Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Set Design as Cosmic Metaphor: Religious Seeing and Theatre Space

Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Set Design as Cosmic Metaphor: Religious Seeing and Theatre Space

Article excerpt

Gary Taylor, a noted Shakespearean scholar, defines "theological architecture" as theatre space that is built with a religious hierarchical understanding. This paper considers the use of theological architecture to define the physical space of gods and humans in Michael Levine's set designs for the Canadian Opera Company's Die Walkure and Siegfried on Toronto's Hummingbird stage. In particular this paper examines Levine's use of theatrical space to create both vertical and horizontal cosmologies, the former embedded within the western stage itself and the latter embedded within the Norse religion that informs the Ring Cycle. The effect produces an alternating form of perception for the audience-viewers, the first psychological and the second a form of viewing known as "religious seeing."

Le specialiste de Shakespeare, Gary Taylor, definit << l'architecture theologique >> comme etant la construction d'un espace dramatique fondee sur une hierarchie a caractere religieux. Cet article examine les decors mis au point par Michael Levine pour les operas Die Walkurie et Siegfried du Canadian Opera Company au Hummingbird de Toronto afin de voir comment l'architecture theologique est utilisee pour definir l'espace physique des dieux et des etres humains. En particulier, cet article examine comment Michael Levine utilise l'espace dramatique pour creer des cosmologies verticales et horizontales; les premieres sont empruntees au theatre occidental alors que les secondes relevent de la religion nordique qui a influence les decors du << Ring Cycle. >> Cela produit deux formes de perceptions alternantes chez les spectateurs; la premiere etant psychologique et la deuxieme composant une forme d'observation connue sous le nom de << perception religieuse. >>

Despite director Francois Girard's declaration that "In Siegfried, we've set the piece in the mind of [the character of] Siegfried and [...] we went for a sort of psychic explosion, or implosion if you prefer" (qtd. in Vanstone, "Girard" 42), this article advances the position that Michael Levine's innovative set designs for the Canadian Opera Company's (COC) recent productions of Die Walkure (2004) and Siegfried (2005) can also be read as what Gary Taylor, a noted Shakespearean scholar, in Reinventing Shakespeare, calls "theological architecture" (15), theatre space that is built with a religious hierarchical understanding. As such, set design signifies the spatial location of gods, humans, and mythological creatures through the strategic use of perspective, lighting, symbolic colour, and form. While acknowledging the stage design's successful transmission of the director's intent, this paper suggests that through the use of theological architecture, the definition of space on stage in these operas can be read equally as divinely ordered (i.e., cosmological) or as interior psychological space. The perception of theatrical space as cosmological belongs to a form of viewing known as "religious seeing" as described by S. Brent Plate, a scholar of religion and the visual arts at Texas Christian University. This type of perception is produced by the interaction between visual culture (1) (which includes but is not limited to art, artefacts, and architecture) and certain types of spiritual viewing practices such as vision quests, meditation, and prayer that use material objects or settings (e.g., icons, thangkas, meditation gardens, sacred groves), as part of their practice. (2) Plate describes "religious seeing" as a form of perception that is produced between the interaction of visual culture and religious practice. Typically, according to Plate, this activity "is situated within an environment conducive to belief, devotion, and transformation" (11). David Morgan, a theorist of religious visual culture, understands seeing as an active behaviour made up of a variety of visual practices that "rel[y] on an apparatus of assumptions and inclinations, habits and routines, historical associations and cultural practices" (Sacred Gaze 3). …

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