Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Amazing theatrical travels with Jack Ricketts, scenic designer

Being a lazy human being I can barely manage to walk a couple of kilometres some days, but our theatricals in the 19th and early 20th centuries were people of adventure and travellers extraordinaire.

Take for example, Jack Ricketts. Jack was born in Orange NSW in 1864 and was apprenticed to an illuminator and painter in Sydney when he was 16. His apprencticeship was over after 3 years and then he was left to fend for himself as a painter, scenic designer and illuminator.

Jack painted back cloths, wings and scenery for various theatre companies.He wasn't employed by the larger entrepreneurs and so had to travel with smaller companies to earn money. Often he combined his painting duties with minor acting roles. His diary of 1899 tells the story of an amazing man who travelled far and wide to make a living.

He began the year in New Zealand with the Alfred Woods/ Maud Williamson dramatic company.On 2nd January they were in Greymouth, then they travelled to Nelson two weeks later,and arrived in Blenheim on the 19th. He worked in Wellington on the weekend of the 21st and proceeded to Wanganui the next Tuesday 24th.They spent February in Napier and Hastings and then returned to Wellington on the 25th. After that, Jack left the Woods company to pursue a project back at Greymouth with the Opera House Company.

The people of the Greymouth Opera House Company were generous and gave him a 15 pound bonus after he finished the job. Jack bought new boots, a new coat and a new hat with the money. He also gave some to his mum.

In June he took ship back to Sydney and painted a drop cloth for Mr Ward's skating Rink.

That job finished in August and Jack once again hit the road and ended up in Brisbane, back working for the Alfred Woods Company. He stayed with them as they travelled around Queensland, finally leaving the irregular paying manager in October, when they reached Toowoomba.

He arrived back in Sydney later that month and started to work for the Commonwealth Fair. A celebration held in Sydney later that year. Jack managed a quick holiday to Pearl Beach in summer before starting work for Harry Plimmer at the Standard Theatre in Sydney.

1900 was equally as strenuous, but I will spare you the details. Suffice to say that Jack was willing to travel far and wide to get an irregular wage. He was an artisan with no respect and no income except that which was grudgingly given by stingy managers. His livelihood depended on his skill as an artist and his skill as a negotiator. It was a hard life and Jack had no time to start a family until much later when he found steady employment with the unreliable but loyal William Anderson at Wonderland City.

But that is another story....

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