Bringing a Trojan Horse to the Stage
by Bob Greenwald
Yes, there was really a city of Troy. And yes, (apparently) the Trojan Wars really occurred. That leads directly to the next question; Was there really a Trojan Horse used to sneak Greek solders into Troy?
That we may never know for sure. Some scholars believe the “horse” may have actually been referring to machines-of-war like large battering rams that frequently were given animal names. There was also a tradition for the losing army to present the winning side with a ship. In this case that may have had soldiers hidden in it, so it functioned the same as a Trojan Horse would. But because it is key to a dynamic scene, and an important part of the entire story, we have to include it in our new production, Troy: Women & War.
That settled, I am going to give you some insight into how I design and build props or set pieces for Mosaic Dance Theater Company. I try to keep three important principals in mind. They are equally important, so we can look at them in alphabetical order.
We need the horse to be both real and believable. The first visual depiction of the Trojan Horse was a vase from about 750 BCE found on the island of Mykonos in Greece.
Other early well-known depictions include: a 1529 publication of Virgil’s Aeneid
and a 1773 painting by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo.
All early depictions have two things in common; they all look very much like a real horse, and are very, very large. Based on descriptions in the stories, scholars say it would have been about 25 feet tall. And hold somewhere around 22 to 50 soldiers. Obviously we cannot deal with a 25-foot-tall horse, but we will have to make it big. As for how lifelike it should look, it would have been made toward the end of a 10-year war, in a foreign land. Odysseus (who came up with the idea for the Trojan Horse) could not have simply gone to the local Home Depot store for supplies. It would have been made with lumber taken from the ships of the invading Achaeans, or from local trees. So I feel it would have looked a lot rougher than painterly depictions, or maybe like it was not yet complete -- more the impression of a horse than looking like an actual realistic horse. Of my several initial sketches of the horse, this is the first one that I thought captured the feeling or image of what I was looking for. So, it served as the base that I would build from.
2) Practicality or Usability Mosaic is a dance company. There are people in costumes moving all around the horse, so it can have no sharp corners or edges. And of course no splinters are allowed! It needs to be on wheels so that one or two of the performers can easily move it into place on stage. It is largely a piece of the set, so sits in the background. And it should not pull the audience’s attention from the performance on stage.
3) Transportability MDTC is a traveling company. We have to be able to pack costumes, accessories, props, sound system, video equipment, and performers into our van, and take everything to where we are performing, and also return. In this case the Trojan Horse has to fit into a space in our van that is only 5’ 7” wide and 4’ 4” tall. Have you ever bought something from Ikea? Everything comes in flat thin boxes, then is put together with a few screws to form a three-dimensional object. I used the same idea. I designed the horse in 7 separate pieces, all flat. The sides are over 6 feet tall, which will not fit into our van. So they have hinges to fold in half. Everything is light enough to be moved by one person, It can be assembled by one person in less than 30 minutes, and then stood upright by two people. You can watch the attached video to see some steps in the process, and perhaps some of the magic involved.