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Why the names? An Olio Drop, an Oleo Drop, or a Roll Drop?

(Information provided in good faith and to the best of our knowledge. Information is based on internet research and discussion with theater colleges across the world.)

If you search for an Olio Drop you will see both spelling used. The modern term is Roll Drop. Any of the three terms usually means a drop on a roller from above that is made visible by unrolling and hidden above the stage in the rolled up position when not in use.

However, 'Olio Drop' and 'Oleo Drop' can also be used to describe any painted drops, usually vaudeville drops...and some downstage built scenery (not drops, but flats).

But why these two homophonic terms? The history is interesting.

'Olio' is derived from a term for mish-mosh. In theater it describes any short scene that was played far downstage--usually on the stage apron. Usually there were several scenes played in this location to mask the scenery changes occuring on the stage during Act breaks. These scenes were called 'Olios' and used extensively in melodramas as an artistic technique to break the tension. Eventually, even the area in the rigging upstage of the main curtain but downstage of the teasers and tormentors was called the 'Olio'. This usage predates vaudeville but became associated with vaudeville as a technique.

Oddly enough the second spelling 'Oleo' was also important to vaudeville. 'Oleo' is short for 'oleograph', which is a printing term for a picture printed on canvas by a chromolithograph technique. By the way an oleograph looks like an oil painting because it is printed with oil paint.

At this point things become a bit fuzzy but it seems reasonable that the two homophones which are also similarly spelled terms started to be interchanged to both mean 'a painted roll drop'. But especially one which was hung far downstage.

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