The Simple Stage: Its Origins in the Modern American Theater

The Simple Stage: Its Origins in the Modern American Theater

The Simple Stage: Its Origins in the Modern American Theater

The Simple Stage: Its Origins in the Modern American Theater


This book is about the leaders of the modern American theater who resisted the temptation to fill the stage, preferring instead the evocations of a simplified stage. Beginning with a look at precedents and influences on the modern simple stage, Feinsod then examines the theories and practices of theater artists such as Maurice Browne, George Cram Cook, Robert Edmond Jones, Lee Simonson, and Thornton Wilder. Throughout the text, numerous design reproductions and performance photographs visually demonstrate the simple stage.


Since the Italian Renaissance, filling the stage has been a persistent temptation in Western theater. This book is about American theater artists--mostly directors and designers--who resisted that temptation, preferring the evocations of a simple stage.

Today in the American theater we take the simple stage for granted. Artists working in professional, community, and academic theaters--by aesthetic choice, financial necessity, or both--are always discovering or rediscovering ways to create imaginative more with material less. But between 1912 and 1922, when several influential directors and designers were consistently exercising extreme restraint in the number and complexity of visual elements they put on stage, their experiments were controversial, applauded as visionary and poetic by some, and dismissed as drab, monotonous, or austere by others.

This book examines the thought and practice of stage designers, directors, and, finally, a playwright who dared to be simple, who shunned detailed naturalism and showy spectacle in favor of essential stage images. Between 1912 and 1938, these artists created simple stages through economy of means, self-imposed aesthetic restraint, and reduction to bare elements. Their work disdained decoration and elaborately detailed literalness, both of which signaled to them a lessening in substantive value. They subscribed, explicitly or implicitly, to the aesthetic paradoxes that less can create more, that adding takes away, that rich display somehow impoverishes, and poor theater (to borrow Jerzy Grotowski's term) can be imaginatively or spiritually rich. Statements of these and related paradoxes are forever appearing in their writings and implied in their practice.

Whether the initiative for stage simplicity came from producer, director, designer, or playwright, it was most clearly evident in what the audience saw on stage--the mise-en-scène. Therefore stage designers played a pivotal role in . . .

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