Design for the Stage: First Steps

By Darwin Reid Payne | Go to book overview

intellectually, what he needs from it. Designing is often much like refining gold: there is always more dross than anything else and the process of refining is tedious.


§11 Internal Research

1. Explicit Directions Written by the Author

These directions are usually the minimum amount of information to denote entrances and exits or necessary physical actions to clarify dialogue references. But stage directions are not all the same type nor do all convey the same kind of information. In most past periods of theater, stage directions actually written as part of the scripts have been scanty or nonexistent. On the other hand, it is a practice of today's playwrights to give elaborate and lengthy directions to supplement the dialogue. Some producers of plays, both directors and designers, make it a practice to remove or ignore all written directions when they study the playscript; they do not wish to be too influenced by the author's instructions because they feel that he, the playwright, is not necessarily the final arbiter in actually bringing the work to the stage. (While most playwrights do not like this practice on the part of their co-workers, some have seen the wisdom of if it and have said so in print.) Most directors and designers, in defense of this attitude, think that the better the playwright has done his work in the text the less he will need to explain it in a stage direction. Here is a brief outline of the various types of stage directions a designer might encounter in a script. While it is not, perhaps, necessary to ignore completely stage directions anymore than it is necessary to blindly try to follow their advice, it is imperative for the designer to know precisely what these directions attempt to say and then make an evaluation as to how far they should be observed or disregarded.

A. Factual descriptions. Shakespeare wrote very few directions; most of the directions that are found in his work have been supplied by later editors of his plays. Most plays, in fact, until about the last one hundred fifty-odd years, have little more than act and scene divisions and one or two-word locale references. Since that time, however, the pendulum has swung the other way. It is now a common practice to write lengthy stage directions. George Bernard Shaw's directions were, for instance, often long and carefully worded essays to give background material primarily concerning the characters in his plays. Often he would also discuss the setting where these characters lived since he felt that that

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