Design for the Stage: First Steps

By Darwin Reid Payne | Go to book overview

period, the designer should trust least his painting and drawing skills. By this I mean, that he should not begin to "decorate" the scene by making detailed or finished sketches until he has determined the skeleton or dramatic structure of it. This framework can only be derived from a thorough analyzation and understanding of what the text does say, and, sometimes more important, what it leaves unsaid. It would be well to recall the words of Peter Brook quoted earlier:

What is necessary, however, is an incomplete design; a design that has clarity without rigidity; one that could be called "open" as against "shut." This is the essence of theatrical thinking: a true theatre designer will think of his designs as being all the time in motion, in action, in relation to what the actor brings to a scene as it unfolds.... The later he makes his decisions, the better.


§19 Reading the Script: Some Initial Considerations

To read is to translate, for no two persons' experiences are the same. A bad reader is like a bad translator: he interprets literally when he ought to paraphrase and paraphrases when he ought to interpret literally. In learning to read well, scholarship, valuable as it is, is less important than instinct; some great scholars have been poor translators.

W. H. Auden, The Dyer's Hand

Playwrights, no matter how abstractly they work, almost always conceive of their characters as springing from and existing in a specific set of circumstances, in a particular kind of environment; in other words, their people live in a world that is real enough no matter how strange and foreign that world may be. Yet, in the playwright's art, many things must be sacrificed to the limitations of the play form. He cannot, as the novelist is able to do, give us detailed background data about the place where the people he is concerned with live or what this background is like. (While stage directions can tell a certain amount, the playwright is still much more limited in this respect than the novelist; the playwright also runs the risk of having his directions ignored by producers, a liberty most novel readers would probably never consider.) In some cases this situation doesn't really concern him all that much; a study of practically any playwright of the sixteenth or seventeenth century would bear this out. But when he does have definite

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