Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Design, Space and Performance: Introduction

Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Design, Space and Performance: Introduction

Article excerpt

This focus issue of Australasian Drama Studies (ADS) uses the related concepts of design, space and performance to explore contemporary design and design practice in Australia and New Zealand. In so doing, this issue responds to what we perceive as a lack of sustained critical and academic discourse about this fundamental aspect of performance in Australia and New Zealand, despite a number of important but sporadic publications.1 The articles in this issue, while not offering a comprehensive survey of thefleld, serve as an invitation to begin newcritical conversations through the ways in which they document contemporary design practices, examine the changing status and role of design practitioners and explore how design processes and the artefacts produced during them might be better understood. The issue includes a round table with current Australian design practitioners and provides analysis and reflection on the Prague Quadrennial for Performance Design and Space as a key international forum for the exhibition of scenography and performance design. It concludes with a number of book reviews pertinent to this focus issue,2 reflecting a recent flurry of scenography- and design-oriented texts in Europe and America.

As Jane Collins and Andrew Nisbet observe in their recently published Theatre and Performance Design: A Reader in Scenography, Opportunities for the designer have never been so varied or the territory so uncharted'.3 Unlike their nineteenth- and early twentieth-century predecessors, whose work was often restricted to the creation of stage decoration that served as the backdrop to dramatic action, contemporary designers find themselves in a rapidly expanding field where opportunities exist to operate across disciplinary boundaries - theatre, the visual arts and architecture - and traditional theatrical divisions of labour - set, costume, lighting and sound. While the development of new media technologies potentially offsets this, requiring contemporary designers to specialise, their work is also increasingly integrated into production processes, allowing for more fluid and collaborative working modes and the potential for design to initiate, rather than simply realise, theatrical and performative events.

The emergence of the term 'scenography' is central to understanding the differentiation between the more conceptual and integrated nature of contemporary design work and the more decorative nature of such work in the nineteenth-century Western theatrical tradition. Functioning as a means of describing design-related activities that involve the entire visual and spatial construct of the theatrical event, including production and reception, the emergence of 'scenography' in the mid- twentieth century can be largely attributed to Czech designer Josef Svoboda, who sought to elevate the status and recognition of his own work in contrast to what can be described as 'scenic' or 'stage' design:

The designer's participation in production has had the most varied designations. The Germans, and we Czechs, following them, have referred to 'outfitting' (Ausstattung or Vyprava respectively); in English-speaking countries 'stage design' is the usual term; in France, décoration. These terms reduce a designer's collaboration to framing the dramatic work, rather than sharing in its complete creation ... To render a more precise, more complete, and more meaningful designation of our artistic role, I prefer the term 'scenography'.'

For Svoboda, and for British scenographer Pamela Howard, whose book What Is Scenography? has served to further popularise the term in the Anglophone world, the concept of scenography has an integrative appeal. Similarly, as American Arnold Aronson explains, 'It carries a connotation of an all-encompassing visual-spatial construct, as well as the process of change and transformation that is an inherent part of the physical vocabulary of the stage'.5 While the concept remains in certain respects ill-defined and contested, scenography has now shaken off associations that it might once have had with scenic decoration or scene painting, and possesses the potential to take on an expanded and inclusive critical remit, akin to that of performance and dramaturgy. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.