Scenographic Imagination

Scenographic Imagination

Scenographic Imagination

Scenographic Imagination


In this enlarged and thoroughly revised third edition of his widely used text, Darwin Reid Payne explores the principles and philosophies that shape the visual elements of theatre.

Payne sets out to discover who scenographers are and to define their responsibilities. He sees scenographers as not merely craftspersons but artists with "a special vision that spans all the arts." Such artists are in a position to "extend and amplify underlying meanings of the production." The proper goal of beginning scenographers, according to Payne, is one day to be able to approach the job as artists in full command of their craft.

Payne seeks to instill in beginning scenographers a basic core of knowledge: an understanding of theatre history and the development of drama; a knowledge of art history and an understanding of periods and styles of architecture, painting, sculpture, furnishings, and costume; and a familiarity with the principles, techniques, and materials of pictorial and three-dimensional design. This new edition contains 248 illustrations, 38 more than the second edition. Payne's goal, certainly, is to teach students what to do and how to do it; equally important, however, is Payne's view that scenographers must know why.

To Payne, "Scenography is an art whose scope is nothing less than the whole world outside the theatre." Scenographers must read not only in their own field but in others as well. Payne has incorporated into his text many suggestions for outside readings, quoting passages and even entire chapters from important works. Stressing research, Payne argues that without knowledge of the literature of their own and related arts, scenographers cannot grow. And that is the emphasis of this book: to present aspiring scenographers with an approach and a set of concepts that will enable them to grow. Toward that end, Payne establishes five priorities, the first of which is to develop in students what he calls "time vision," or the ability to "see" the historical past as a living place with living inhabitants. The second priority is to bring about an awareness that allows students to "see" beneath the surface of objects and events. Third, students must be helped to recognize and appreciate the difference between the "concept of space as it exists outside the theatre and the concept of space as it is used within the theatre." The fourth priority is to ingrain in students an understanding of the importance of imagery to the scenographer, and the final priority is to teach those technical skills necessary to carry out the concepts of the scenographer.


Can this cockpit hold The vasty fields of France? Or may we cram Within this wooden O the very casques That did affright the air at Agincourt? O, pardon! since a crooked figure may Attest in little place a million; And let us, ciphers to this great acompt, On your imaginary forces work.

Thus begins The Life of Henry the Fifth, Shakespeare's popular historical drama. In all dramatic literature there is no more abject apology for the imperfections and limitations of the physical theater. Nor, for that matter, is there any more powerful inducement to enter into that admittedly imperfect world than the words "let us, ciphers to this great acompt, on your imaginary forces work."

Almost four hundred years have passed since those words were first spoken, and much has changed in the institution of theater. It was, for instance, in Shakespeare's day a common attitude to consider playgoing as much an auditory activity as it was a visual spectacle. The audiences of his time needed little prompting to put their individual imaginary forces to work; the Elizabethan audience--commoners and aristocrats--have left much evidence that indicates to later times that they were an audience with firm opinions on a wide range of subjects and actively engaged in their pleasures in which the theater ranked high. Action, of course, has always been central to the theatrical experience; this was certainly true of the Elizabethan theater. Equally important in the theater of the period was the place of words. The English language of the day, still young in comparison to those of Europe and the lands bordering the Mediterranean, was vitally dramatic; it was changing constantly, and the popularity of a playwright depended as much on his ability to provide a wildly extravagant flow of words as it did to concoct a good story. The best of the English playwrights of the period appealed to the ear as well as to the eye. It is very important to keep in mind that it was through the ear, so to speak, that much of the stage was set. The small platform stages of the time were limited, but the stage that the playwright set in the spectator's individual imagination knew few limits. The willingness of the audience to have those imaginary forces worked upon by language that evoked locale, time of day or year, as well as mood, is evidenced on every page of the works that come to us from the Elizabethan age. A significant clue to the current attitude toward playgoing occurs when the players in Hamlet come to Elsinore to per-

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