Design for the Stage: First Steps

By Darwin Reid Payne | Go to book overview

PART 1 The Scene Designer

§1 The Designer: A Brief Examination of His Function

Before any philosophy of practice can be formulated or explored, it must first be accepted that there is a uniqueness to that practice that makes it worthy of study. The essential point to remember about the twentieth century's conception of scene design as an art is that prior to this century scene design was, almost always, only an adjunct to a production, not necessarily an integral part of it. In fact, there was little coordination between any of the various departments responsible for the mounting of a production. The designer, while he may have received some general directions from the owner of a company producing plays or the general manager of an opera house, relied pretty much on his own judgment; any discussion of the appropriateness; of a setting usually took place after the fact. If the settings were grand enough or sufficiently ornate no one particularly cared about the possibility they did not really fit the tone of the play or opera or the other elements of the production. If the settings were appreciated, the designer received more commissions, if not, others were given an opportunity to demonstrate their skills; in that respect, the same competitive situation still exists today. But the great difference between then and now lies in the fact that the designer of the past spent very little time working with others--directors, costumers, playwrights--in preproduction planning. Ostensibly the designer's task was to provide pictorial backgrounds for performers to be seen in front of, although his relationship to these performers was virtually nonexistent.

And yet it would not be entirely accurate to maintain that the de-

-1-

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