used for fraternal purposes; he painted for
over fifty-five Scottish Rite installations. Courtesy of the Scottish Rite
Bodies of Ft. Smith, AR. Photo: C. Lance Brockman.

For the exJlibit at the Frederick R. Weisman Art ~luseum at the
uniYersity of Minne ota-Minneapolis Campu . the "audience" is greeted by a theatrical depiction of Hades reyealed
through a large windO\I' at the museum's entrance. Cpon entering the museum, the initial "audience perspective" is immediately exchanged with that of a "backstage participant."
Exanlining the extensiye incorporation of theatrical production into the fraternal framework. this exhibit I'iell's both the
public and private spaces from a yariet\ of popular yantage
points. Two thematic sections are explored in relationship to
these organizations' historical presence in American society:
"Why join?" and "Theatre of the Fraternity"
The question "Why join?" addresses the basic question of
Iyhy so many of our relatil'es at the turn-of-the-centurY were
attracted to the oyer 300 organizations. This personal appeal
is examined in four thematic sections: :\ \ation of JoinersAssimilation and Segregation: Facing Morlalit\'-Issues of
Death and Benefits: Victorian Knighthood-Paramilitarv Solidarity; and Decorating and Transforming ~lembers. A \ation
of joiners explores the perception of gender. ethnicity. and
race which all fraternal orgmlizations and female auxiliaries
provided \yithin a Yictorian context to their members. The
nation's oYert desire to join a stratification of society is portrayed through photographs and other personal momentos.
Facing Mortality is an alternatiye appeal \Ihich proYided to initiates a support strucllire of death and disabilit\' benefits prior
to the exi, tence of goyernmental as istance.
Yictorian Knighthood examines a para-military presence
of these organizations aCler the Ci\il \\'ar. Para-militarY uniforms and regimental struclUres enhanced complicated preCision drills and formations for both marching and equestrian
units. This compelling public image appeared across the nation in spectacular marching displays and many parade-re-

Scenery representative of Darius's festive palace and created by the

Great Western Stage Equipment Company. Courtesy of the Scottish Rite
Bodies of Kansas City, KS. Photo: Rhett Bryson.

lated activities. FinallY, Decorating and Transforming ~Iembers

concludes the "Why Join?" theme, examining the stratified and
incremental hierarchY as depicted through a partial or complete chanoe of :tppearance through rihbons and costume.

The passage leading from "Whr Join;" to "Theatre of the Fraternitr" pulls the mu~eum I'isitor from marching conclares
and national conl'('ntion, to theatrical productions through a
complex maze of artifact,. SOlllenir hooklets. ornate banners.
marching uniforms. elahorate s\\ords. plumed hats. and commemoratiye badges arc exchanged for the elaborate costnmes,
wigs, ornamel1lal jellelrr. and colorful scenery. The transformation from "Whl' Join;" to "Theatre of the Fraternity" signals
a threshold from the nineteenth-century "public" presentation
to the "prirate" realm of IIrentieth-century fraternal existence
and its duality. \X'here:L' a partial alteration occurred through
the additions of aprons. collars and ornamentation. a complete transformation resulted through adoption of elaborate
costumes similar 10 those found in the local theatres. The
lodge house hecune a safe place for \'ictorian gentlemen to
Iransform themse!les into kings. priests and other historical

Above, the sequential steps used

to recreate a painted column

were exchanged by the end of the Victorian era for independent and specialized facilities that boasted of multiple rooms
for concurrent meetings, initiations, and social functions.
Similarly, the incorporation of elaborate scenic elements into
the dramatic initiation continued to \~sually enhance the ritual.
Extant artifacts range {rom hlU-scale historic backdrops and
costumes to conceptual drawings.

base. Dry pigments were used

throughout with the original
image as the model for drawing
and painting techniques. At
right, a detail of the column base
from the original drop. Scenic
painting by Alan Bryson as a part
of his Furman Advantage
Summer Research project, 1994.
Photo: Rhett Bryson. fA master


class on historic scene painting

techniques is scheduled for the
1998 USITI Conference & Stage
Expo in Long Beach, Calif. Ed.}

characters from ancient times and exotic places. The)' exchanged starched coUars and pressed suits for silks, velvets,
and gold bouillon trims.
"Theatre of the Fraternity" covers four main thematic
points: Building the Temple; Fraternity as Theatre; Fraternal
SceneI')' of the Nineteenth-Century Tradition; and Emergence
of the Twentieth-CentUiy.
In the section titled Building the Temple, the construction
of a theatrical space is exanlined in relation to the increased
popularity and financial strength of the Scottish Rite. The earliest lodge rooms, often located over commercial businesses,

Tomb sketch created by the Twin City Scenic Co. for use in the 5th degree

of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. Courtesy of the Performing Arts

Archives of the Univ. of Minnesota Libraries. Photo: C. Lance Brockman.

Complementing the romantic scenery, a variety of scenic effects were incorporated from the populaHulnlre stage to enhance the initiate's experience. One impressive effect is an
interactive display that allows a fraternal member to be visually transformed into a skeletal form and then back again. This
theatrical device, termed "Pepper's Ghost," was a traditional
means of suggesting an apparition by projecting an off-stage
image onto a piece of tilted glass sinlated on stage. Other effects allowed various revelations of symbolic objects or unworldly scenes to be "revealed" through the utilization of
lighting boxes and transparent theatrical fabrics or gauze, Another display is the ark of tbe covenant which "magically"
appears and disappears again {rom behind a closed door.
These scenic effects were all produced {rom theatrical techniques commonly found in the popular-entertainment stage.
"Theatre of the Fraternity" also examines the distinct
style differences of nineteenth- and twentieth-century painted
scenery. The emergence of "modernism" is seen as fraternal
scenery reflected shifts in style prompted by improvements in
stage lighting ;U1d changing visual tastes, The earlier Victorian
scenery is dramatically contrasted with that representative of
the 1920s.
After 1929, scenery produced for the Scottish Rite did not
foUO'\' the new popular trends stimulated by the "\ew Stagecraft." Instead, the scenery continued to reflect the \~sual
genre of a past era dominated by the traditional drop and \\~ng
scenery. Thus, the Scottish Rite's theatre production preserved
a traditional form of theatrics rarely seen in the late twentiethcentury theatre.

Welldy Waszllt-Barre/t is a Pb.D. candidate in tbe

Tbeatre Arts and Dance Department at tbe (/niversi~)' of
Minnesota-Minneapolis Campus. Sbe bas done
extensive lI'ork witb recreations ofbistoric scenic
painting tecbniques.

Theatre ofthe Fraternity: Staging the Ritual
Space of the Scottish Rite of Freemas0171J\
1896-1929 opens on Sunday, October 6, 1996
and runs through Sunday, January 5, 199 at
the Frederick R. '\ eisman Art Museum at the
njversity of Millnesota-MIDneapolis Campus (612-625-96 8).
C. Lance Brockman, gue t curator of tills
exhibit is professor and chajr of the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance at the Uruvel~
sity. For the past twelve years, Brockman has
exammed paintillg and construction technjques used in popular theatre, vaude\~lIe, and
the fraternal movement. Brockman previously
collaborated \~th the Unjversity of Minnesota's
Museum as guest curator of The Twin Ci~y
Scenic Collection: Popular Entertainment,
1895-1929 (AprilS to June 14,198 ).
Afully illustrated catalog (over 100 color
images) has been prepared for the "Theatre of
Fraternity" exhjbit. Contributors mclude: art
illstorian and material culturalist, Ken Ames;
hjstorian, Mark C. Carnes; sociologist, Mal1'
Ann Clawsoll" arcilltectural historian Willam
D. Moore, and theatre hjstorians C. Lance
Brockman and Lawrence J. Hill. The catalog is
distributed by University Press of Mississippi
(800- 3 - 88).
Funlre bookings for thjs exhibit include:
February to June, 199 at the Kent State ruversity Museum, Kent, Ohio. Tills exhibit coincides with the 199 USIrr Conference & Stage
Expo being held in Pittsburgh, only a couple
hours from Kent. From July 27, 1997 to February I, 1998 the exhibit will be at the Museum
of Our National Heritage in Lexjngton,
Massachusettes. In Februal1' and March 1998,
"Theatre of the Fraterruty" will be at the Unjversity Art Museum, Uruv. of Call1ornia, Long
Beach. Tllis booking \\ill also coincide \~th
the 1998 SIrr Conference & Stage E.xpo in
Long Beach. As part of the conference, there
\~ be a master scene painting class conducted by Lance Brockman Rachel Keebler
(Cobalt Studios) and Rhett Bryson (Furman
Uruversity). Contact the Weisman Art Museum
for additional bookings (612-625-96 8).


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