Scenery: A Manual of Scene Design

By Harold Helvenston | Go to book overview

FOREWORD

THERE are two occasions when I regret the hundreds of thousands of words I have written on the new stagecraft in the past twenty years. One of these is when I see a Broadway production in which a brilliant, imaginative, but selfish and undisciplined scene designer has been allowed to run away with a play and ruin it through some original, wrong-headed, and thoroughly inappropriate treatment. The other occasion is when I see a little-theatre production in which the scenery is workmanlike or even brilliant and the acting abominable.

In the first case I am righteously outraged at a scenic crime. In the second the chances are that I myself am committing the crime: I am laying upon a sound workman in scenery some of the blame for a bad performance by directors and actors. Of course it may be that in certain cases the actors are neglected to make a scenic holiday, but the chances are that the acting talent is inherently hopeless and that I ought to be glad to have my attention diverted by the silent art of color and light. At any rate we can't stop good scene design among the amateurs. It is the one thing at which the little theatre can always excel, because it is at bottom a one-man product. One actor can't make a good cast, but one artist, one architect, or one interior decorator can always make a good setting. If he studies--

And here is something for him to study. The contribution of Harold Helvenston--and I think a foreword may point the values of a book without stepping over into criticism--is that here at last we have a first-rate designer writing a practical manual. Therefore it is a nice combination of theory and practice. Not too much of high-flown generalities; not too much of technical details. It rides no hobbies and points no exclusive patent way to aesthetic salvation. It is open-minded toward both realism and expressionism. It leaves to experience and the teacher-specialist numerous technical matters, such as the method of enlarging sketch-designs to backdrop proportions, the construction of flats, the varieties of spotlights and projection machines.

The reader may be trusted to discover the practical virtues of this book; and they range from the salutary ignoring of "drape productions" to a careful reiteration that the designer paints his scenery twice, once with pigment and once with light, before it approximates the colors of his original sketch.

As a theatre man who lives and works in a part of the United States where most of the seats of higher education are a bit backward in the teaching of the arts of the theatre, I want to close by stressing the significance of this book in relation to university instruction. It is printed and published by a university. It is written by a teacher in a university, who is at the same time a designer taught by a university. It is illustrated by the work of teachers and students. Because or in spite of this--let your prejudice decide, as it always does--this manual seems all in a key of practicality and safe accomplishment. Anyone who reads it may go farther. No one who follows it can arrive at less than a just expression of his talents.

KENNETH MACGOWAN

-ix-

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Scenery: A Manual of Scene Design
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Foreword ix
  • Preface xi
  • Contents xiii
  • Illustrations xv
  • Scenery and the Designer 3
  • A Process for Scene Design 11
  • A Process for Scene Design Working Drawings 17
  • A Process for Scene Design - The Scene Model 32
  • Light in the Scene 38
  • Scene Painting 51
  • The Exterior Scene - The Natural Exterior 61
  • The Exterior Scene the Architectural Exterior 68
  • Economy in Cost of Construction and Materials 72
  • The Strange Case of Scenery 79
  • The Scene Webster 83
  • Index 91
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