Chapter 9

The cybernetics of acting: space and design

As was suggested in the discussion of semiotics, in a very important sense what makes acting 'acting', in the theatrical intention of the term, is the framework of the occasion which surrounds it: concretely, the performance space.

The section on process concluded that the actor finds the impulses in a text which impel him or her to a realization of the emotional shape of the action in terms of the physical shape of the space. Inevitably, this process will be affected by the articulation of the ground plan and the total physical shape and size of the stage and auditorium: the relationship this sets up between actor and actor, and actor and audience.

I had an illustration of that some years ago when some young actors, who had been used to working in a 200-seat house with a 35-foot proscenium opening, were translated into a 600-seat house with a 70-foot proscenium for a production of The Importance of Being Earnest. Jack and Algy had, at first, the greatest difficulty in accepting that they could still carry on a close relationship while sitting 15 feet apart. They had to be sent to the back of the house to look at stage managers sitting in their places, before they could accept that the sign of closeness received by the audience was relative to the total space, and that intimacy is a function of an emotional not spatial relationship. In somewhat opposite terms, this was one of the fallacies of the environmental staging of the 1960s and 1970s, whereby all space belonged to both actors and audience; or the actors violated audience space in the service of closer communion. It was quickly discovered that to put one's arms around a person is not necessarily to embrace him or her in any emotional sense; and to surround the audience with the

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