Design for the Stage: First Steps

By Darwin Reid Payne | Go to book overview

§18 From Text to Designs

We must now begin to consider the process by which the written words of the text engender visual ideas for the designer; the subjective limitless world of the imagination must begin to come to terms with the objective limits of the stage. This is an extremely critical juncture; it is the time when the designer must begin to direct his attention to the range of possibilities open to him and, more important, begin to make selections from and judgments on those possibilities. Yet the problem is never the same from production to production; some scripts tell more than others, some tell little at all, some tell on the wrong things (at least in their written stage directions). But formal research into period or decorative style, important as it will be at a later time, is not the primary focus at this point.

If, as will be suggested in the next few pages, the first reading of the play quite possibly is the single most influential creative act in designing (not all would agree with this contention completely however), then the step under consideration here (actually, not one simple step but a complex of related ones) is certainly next in importance since it will begin to define, no matter how crudely and tentatively, the outer boundaries of the design and will represent the designer's personal concepts--his intuitions and rational decisions--in their most fundamental form. Although an exciting step in the design process, it is also a formidable one. Quite possibly this is the period when the designer's intuitive powers operate most strongly; but, since in almost every instance, that is, at the beginning of every production, many more ideas and possible solutions will present themselves than the designer can ever use or fully investigate, it is potentially a dangerous period. Knowing what to reject, what to pursue and refine, is every bit as important as getting an idea in the first place; most designers, while they find this period to be an exciting one, also suffer anxiety as they explore the various possibilities open to them. And it is rare, most designers will assure you, when the first ideas and drawings prove to be the right and final ones. (The fact that young designers sometimes quickly do stumble onto a successful design is, and should be seen for what it is, an accident, not a method of work one should attempt to build a career on.)

Yet these initial visual thoughts do have some merit; they may very well contain in an unrefined form the seeds of ideas which will eventually prove useful in the final stages of the design. Also, during this

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