Scenery: A Manual of Scene Design

By Harold Helvenston | Go to book overview

SCENERY AND THE DESIGNER

Scenery in Play Production

SCENERY contributes to dramatic production by creating an atmospheric background for the play and by intensifying the dominant emotional character of the scene. It may be called the advance agent for the play, sent out ahead at the rise of the curtain in order to produce psychological, emotional, and aesthetic effects upon the group mind of the audience.

The form of drama is usually established by the character of the setting when the first curtain goes up. Certain physical lines, the lights, the shadows, and the somber tones of a setting may well convey the tragic quality of a serious play; other lines, lights and shadows, brightness, color, and warmth may easily suggest the airy and lighter mood of comedy; while the physical oddities of still another setting may readily give the atmosphere expected in a mystery play. The setting in this way establishes in the audience's mind the form of the drama and heralds the action that follows.

The stage setting also suggests the style of production. The producer's attitude toward both the play and the audience must be conveyed by setting. Realistic or naturalistic representation prepares the way for a similar treatment of the play and similar direction of the actors. Suggested detail or complete abstraction in a setting might proclaim in advance the expressionistic style of director and artist and a radical departure from the play or the original style of its production. The Hopkins-Jones production of Macbeth in America and the Hilar production of Hamlet in Germany offer two examples of expressionistic stage presentation. In the first, the designer used stylized shapes and masks representative of the mood and spirit of the tragedy; in the latter, the focality of the actor was gained by the use of simple but effective screens as backgrounds. Another director, by a skeleton arrangement of stairways, ramps, and platforms, seeks to inform his audience at the first that he visualizes the play in a constructivistic manner; the scenes of the play, in various degrees of action, are heightened by the acting structure, which itself becomes the basis of the visual scene and at all times combines with the moving silhouetted forms of the actors to form the spectacle.

As a whole, scenery may be used to augment the ideas of the producer, and thus it becomes an advance agent of his own particular style. This use of scenery has, for the past few years, become generally known to orthodox playgoers.

A degree between the extremes of realism and abstraction may be skilfully used to predict the special qualities of the varied scenes, particularly in plays that present such problems as a state of mind or a personal idea of one of the characters--a very popular form for satiric expression. In Cushing The Devil in the Cheese there is a scene of this kind which is described by the words "In Goldina's head" -- meaning in this case the thoughts taking place within the mind of the character. A recent and more notable example of this type of scenery was seen in the New York production of Austin Strong A Play without a Name, in which the workings of the human brain were presented in scenic illusion. Another example is the production of

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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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