Good Vibrations: the masterminds behind the props for THE VIBRATOR PLAY

IMG_0177                                        Sarah Edwards as Sabrina Daldry & Melissa Charles as Catherine Givings photo courtesy of Live Arts

Artistic Director, Julie Hamberg, is relieved to have her Live Arts directorial debut up and running. IN THE NEXT ROOM (or The Vibrator Play) by red hot playwright Sarah Ruhl opened March 1st to a packed house. As the second part of the play’s title indicates, the play, which is set in the late 1800’s, calls for some interesting props – two electronic vibrators.

I was interested in how the props team created these devices that are focal points of much of the action in the play. So I chatted with Della Jareb and Nick Smith the masterminds behind the machines to get a better understanding of how much hard research vs. creative license was taken with the design and function of the “stimulators”.

“There are two “devices” featured in the play, one designed for a woman the other for a man,” stated Hamberg in a recent phone interview.  Some productions of IN THE NEXT ROOM have built only one vibrator but Hamberg felt it was important to have a differentiation. “Part of the fun of doing this show is about the devices and how they were used. For us having different vibrators was absolutely part of our show.”

Exploring the concept of gender differential Victorian medical orgasmic stimulation piqued the curiosity of many people working on the show.

“We had a ball. Everybody wanted to help with props!” said Hamberg. The lucky winners of the job were 17 year old home schooler, Jareb, who designed the ladies version and Live Arts Master Carpenter, Smith who built the Chattanooga, the “male” vibrator.

It took a lot of research to get the right look. Jareb and Smith got assistance from Dramaturge Kristina Dobrovic-Beard who did some extensive research on vibrators of the era. “The Cattanooga really was a vibrator of the time,” said Smith.  “One thing I learned is that the Chattanooga wasn’t patented until 1904 although the play takes place in the1890’s.”   The script also depicts the nurse using a pedal to control the speed of the Chattanooga, “yet the original patent sketches showed no indication there was any such pedal,” said Smith.

Dobrovic-Beard found a very graphic medical pen and ink drawing of how the Chattanooga was used and Smith looked at photographs from other theatre productions of the play to get an idea of what had been built before. Although Smith does not claim historical accuracy he did pay attention to many details  to make it as authentic as possible. “I chose an English Chestnut stain for the base so as to remain faithful to the type of wood that would have been used at the time. As the Chattanooga did not have to be operational, I didn’t bother with any wiring or adding the various counter weights illustrated within the patent sketches. However, I did manage to locate an electric motor from circa 1908 that matched the patent, sourced from the Edison Electric Company. Any historically accurate parts I found came from my antique hunting in Petersburg, VA.,” he said.

“Mine was based on the female vibrators of the time but I took a lot of artistic license,” said Jareb. A character describes the female stimulator as looking like a farming tool at one point in the play. Getting the right look and making a prop that had to endure a number of rehearsals and a full run of shows was a challenge.

“I modified an old drill to get the look,” said Jareb. “While the vibrator I built was not historically accurate it is fairly representative of vibrators of that time.”

“We are all really excited and impressed with how these props turned out,” said Hamberg. Who reminds viewers that having electrical stimulation was considered a viable medical treatment during the late 1800’s with no sexual connotation whatsoever.  The equivalent of getting a shot or taking a pill.

And really, isn’t a good orgasm still often prescribed by the un-charming even today as a legitimate remedy for a number of poor attitude issues?

At any rate, IN THE NEXT ROOM is sure to be a cure for the late winter blahs and I look forward to seeing Live Arts version in the near future.

See you at the theater.

The Culture Maven

 

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8 thoughts on “Good Vibrations: the masterminds behind the props for THE VIBRATOR PLAY

  1. Pingback: Good Vibrations: the masterminds behind the props for THE VIBRATOR PLAY | blackcatcabinchronicles

  2. I had the opportunity to attend the opening night at Live Arts. It’s WONDERFUL! Funny, heart wrenching, and surprisingly romantic.(And yes, the “devices” were hilarious.)

  3. “And really, isn’t a good orgasm still often prescribed by the un-charming even today as a legitimate remedy for a number of poor attitude issues?”

    That’s definitely true! The more things change, the more they stay the same. 😉

    I wonder why it’s called a Chattanooga…

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