Design for the Stage: First Steps

By Darwin Reid Payne | Go to book overview
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published version of a Broadway success were not written down by the author but by the production's stage manager. He usually does this on the instructions of the director, since it is the function of the stage manager to compile and record the official prompt script. This promptscript, later used as the basis for the published version of the play, usually gives detailed information about all entrances, exits, directions of movements, and, quite often, key words that indicate interpretations and vocal timings. The author's original directions and admonitions often get cut, inverted or swallowed up in general process of rehearsal and tryouts in front of test audiences. These scripts also contain detailed lists of properties, sound and light cues, costume plots, and floor plans for a particular production. In most cases, although there is a tendency especially among amateurs to regard this information as somehow sacrosanct, it can be and should be completely disregarded or at least carefully scrutinized.

2. Deductive Evidence Gained from Direct and Indirect References by Characters in the Play

It is often possible to glean information about a play's setting by careful study of oblique remarks made by the characters in their dialogue. It seems to be characteristic of well-written plays that the deductive evidence is of greater value to the designer in his research than explicit directions or descriptions. One of the drawbacks of seeking information by deduction is that, unless the contributing factors which lead to the deduction are fairly specific and easy to interpret, the resulting information may be subject to wide interpretation. (The design and use of the Elizabethan stage is one of the best examples of the confusion that can result from interpretative study of internal evidence.) Nevertheless, the deductive process is one most followed by almost all artists and is the area in which the designer can make his greatest contribution to the production. It is this deductive process that is the primary focus of most of the ensuing sections of this book.

§12 Historical Accuracy

In the late nineteenth century there was an intense desire in the theater to dress the stage and actor with settings and costumes as correct in period detail as was possible to determine from research. To our eye the results of this activity, if we accept the visual materials which have come down to us as representative, have a certain quaint but es


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