The Vintage Mystique of a Magic Lantern Show

20 Jun

Victorian Steampunk or vintage technology – you decide, at a
one-of-a-kind live entertainment

The convention of The Magic Lantern Society of the United States and Canada is being held this year in Tacoma. Part of the convention includes a wonderful Magic Lantern Show given by Terry Borton at the Washington State Historical Museum Auditorium on June 23, at 7:30 pm. The Magic Lantern Society is a group that collects, preserves and shares information about the many devices that were used to entertain and educate audiences before the advent of cinema.

Introduced in the 1600’s, the magic lantern was the earliest form of slide projector and has a long and fascinating history. The first magic lanterns were illuminated by candles, but as technology evolved they were lit by kerosene, limelight, carbon arc, and electric light. The heyday of the magic lantern in the US and elsewhere was mid-to-late 19th century. For audiences who had never seen a movie, watched tv, or experienced the Internet, projected slides were a wonder. Slide images were often dramatic, detailed, colorful and included movement.

By the 19th century, the magic lantern was used in theaters, churches and fraternal lodges, as well as at home by adults and children. In 1895, there were between 30,000 and 60,000 lantern showmen in the United States, giving between 75,000 and 150,000 performances a year. The first lantern slides were hand-painted on glass and projected on walls and cloth screens. Some were even rear projected, hiding the projectionist from the audience. By the mid-19th century, black and white lantern slides were produced photographically. Popular images included travel scenes,dramatic story slides, moral tales, song slides, religious and patriotic themes, and comic pictures. Until movies came along around the turn-of-the-century, magic lanterns were the only existing projection device.

The Victorian Magic Lantern Show that will be presented in Tacoma is an authentic 1890’s visual extravaganza. The show incorporates live drama and music lead by Terry Borton of The American Magic-lantern Theater, the nation’s only theater company specializing in this popular form of Gay Nineties entertainment. Once known as “stereopticon shows”, magic lantern productions were a combination of projected images, live narration, and live music that preceded the movies. Incredibly popular 100 years ago, they have a new audience today.

Tickets to The Victorian Magic Lantern Show are $12. For information and reservations, please call Larry Cederblom, 253-952-9370; email designerlc@comcast.net, or visit www.magiclanternsociety.org and click on the “Convention 2012” link.

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