Regency Theatre Clubs and Secret Societies

RAOB_BadgeNicola here. There’s a new series of one of my favourite TV programmes on at the moment, the BBC genealogy show Who Do You Think You Are. From connections to royalty to Dame Judi Dench’s links to Hamlet, there’s always something fascinating in people’s family history. Last week part of the programme focussed on one of the largest fraternal organisations in the UK, The Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes. I must admit I don’t tend to think of the UK as being big into fraternal organisations other than the Masons and the “Buffs” as they are known, was new to me. However their origins and history turned out to be really interesting and got me thinking about the popularity of groups like these, why secret societies were so popular, and their decline in the modern day.

The Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes was founded in 1822 during the reign of George IV. It sprang out of the theatre trade and was set up in the Harp Tavern in Covent Garden which stood opposite Drury Lane Theatre. Covent Garden was and still is the heart of London theatre land and The Harp, which has been demolished since, was a favourite drinking place for theatre people. Edmund Kean, the actor, was a famous habitué in the Regency period and Sheridan, the actor and playwright, hung out there in the earlier part of the Georgian era.

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A Visit to the Regency Theatre with Shana Galen!

Color Shana Galen H-R-2118Nicola here. Today it is my very great pleasure to welcome back Honorary Word Wench Shana Galen! Shana is the bestselling author of fast-moving and fabulous Regency historical adventures including my personal favourite Lord and Lady Spy. When I heard that Shana had a novella out that was part of the Lord and Lady Spy Series I could not wait to snap her up for a blog piece about the fascinating theatrical background to the story. Over to Shana:

you so much, Word Wenches, for having me back again!

I was in middle and high school, I desperately wanted to perform on the stage.
The problem was my acting skills were pretty limited. But I could sing, and
once a year the theater department always put on a big musical. Finally, I had
the chance to get out of the prop room and step onto the stage. When I went to
college, I decided to combine theater and voice, and I majored in opera for a
semester. That’s about how long it took for me to realize I had no future as a
professional opera singer.

Spy wore blue-300I
didn’t have a future as a spy or a pirate or a courtesan, either, but I could
write stories about them! And that’s exactly what I did when I wrote The Spy Wore Blue: A Lord and Lady Spy
. Blue is a renowned spy for my fictional Barbican group. Helena is
an opera singer performing at Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, Italy. Blue and
Helena have a past, and they’re brought together again when Blue tracks an
assassin to Helena’s theater in Naples.

as much as I know about opera and set design (not much since the director was
always reluctant to allow me to use a saw or a nail gun), I knew virtually
nothing about theaters during the Regency. I knew I was constantly researching
the theaters I made mention of in my novels because it seemed whenever I wanted
to set a scene at a theater, it had burned down that year.

research for this novella revealed one of the reasons theaters so frequently
burned down. Without
Drury_lane_interior_1808 gas or electric lighting, theaters had to be lit using
torches, oil lamps, and candles. The auditorium stayed lit during the
performance and footlights highlighted the actors on stage. Jars of colored
water might be used to create colored effects. Mirrors might reflect colored
water to add an effect to a scene. Stage designers were creative, but they
couldn’t control the risks so much fire in one location posed.

In the image of Drury
Lane, right, note the footlights on the stage and the presence of lit
chandeliers throughout the auditorium.

architecture also figured into my novella. Two crucial scenes in the novella
relied heavily on theater construction. Unfortunately, theaters in the nineteenth
century weren’t built like modern-day theaters. I had to rewrite a catwalk
scene when I learned catwalks weren’t present in Regency-era theaters. Instead,
stage hands utilized fly systems to hang and move scenery. But I needed a
character to fall from above, so I started thinking about what would happen if
the fly system needed repairs or how the carpenters changed scenery for a new
show. I studied several blueprints and found that, just like present times,
Regency-era theaters had fly lofts, where materials were stored and the fly
system could be accessed.

the regency, scenery itself was composed mainly of flats, which were huge
painted pieces of scenery, which were placed on stage to
give the illusion of a building or another setting. For years these flats were
stationary or time-consuming to move, often requiring up to sixteen stage hands
to move the flats and change scenes. A set designer named Giacomo Torelli
solved this problem in Venice in the early 1640s. He designed a
chariot-and-pole system, whereby the flats were mounted on poles and attached
through the flooring to wagons, or chariots, under the stage. Many flats could
be so outfitted, and stage hands could use a pulley to move one flat off stage
as another replaced it, thereby quickly changing scenes. Not only did this
result in an increase of sets per opera, it provided me with the perfect
setting for the climax of my novella.

you have a favorite play, musical, or opera? Mine has always been Mozart’s
Le Nozze de Figaro. Lord and Lady Spy - SelectedOne person who
comments between now and midnight Thursday EST will win a copy of Lord and Lady

You can find out more about Shana and her books on her blog at