Working In The Theatre: Scenic Design
"I've started thinking recently of scenery design as a transformation of space over time."
This video from the American Theatre Wing is one of many in their series of "Working in Theatre" and it focuses on both the conception and production process that designers Beowulf Boritt, Tony and Obie Award Winner, and Mimi Lien, Obie and Hewes Design Award winner, go through when conceiving the idea of a set for a new production.
As Designer Boritt says, Scenography can be understood not only as a setting but also as a character itself that, just like all the other characters in the play, goes through an arc of transformation. As the plot changes the characters it should also have an influence on how the set looks. If a set remains the same throughout, blind to the actions that have taken place in it, then it has not served it’s purpose. I'm not saying it has to change physically but at least its perception to both the characters and the audience should change after the plot has taken place.
Another great quote from this small documentary is by Mimi Lien, who says: "One of my favorite things about being a designer is that I'm constantly learning." This remark rings truer everyday in my career here at SCAD where I see how in depth each concept goes. How every scenic element is key to the play, and for it to be this important it must have a strong research and reasoning behind it. So as designer we must become experts on wall paper history through the 1800's, or traditional door knobs from western Italy; single elements that are isolated don't seem as important, but when joined together with the whole set they can either help tell the story or take the audience out of their journey.
One last comment from Mimi Lien that made me rethink on how to design for theatre was: "My aesthetic bent is definitely not realism, I feel like the reason that we do Theatre is to be able to see something different and see some things differently." I agree with her vision that design for theatre should not try to mimic real life but it should become a highlighted version of it. The audience has come to be taken away on a journey away from their daily lives and into another story. I think it is the set's job as well to go into that journey with both the audience and the characters of the play, and to aid visually by creating an alternative setting where this window of existance can take place.