1) Fuerst and Hume 1928 Twentieth Century Stage Decoration
3) Fuerst and Hume are aware, of course, of the importance of Appia's predecesors.
"It must be remembered that in these synthetized creations in the theatre, such as Wagner dreamed them, the stage settings were
not invented (as in the case of Romantic opera before Wagner), for the mere pleasure which they gave to the eye, for with
Wagner the setting has become for the first time an actor in the drama. Here the stage decoration acts, it plays a part.;
something which it had never done before. Moreover we can find in it a tendency toward psychological expression, toward
the creation of a mood...
...Later, Adolphe Appia attempted to reform the presentation of Wagnerian opera in modern terms and with a feeling more in
keeping with modern ideas, but the only reason he could do this was because the problem had already been posed by Wagner
4) As late as 1926 Friedrich Kiesler points out:
"The antinomy "picture stage" has remained generally unnoticed. For stage is space, picture is surface. The spatial junction of
stage and picture produces a false compromise, the stage picture, an effect which the present kind of theatre constantly aims to
produce". Kiesler, 1926
Kiesler proceeds to a proposal of the conceptual alternative, emphasising the importance of space itself:
"And the general uncritical acceptance of the contradiction "picture-stage" shows how greatly we need the apparent pleonasm
"space-stage" (which arises naturally in contrast to " picture stage"); for this designation calls attention to the fact that, despite
its thousands of plays, the stage is not yet what it should be: that is, space by whose relative tensions the action of a work is
created and completed" Friedrich Kiesler, Debacle of the Modern Theatre, in THE LITTLE REVIEW, Winter 1926.
5) Of recent manuals, Michael Holt's perhaps goes furthest in the direction of theory. A typical example :"Where should the
entrances be placed?" is germane to my present argument:
"Treat them like actors. For strong effects place them upstage centre. The more off-centre and the farther downstage an
entrance the less dominant, and more 'vulnerable' it is...." Holt, Michael, Stage Design and Properties, Phaidon 1988
6) This is not intended to deny the importance of the part played by late 19c practitioners, including The Duke of Saxe
Meiningen and Henry Irving , in establishing the production as a coherent and co-ordinated combination of disparate elements,
organised around the actor as centre. See also note 4 above.
7) Svoboda The Secret of Theatrical Space ?1992
8) Bragaglia, Anton Giuglio, The Theatrical Theatre, in THE LITTLE REVIEW, Winter 1926
9) Prampolini, Enrico, The Magnetic Theatre, in,THE LITTLE REVIEW, Winter 1926
10) Gillette, A.S. An Introduction to Scenic Design. Harper & Row 1967
11) Scolnicov, Hanna, Theatre Space, Theatrical Space, and the Theatrical Space Without, in Themes in Drama 9 See also
my article The Power of Darkness and the Power of Space in STUDIES IN THEATRE PRODUCTION VOL 2.,1990
12) There is an overwhelming body of written work and practical experiment in this area, with Brook, Grotowski,
Mnouchkine prominent as practitioners. There is also widespread rejection of the idea of a 'permanent' dedicated space for
performances. See Schechner, op.cit.:"Surely the need for scene design in our theatres is an attempt to overcome the
limitations of ready-made space as well as an outlet for mimetic impulses." More recent experiments such as THE TAMARA
PROJECT, Deborah Warners 'ANGEL' and 'ST. PANCRAS' projects, and the work of such companies as Forced
Entertainment and PunchDrunk have carried experiments in scenography into a revision of the notion of dramaturgy, perhaps
the most exciting area for future development.
13) Simonson,Lee THE ART OF SCENIC DESIGN, 1950
14) "But in order to make the play of light on the stage floor vibrant the stage platforms should be arranged in the following
manner. The entire length of the wall ,at stage left is reinforced by a buttress-like support which gives it a more definite
accent without disturbing its simplicity. From its base the stage floor descends slightly, then rises again, in order to form the
roots of the gigantic trees under which Tristan lies. From these roots the stage floor sinks, but this time to a lower level, so
that from this tree to the lower right there seems to be a path leading from the castle door in the background towarsd the
foreground. The approach from the sea which is near the wall is also slightly raised. Using this construction the stage becomes
a plane sloping from left to right, so that the light coming from stage right, always at a declining angle, eventually hits the base
of the buttress wall"....
" The terrace which cuts through the stage at an angle goes from stage left , meets the stage right flats which are further
upstage and loses itself in the night of the backdrop. This terrace should be at least two metres higher than the stage floor. The
left side of this terrace for about one third of the width of the stage is bounded by a wall. This wall slopes gradually towards
the foreground, and at the left forms an angle which bounds the stage setting from there to the proscenium. From the left third
of the stage to the extreme point on stage right two ramps lead from the terrace to the foreground and incorporate a fairly large
platform that extends at a slight angle toward the left side of the stage"
15 ) I agree with Fuerst's analysis (p50,op.cit.)
"its [constructivism] tendency seems to be solely to expand the possibilities of stage movement by means of constructions in
volumes[ie as platform]. In fact, constructivism goes even further. It often neglects quite intentionally all expression of
environment and of mood". (my italics)
The reference to Craig, of course, begs another large question, which there is not scope to resolve within the present paper. I
would argue, however, that his tendency toward "abstraction" led away from , rather than toward, a notion of
setting-as-signifier. Some of his writing expresses ideas akin to those of the Futurists, Prampolini in particular; e.g.:"...before
the human being assumed the grave responsibility of using his own person as an instrument through which this beauty should
pass, there was another and a wiser race, who used other instruments".
16) To offer some examples, scattered through the twentieth century:
a) The Reinhardt revolving MIDSUMMER NIGHTS DREAM 1905 in Berlin:
"And now, (constructed on the revolving stage) all this[plastic, not painted] forest began slowly and gently to move and to
turn, discovering new perspectives, always changing its aspect, presenting ever new images, inexhaustible as Nature".(Fuerst
and Hume, op.cit,p.16)
b) Cheney On Robert Edmond Jones:
"MACBETH in New York, dir. Arthur Hopkins 1921
"The production failed of its chief purpose because the acting had no relation to the settings, although planned to be similarly
expressive. But throughout the scenes there was a sense of visual abstract dramatic form, derived out of a personal emotional
reading of the poet's text; they were not real or suggestive of detailed reality, and they were not symbolic in the shallow
sense; they were directly expressive of dramatic feeling, in terms f light, colour and a very few more or les architectural
constructions set out in a void - a formal and theatrical equivalent of some vaguely remembered necessary actuality."
c) A more recent example is the account by the critic John Simon of John Lee Beatty's 1981 design for A TALE TOLD:
"John Lee Beatty's set is of a noble simplicity compounded of ingenious stratagems, not least of which are shrewd apertures
for the ghost to appear and vanish through, and a piece of central wall with a fireplace that blots out part of the wall beyond,
even when sliding doors to the right and left of it are opened. Thus, our pursuit of upstage lateral movement is teasingly
interrupted, and the impenetrable mystery at the core of this or any house smartly objectified".(Aronson, op.cit)
17) Turner, Victor THE RITUAL PROCESS,ch.2 Planes of Classification in a Ritual of Life and Death.
18) In this respect ISOMA calls to mind Grotowski's AKROPOLIS, of which Jennifer Kumiega writes: "The spectators of
Akropolis, seated on raised platforms, had before them in the middle of the room a huge box, on which was piled a heap of
metallic junk -stove pipes, wheelbarrow, tin tub. From these objects alone the actors physically constructed during the course
of the action the dynamics of the play. The stove-pipes, hung on ropes, were man-handled into an intricate architectural
arrangement..."We didn't build a crematorium but we gave the spectators the association of fire". Jennifer Kumiega,THE
THEATRE OF GROTOWSKI, 1985.
19) The phrase used by Janelle Reinelt in the opening keynote address to the recent (1994) Moscow conference of IFTR.,
published in TRI
20) THE POWER OF DARKNESS and The Power of Space. STUDIES IN THEATRE PRODUCTION, vol 2, 1990
An examination of the practical relevance of Hana Scolnicov's terms "theatrical space within" and "theatrical space without".
See Scolnicov, op.cit.