Theatrical scenery

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Modern-day rotating set for the play Noises Off. Noises Off Set Front.jpg
Modern-day rotating set for the play Noises Off .

Theatrical scenery is that which is used as a setting for a theatrical production. Scenery may be just about anything, from a single chair to an elaborately re-created street, no matter how large or how small, whether the item was custom-made or is the genuine item, appropriated for theatrical use.



The history of theatrical scenery is as old as the theatre itself, and just as obtuse and tradition bound. What we tend to think of as 'traditional scenery', i.e. two-dimensional canvas-covered 'flats' painted to resemble a three-dimensional surface or vista, is a relatively recent innovation and a significant departure from the more ancient forms of theatrical expression, which tended to rely less on the actual representation of space senerial and more on the conveyance of action and mood. By the Shakespearean era, the occasional painted backdrop or theatrical prop was in evidence, but the show itself was written so as not to rely on such items to convey itself to the audience. However, this means that today's set designers must be that much more careful, so as to convey the setting without taking away from the actors. [1]

Contemporary scenery

1895 set design model by Marcel Jambon for Act I of Giuseppe Verdi's Otello for a production in Paris. Marcel Jambon - Giuseppe Verdi - Otello Act I set design model.jpg
1895 set design model by Marcel Jambon for Act I of Giuseppe Verdi's Otello for a production in Paris.

Our more modern notion of scenery, which dates back to the 19th century, finds its origins in the dramatic spectacle of opera buffa , from which the modern opera is descended. Its elaborate settings were appropriated by the 'straight', or dramatic, theatre, through their use in comic operettas, burlesques, pantomimes and the like. As time progressed, stage settings grew more realistic, reaching their peak in the Belasco realism of the 1910-'20s, in which complete diners, with working soda fountains and freshly made food, were recreated onstage. Perhaps as a reaction to such excess and in parallel with trends in the arts and architecture, scenery began a trend towards abstraction, although realistic settings remained in evidence, and are still used today. At the same time, the musical theatre was evolving its own set of scenic traditions, borrowing heavily from the burlesque and vaudeville style, with occasional nods to the trends of the 'straight' theatre. Everything came together in the 1980s and 1990s and, continuing to today, until there is no established style of scenic production and pretty much anything goes. Modern stagecraft has grown so complex as to require the highly specialized skills of hundreds of artists and craftspeople to mount a single production.

Types of scenery

The construction of theatrical scenery is frequently one of the most time-consuming tasks when preparing for a show. As a result, many theatres have a place for storing scenery (such as a loft) so that it can be used for multiple shows. Since future shows typically are not known far in advance, theatres will often construct stock scenery that can be easily adapted to fit a variety of shows. Common stock scenery types include: [2]

See also

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Stagecraft technical aspect of theatrical, film, and video production

Stagecraft is the technical aspect of theatrical, film, and video production. It includes constructing and rigging scenery; hanging and focusing of lighting; design and procurement of costumes; make-up; stage management; audio engineering; and procurement of props. Stagecraft is distinct from the wider umbrella term of scenography. Considered a technical rather than an artistic field, it is primarily the practical implementation of a scenic designer's artistic vision.

Set construction

Set construction is the process undertaken by a construction manager to build full-scale scenery, as specified by a production designer or art director working in collaboration with the director of a production to create a set for a theatrical, film, or television production. The set designer produces a scale model, scale drawings, paint elevations, and research about props, textures, and so on. Scale drawings typically include a groundplan, elevation, and section of the complete set, as well as more detailed drawings of individual scenic elements which, in theatrical productions, may be static, flown, or built onto scenery wagons. Models and paint elevations are frequently hand-produced, though in recent years, many Production Designers and most commercial theatres have begun producing scale drawings with the aid of computer drafting programs such as AutoCAD or Vectorworks.

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  1. Susan Crabtree; Peter Beudert (2012). Scenic Art for the Theatre: History, Tools and Techniques. Taylor & Francis. p. 200–. ISBN   978-1-136-08429-4.
  2. Troubridge, Emma (2018). Theatrical Scenic Art. Crowood. ISBN   978-1-78500-434-6.