Theatre Production

Functions. Characteristics. Academic Theatre. Auditoriums. Director. Performers. Producer

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Theatre Production, the various means by which any of the forms of

theatre are presented to a live audience. The term theatre is often

applied only to dramatic and musical plays, but it properly includes

opera, dance, circus and carnivals, mime, vaudeville, puppet shows,

pageants, and other forms—all of which have certain elements in

common. They are essentially visual; are experienced directly (although

film, videotapes, or recorded sound may be incorporated into a

performance); and are governed by sets of rules—such as scripts,

scenarios, scores, or choreography—that determine the language and

actions of the performers; language, action or atmosphere may be

contrived, in order to elicit emotional responses from the audience.

Functions and Characteristics of Theatre

Ever since Aristotle discussed the origin and function of theatre in his

famous treatise Poetics (c. 330 BC), the purpose and characteristics of

theatre have been widely debated. Over the centuries, theatre has

been used—apart from purely artistic expression—for entertainment,

religious ritual, moral teaching, political persuasion, and to alter

consciousness. It has ranged from realistic storytelling to the

presentation of abstract sound and movement. Theatre production

involves the use of sets and props, lighting, costumes, and makeup or

masks, as well as a space for performance (the stage) and a space for

the audience (the auditorium), although these may overlap, especially

in later 20th-century productions. Theatre, then, is an amalgamation of

art and architecture; literature, music, and dance; and technology. The

most rudimentary performances may depend on found space and

objects and be the work of a single performer. Most performances,

however, require the cooperative efforts of many creative and

technically trained people to form, ideally, a harmonious ensemble. See

also Drama and Dramatic Arts.

III. Presentational and Representational Theatre

Approaches to the presentation of drama vary from one generation to

the next and across cultures, but most can be categorized roughly

either as presentational or representational. Most African, Oriental, pre-

Renaissance Western, and 20th-century avant-garde theatre is

presentational. The stylized approach of presentational theatre makes

no attempt to hide its theatricality and often emphasizes it. Thus, the

German playwright and theoretician Bertolt Brecht advocated exposing

the lighting instruments and stage machinery so that the audience

would be reminded constantly that it was viewing a play.

Representational theatre, on the other hand, is illusionistic. Most

Western theatre since the Renaissance has been essentially

representational: plays have had plausible plots, characters have

seemed true to life, scenery has tended towards, or been suggestive

of, the realistic.

Most performances do not, of course, fall neatly into one or the other

category but may contain elements of each. The plays of the American

dramatist Tennessee Williams, for example, are rooted in psychological

realism but often employ dream sequences, symbolic characters and

objects, and poetic language.

IV. Types of Modern Western Theatre

Aside from aesthetic intention, Western theatre can also be classified

in terms of economics and of approaches to production, categorized as

subsidized, commercial, non-commercial—frequently called experimental

or art theatre—community, and academic theatre.

A. Subsidized Theatre

Subsidized theatre is financially underwritten by a government or by a

philanthropic organization. Because of the considerable expense of

mounting a theatrical production, the limited audience capacity of most

theatres, and, often, the limited appeal of much theatre to the

population as a whole, many theatres can only remain financially

solvent and mount quality productions with subsidies to supplement

box-office income.

Most countries have a designated national theatre company supported

by the state. In Great Britain and Germany, most cities or regions have

subsidized companies as well. In the former-Communist countries

virtually all theatre was state-supported; often this allowed more

elaborate design, technology, and experimentation than in Western

European and US theatre. There are signs that such funding is no

longer so widely available. Until recently, considerable government

support was available for the arts in the United States, especially for

regional theatres—permanent professional companies located in major

cities that often present performers in rotating repertory, such as the

Tyrone Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the Arena Stage

in Washington, D.C. The amount of government support to the

American theatre, however, has always been far less than that given

to its European counterpart, and it is increasingly dependent on the

unpredictable generosity of philanthropic foundations. This situation,

largely caused by the very size and diversity of the United States and

of its audience, also reflects current government cutbacks. Other

important reasons are the lack of a single dominant cultural centre

such as London or Paris and the lack of a strong theatrical heritage.

Commercial Theatre

Commercial theatre appeals to a large audience and is produced with

the intention of making a profit. The basis of commercial theatre is

entertainment; social relevance and artistic and literary merit are

secondary considerations. Commercial theatre is centered in areas such

as London's West End or New York's Broadway theatre district, and

every major city in the world has an equivalent. Before transferring to

these venues, many shows are performed in other cities, offering the

opportunity to work out difficulties or to test audience response.

Equally, a successful show in New York or London may tour other cities.

In 1980 a typical Broadway drama or comedy cost approximately

US$500,000 to produce, a musical about US$1 million. Such high initial

costs, plus the weekly operating costs (theatre rent, salaries, royalties,

publicity, insurance, equipment maintenance, and the like) may cause a

show to take several years to pay off its debts and begin to make a

profit. Sometimes only the lucrative sale of film rights puts a production

in the black. Because of such economics, West End and Broadway

producers seldom take risks with unknown playwrights or unusual

plays. Although the economics were not so harsh before World War II,

commercial theatre has always been inherently conservative and

inhospitable to experimentation. See also West End Theatres;

Broadway Theatres.

C. Non-Commercial Theatre

Attempts to circumvent the economics peculiar to commercial theatre

since the end of the 19th century have resulted in the evolution of non-

commercial theatre. Known as art theatre in Europe and America

before World War I, and later as experimental theatre, it is often

identified today in New York as Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway

(the latter being a reaction to the increasing commercialism of the

former), in England as fringe theatre, and elsewhere by a host of other

names. The various goals of such theatre include presenting more

serious, literary, politically active, artistic, and avant-garde drama;

experimenting with new forms of production, acting, and design; and

giving voice to new playwrights, actors, and directors.

Non-commercial theatre tends to operate on limited budgets, to make

lack of resources a virtue, and to be unconcerned with profit. It tends

to believe strongly in specific ideals and often disavows the apparent

slickness associated with commercial theatre. Non-commercial theatre

tries to survive on box-office income and donations, but in recent years

it has become increasingly dependent on state and private subsidy.

Those companies that cannot obtain adequate funding are usually

faced with bankruptcy after a short time or else are forced to

compromise their ideals to survive. In fact, those that do survive almost

become as commercial as the theatre they once rebelled against. This

has been a repeating pattern in 20th-century theatre history.

See also Feminist Theatre; Propaganda Theatre.

D. Community and Academic Theatre

Community theatre is generally non-professional, consisting of

members of a community who practice theatre as an avocation. The

repertoire of community theatre tends to be commercial fare, although

this may vary. Academic theatre, as the name suggests, is produced by

educational institutions, most often colleges and universities. The

educational purpose of such theatre results in a repertoire often

weighted towards the classical and experimental. Some colleges have

technical facilities that surpass those of commercial theatres. Academic

theatre is far more active in the United States than elsewhere; with

over 5,000 productions a year, it is responsible for more theatre than

all other American forms combined.

V. Theatre Space

Theatre can also be discussed in terms of the type of space in which it

is produced. Stages and auditoriums have had distinctive forms in

every era and in different cultures. New theatres today tend to be

flexible and eclectic in design, incorporating elements of several styles;

they are known as multiple-use or multiple-form theatres.

A performance, however, need not occur in an architectural structure

designed as a theatre, or even in a building. The English director Peter

Brook talks of creating theatre in an “empty space”. Many earlier forms

of theatre were performed in the streets, open spaces, market

squares, churches, or rooms or buildings not intended for use as

theatres. Much contemporary experimental theatre rejects the formal

constraints of available theatres and seeks more unusual spaces. In all

these “found” theatres, the sense of stage and auditorium is created

by the actions of the performers and the natural features of the space.

Throughout history, however, most theatres have employed one of

three types of stage: end, thrust, and arena. An end stage is a raised

platform facing the assembled audience. Frequently, it is placed at one

end of a rectangular space. The simplest version of the end stage is

the booth or trestle stage, a raised stage with a curtained backdrop

and perhaps an awning. This was the stage of the Greek and Roman

mimes, the mountebanks and wandering entertainers of the Middle

Ages, commedia dell'arte, and popular entertainers into the 20th

century. It probably formed the basis of Greek tragic theatre and

Elizabethan theatre as well. See also Theatre Buildings; Theatre Stage

Design.

A. The Proscenium Theatre

Since the Renaissance, Western theatre has been dominated by an

end stage variant called the proscenium theatre. The proscenium is the

wall separating the stage from the auditorium. The proscenium arch,

which may take several shapes, is the opening in that wall through

which the audience views the performance. A curtain that either rises

or opens to the sides may hang in this space. The proscenium

developed in response to the desire to mask scenery, hide scene-

changing machinery, and create an offstage space for performers' exits

and entrances. The result is to enhance illusion by eliminating all that is

not part of the scene and to encourage the audience to imagine that

what they cannot see is a continuation of what they can see. Because

the proscenium is (or appears to be) an architectural barrier, it creates

a sense of distance or separation between the stage and the

spectators. The proscenium arch also frames the stage and

consequently is often called a peep-show or picture-frame stage. See

also Proscenium.

B. The Thrust Stage

A thrust stage, sometimes known as three-quarter round, is a platform

surrounded on three sides by the audience. This form was used for

ancient Greek theatre, Elizabethan theatre, classical Spanish theatre,

English Restoration theatre, Japanese and Chinese classical theatre,

and much of Western theatre in the 20th century. A thrust may be

backed by a wall or be appended to some sort of end stage. The

upstage end (back of the stage, farthest from the audience) may have

scenery and provision for entrances and exits, but the thrust itself is

usually bare except for a few scenic elements and props. Because no

barrier exists between performers and spectators, the thrust stage

generally creates a sense of greater intimacy, as if the performance

were occurring in the midst of the auditorium, while still allowing for

illusionistic effects through the use of the upstage end and adjacent

offstage space.

C. The Arena Stage

The arena stage, or theatre-in-the-round, is a performing space totally

surrounded by the auditorium. This arrangement has been used in the

20th century, but its historical precedents are largely in non-dramatic

forms such as the circus, and it has limited popularity. The necessity of

providing equal sight lines for all spectators puts special constraints on

the type of scenery used and on the movements of the actors, because

at any given time part of the audience will inevitably be viewing a

performer's back. Illusion is more difficult to sustain in an arena, since

in most set-ups, entrances and exits must be made in full view of the

audience, eliminating surprise, if nothing else. Nonetheless, the arena,

when properly used, can create a sense of intimacy not often possible

with other stage arrangements, and, as noted, it is well suited to many

non-dramatic forms. Furthermore, because of the different scenic

demands of arena theatre, the large backstage areas associated with

prosceniums can be eliminated, thus allowing a more economical use of

space.

D. Variant Forms

One variant form of staging is environmental theatre, which has

precedents in medieval and folk theatre and has been widely used in

20th-century avant-garde theatre. It eliminates the single or central

stage in favour of surrounding the spectators or sharing the space with

them. Stage space and spectator space become indistinguishable.

Another popular alternative is the free, or flexible, space, sometimes

called black-box theatre because of its most common shape and colour.

This is an empty space with movable seating units and stage platforms

that can be arranged in any configuration for each performance.

E. The Fixed Architectural Stage

Most stages are raw spaces that the designer can mould to create any

desired effect or location; in contrast, the architectural stage has

permanent features that create a more formal scenic effect. Typically,

ramps, stairs, platforms, archways, and pillars are permanently built

into the stage space. Variety in individual settings may be achieved by

adding scenic elements. The Stratford Festival Theatre in Stratford,

Ontario, for example, has a permanent “inner stage”—a platform

roughly 3.6 m (12 ft) high—jutting on to the multilevel thrust stage from

the upstage wall. Most permanent theatres throughout the

Renaissance, such as the Teatro Olimpico (1580) in Vicenza, Italy, did

not use painted or built scenery but relied on similar permanent

architectural features that could provide the necessary scenic

elements. Noh and kabuki stages in Japan are other examples.

F. Auditoriums

Auditoriums in the 20th century are mostly variants on the fan-shaped

auditorium built (1876) by the composer Richard Wagner at his famous

opera house in Bayreuth, Germany. These auditoriums are shaped like

a hand-held fan and are usually raked (inclined upwards from front to

back), with staggered seats to provide unobstructed sight lines. Such

auditoriums may be designed with balconies, and some theatres, such

as opera houses, have boxes—seats in open or partitioned sections

along the sidewalls of the auditorium—a carry-over from Baroque

theatre architecture.

VI. The Theatre Staff

Regardless of the type or complexity of a production, all theatre

performances have similar requirements. For a small, non-commercial

production, most of these requirements may be met by two or three

people; a West End or Broadway show requires dozens; certain opera

companies employ several hundred. The staff may be divided into

administrative, creative (or artistic), and technical personnel.

The administrative group includes the producer, box-office and publicity

personnel, and front-of-house staff (house manager, ushers, and

others responsible for the audience). The artistic staff consists of the

director, designers, performers, and, if applicable, playwright,

composer, librettist, choreographer, and musical director. Technical

personnel include the stage manager, technical director, and various

construction and running crews, all working backstage.

A. Producer

The producer is responsible for the overall administration—raising and

allocating funds, hiring personnel, and overseeing all aspects of

production. Large productions may have several producers designated

as executive, associate, or co-producers, each of whom may be

responsible for a specific aspect of the show. Someone may be listed

as a producer by virtue of the amount of money invested. An

organization can be a producer, as was the Theatre Guild, a group

responsible for some of the most important productions on Broadway

from the 1920s to the 1940s. In such arrangements, of course,

individual members of the organization still supervise.

For a new commercial production, the producer contracts with a

playwright for a script; raises funds from private investors called

“angels” (who may invest after seeing a fragment of the play at a

special staging known as a backer's audition); hires the artistic and

technical staff; rents a theatre and all the necessary equipment for the

stage; and oversees publicity, ticket sales, and all the financial aspects

of the production. Box-office operations are handled by a general

manager. In theatre companies that do repertory, a season of several

plays, the producer may be responsible for selecting the repertoire,

although this is often the task of the artistic director. The producer also

arranges tours, subsidiary productions, and the sale of subsidiary

rights, including film, television, and amateur production rights. Most

theatres also have a theatre or house manager, responsible for

theatre maintenance and audience control.

B. Director

The director makes all artistic or creative decisions and is responsible

for the harmonious unity of a production. The director, usually in

conjunction with the designers (and perhaps the producer), determines

a concept, motif, or interpretation for the script or scenario; selects a

cast, rehearses them; and usually has a deciding role in scenery,

costumes, lights, and sound. Movement, timing, pacing, and visual and

aural effects are all determined by the director; what the audience

finally sees is the director's vision. From the time of the ancient Greeks

until the 17th century this role was generally fulfilled by the playwright,

and from the 17th to the end of the 19th century directing was the

function of the leading actor of a company. Under such conditions,

however, ensemble performance was rare.

The concept of the modern director can be traced to the 18th-century

English actor-manager David Garrick, although George II, duke of the

German principality of Saxe-Meiningen, is generally referred to as the

first director; touring Europe with his theatre company in the 1870s

and 1880s, he exercised absolute control over all aspects of

production. In the 20th century there has been a recurring tendency

for directors to use a script simply as a starting point for their own

theatrical visions, resulting in unorthodox and frequently spectacular

productions often called “theatricalist”. Such productions often achieve

clarification or emphasis of themes or images in the text, or a new

relevance for classic scripts, sometimes—admittedly—at the expense of

the integrity of the original. Some notable directors of this type were

Vsevolod Meyerhold, Max Reinhardt, Jean-Louis Barrault, and, more

recently, Peter Brook, Peter Stein, and Tom O'Horgan.

The director usually selects the cast through auditions in which

performers read sections of the script to be produced, present

prepared scenes or speeches, or, when appropriate, sing and dance.

The director of a musical production is aided in the auditioning process

by the musical director and the choreographer. Although auditioning is

acknowledged to be a flawed method, it does allow the director to

judge the talents and qualities of potential performers. Actors may also

be employed on the basis of reputation, recommendation of agents, or

simply for physical appropriateness.

C. Performers

Acting implies impersonation, and most plays require the creation of

complex characters with distinct physical and psychological attributes.

In the broadest sense, however, a performer is someone who does

something for an audience; thus, performing may range from executing

simple tasks to displaying skill without impersonation, to believably re-

creating historical or fictional characters, to exercising the virtuoso

techniques of dancers and singers.

The director and cast of modern productions generally rehearse from

two to six weeks, although certain European subsidized theatres have

the luxury of several months' rehearsal time, and certain types of Asian

theatre require several years of formal training (the bunraku puppet

theatre of Japan and the kathakali dance theatre of India are notable

examples). During rehearsals, blocking (the movement of the

performers) is set, lines are learned, interpretations are determined,

and performances are polished. If a new play is being rehearsed, the

playwright is usually present to change lines and to rearrange, add, or

delete scenes as necessary. In the case of musicals, songs and dances

may be added or dropped; the choreographer rehearses the dancers,

and the musical director rehearses the singers.

Most professional actors belong to Actors' Equity Association, a trade

union, or some equivalent organization. The union determines salaries,

length of rehearsals, number of performances per week (normally

eight), working conditions, and benefits. Although acting is often

thought to be a lucrative profession, it is so for only a very few—the

stars. Base salaries for actors and dancers are lower than in most

other trade professions. Moreover, theatre does not provide steady

employment or job security. Of the thousands of Equity members, at

least 85 per cent are unemployed at any one time.

D. Set Design

In Europe, one person, frequently called a scenographer, designs sets,

costumes, and lights; in the United States these functions are usually

handled by three separate professionals. Set design is the

arrangement of theatrical space; the set, or setting, is the visual

environment in which a play is performed. Its purpose is to suggest

time and place and to create the proper mood or atmosphere. Settings

can generally be classified as realistic, abstract, suggestive, or

functional.

1. Realistic

A realistic setting tries to re-create a specific location. During the height

of Naturalism at the end of the 19th century, directors strove for total

verisimilitude, leading to such practices as purchasing real meat to

hang in a butcher's shop scene or transferring a complete restaurant

on to a stage. The insistence on realistic sunset effects and the like by

American producer-director David Belasco led to significant

improvements in lighting design and equipment early in the 20th

century. But naturalism is also illusionism; such settings are designed

to fool the audience. Walls of a stage set are usually not made of wood

or plasterboard, as they would be in a real house, but are constructed

from flats—panels of canvas stretched on wooden frames—supported

from behind by stage braces. Flats are lightweight and thus easy to

move and store, and they are reusable. Trees and rocks may be

constructed from papier-mâché; elaborate mouldings are made from

plastic; wallpaper, shadows, and inlaid woodwork are more often

painted than real; false perspective may be painted or built into the

set. The stage floor may be raked—inclined upwards from the front of

the stage (downstage) to the back (upstage)—and furniture

appropriately adjusted to compensate for audience sight lines or the

normal effects of perspective. The result is the illusion of a room, or

park, or forest, but the reality may be a carefully distorted

conglomeration of canvas, glue, and paint.

From the Renaissance to the mid-19th century, realistic settings

generally consisted of a painted backdrop and wings—flats placed

parallel to the front of the stage to help mask the offstage space, and

often painted to enhance the scenic illusion. Some furniture or free-

standing set pieces were sometimes placed on the stage, but generally

it was an empty space for the actors. The settings were “stock”,

consisting of an interior set, an exterior set, and variants that sufficed

for all performances. Most interior scenes since the early 19th century

have utilized a box set—a room from which the fourth wall (the one

nearest the audience) has supposedly been removed, leaving a room

with three walls, a ceiling, and three-dimensional furniture and decor.

Such an arrangement posits the spectator as voyeur. In actuality, the

setting is once again illusionistic; the arrangement of furniture and the

positions and movements of actors are designed for audience

convenience.

Even in the most realistically detailed setting, the designer still controls

much of the setting's effect through choice of colours, arrangement of

props and set pieces (is the room sparsely furnished or cluttered,

spacious or claustrophobic?), and placement of entrances. All this has a

profound, albeit subtle, effect on the audience.

2. Abstract

The abstract setting, most popular in the early 20th century, was

influenced largely by the Swiss designer Adolphe Appia and the English

designer Edward Gordon Craig. The theories of these two men have

influenced not only design in general but much contemporary theatre.

An abstract set does not depict any specific time or place. It most often

consists of platforms, steps, drapes, panels, ramps, or other non-

specific elements. Most common in modern dance, abstract settings

work best in productions in which time and place are unspecified or

irrelevant, or in which the director and designer want to create a sense

of timelessness and universality. This is common, for instance, in

Shakespearean productions, in which locale may alter rapidly, is

frequently not indicated by the script, and may be suggested

adequately by a few props and by the poetry itself. Abstract settings

place more emphasis on the language and the performer and stimulate

the spectator's imagination. Costuming thus becomes more significant,

and lighting takes on great importance.

3. Suggestive

Most settings in today's commercial theatre are suggestive, descended

from the so-called new stagecraft of the first half of the 20th century.

Sometimes called simplified realism, its scenic effect is achieved by

eliminating non-essential elements—an approach championed by the

American designer Robert Edmond Jones—or by providing fragments of

a realistic setting, perhaps in combination with abstract elements, such

as a window frame suspended in front of black drapes. Universality and

imagination are encouraged through the lack of detail; yet some

specificity of time, place, and mood is achieved. Such sets may appear

dream-like, fragmentary, stark, or surrealistic.

4. Functional

Functional settings are derived from the requirements of the particular

theatrical form. Although they are rarely used in dramatic

presentations, they are essential to certain kinds of performance. An

excellent example is the circus, the basic scenic elements of which are

determined by the needs of the performers.

E. Stage Facilities

The use and movement of scenery are determined by stage facilities.

Relatively standard elements include trapdoors in the stage floor, lifts

that can raise or lower stage sections, wagons (rolling platforms) on

which scenes may be mounted, and cycloramas—curved canvas or

plaster backdrops used as a projection surface or to simulate the sky.

Above the stage, especially in a proscenium theatre, is the area known

as the fly gallery, where lines for flying—that is, raising—unused

scenery from the stage are manipulated, and which contains

counterweight or hydraulic pipes and lengths of wood, or battens, from

which lights and pieces of scenery may be suspended. Other special

devices and units can be built as necessary. Although scene painting

seems to be a dying art, modern scene shops are well equipped to

work with plastics, metals, synthetic fabrics, paper, and other new and

industrial products that until recently were not in the realm of theatre.

See also Stage Design.

F. Lighting Design

Lighting design, a more ephemeral art, has two functions: to illuminate

the stage and the performers and to create mood and control the focus

of the spectators. Theatre lighting may be from a direct source such as

the Sun or a lamp, or it may be indirect, employing reflected light or

general illumination. It has four controllable properties: intensity,

colour, placement on the stage, and movement—the visible changing of

the first three properties. These properties are used to achieve

visibility, mood, composition (the overall arrangement of light, shadow,

and colour), and the revelation of form—the appearance of shape and

dimensionality of a performer or object as determined by light.

Until the Renaissance, almost all performance was outdoors and

therefore lit by the sun, but with indoor performance came the need for

lighting instruments. Lighting was first achieved with candles and oil

lamps and, in the 19th century, with gas lamps. Although coloured

filters, reflectors, and mechanical dimming devices were used for

effects, lighting served primarily to illuminate the stage. By current

standards the stage was fairly dim, which allowed greater illusionism in

scenic painting. Gas lighting facilitated greater control, but only the

advent of electric lighting in the late 19th century permitted the

brightness and control presently available. It also allowed the dimming

of the house-lights, plunging the auditorium into darkness for the first

time.

Lighting design, however, is not simply aiming the lighting instruments

at the stage or bathing the stage in a general wash of light. Audiences

usually expect actors to be easily visible at all times and to appear to

be three-dimensional. This involves the proper angling of instruments,

provision of back and side lighting as well as frontal, and a proper

balance of colours. Two basic types of stage-lighting instruments are

employed: floodlights, which illuminate a broad area, and spotlights,

which focus light more intensely on a smaller area. Instruments consist

of a light source and a series of lenses and shutters in some sort of

housing. These generally have a power of 500 to 5,000 watts. The

instruments are hung from battens and stanchions in front of, over,

and at the sides of the stage. In realistic settings, lights may be

focused to simulate the direction of the ostensible source, but even in

these instances, performers would appear two-dimensional without

back and side lighting.

Because so-called white light is normally too harsh for most theatre

purposes, colored filters called gels are used to soften the light and

create a more pleasing effect. White light can be simulated by mixing

red, blue, and green light. Most designers attempt to balance “warm”

and “cool” colors to create proper shadows and textures. Except for

special effects, lighting design generally strives to be unobtrusive; just

as in set design, however, the skilful use of color, intensity, and

distribution can have a subliminal effect on the spectators' perceptions.

The lighting designer is often responsible for projections. These include

still or moving images that substitute for or enhance painted and

constructed scenery, create special effects such as stars or moonlight,

or provide written legends for the identification of scenes. Images can

be projected from the audience side of the stage on to opaque

surfaces, or from the rear of the stage on to specially designed rear-

projection screens. Similar projections are often used on scrims, semi-

transparent curtains stretched across the stage. Film and still

projection, sometimes referred to as mixed media, was first used

extensively by the German director Erwin Piscator in the 1920s and

became very popular in the 1960s.

The lights are controlled by a skilled technician called the electrician,

who operates a control or dimmer board, so called because a series of

“dimmers” controls the intensity of each instrument or group of

instruments. The most recent development in lighting technology is the

memory board, a computerized control system that stores the

information of each light cue or change of lights. The electrician need

no longer operate each dimmer individually; by pushing one button, all

the lights will change automatically to the pre-programmed intensity

and at the desired speed.

G. Costume Design

A costume is whatever is worn on the performer's body. Costume

designers are concerned primarily with clothing and accessories, but

are also often responsible for wigs, masks, and makeup. Costumes

convey information about the character and aid in setting the tone or

mood of the production. Because most acting involves impersonation,

most costuming is actual or re-created historical or contemporary

dress; as with scenery, however, costumes may also be suggestive or

abstract. Until the 19th century, little attention was paid to period or

regional accuracy; variations on contemporary dress sufficed. Since

then, however, costume designers have paid great attention to

authentic period style.

As with the other forms of design, subtle effects can be achieved

through choice of colour, fabric, cut, texture, and weight or material.

Because costume can indicate such things as social class and

personality traits, and can even simulate such physical attributes as

obesity or a deformity, an actor's work can be significantly eased by its

skilful design. Costume can also function as character signature,

notably for such comic characters as Harlequin or the other characters

of the commedia dell'arte, Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp, or circus

clowns.

In much Oriental theatre, as in classical Greek theatre, costume

elements are formalized. Based originally on everyday dress, the

costumes became standardized and were appropriated for the stage.

Colours, designs, and ornamentation all convey meaningful information.

H. Mask

A special element of costume is the mask. Although rarely used in

contemporary Western theatre, masks were essential in Greek and

Roman drama and the commedia dell'arte and are used in most African

and Oriental theatre. The masks of tragedy and of comedy, as used in

ancient Greek drama, are in fact the universal symbols of the theatre.

Masks obviate the use of the face for expression and communication

and thus render the performer more puppet-like; expression depends

solely on voice and gesture. Because the mask's expression is

unchanging, the character's fate or final expression is known from the

beginning, thereby removing one aspect of suspense. The mask shifts

focus from the actor to the character and can thus clarify aspects of

theme and plot and give a character a greater universality. Like

costumes, the colours and features of the mask, especially in the

Orient, indicate symbolically significant aspects of the character. In

large theatres masks can also aid in visibility.

1. Makeup

Makeup may also function as a mask, especially in Oriental theatre,

where faces may be painted with elaborate colours and images that

exaggerate and distort facial features. In Western theatre, makeup is

used for two purposes: to emphasize and reinforce facial features that

might otherwise be lost under bright lights or at a distance and to alter

signs of age, skin tone, or nose shape.

I. Technical Production

The technical aspects of production may be divided into pre-production

and run of production. Pre-production technical work is supervised by

the technical director in conjunction with the designers. Sets,

properties (props), and costumes are made during this phase by crews

in the theatre shops or, in the case of most commercial theatre, in

professional studios.

Props are the objects handled by actors or used in dressing the stage—

all objects placed or carried on the set that are not costumes or

scenery. Whereas real furniture and hand props can be used in many

productions, props for period shows, non-realistic productions, and

theatrical shows such as circuses must be built. Like sets, props can be

illusionistic—they may be created from papier-mâché or plastic for

lightness, exaggerated in size, irregularly shaped, or designed to

appear level on a raked stage; they may also be capable of being

rolled, collapsed, or folded. The person in charge of props is called the

props master or mistress.

J. Sound and Sound Effects

Sound, if required, is now generally recorded during the pre-production

period. From earliest times, most theatrical performances were

accompanied by music that, until recently, was produced by live

musicians. Since the 1930s, however, use of recorded sound has been

a possibility in the theatre. Although music is still the most common

sound effect, wind, rain, thunder, and animal noises have been

essential since the earliest Greek tragedies. Any sound that cannot be

created by a performer may be considered a sound effect. Such sounds

are most often used for realistic effect (for example, a train rushing by

or city sounds outside a window), but they can also assist in the

creation of mood or rhythm. Although many sounds can be recorded

from actual sources, certain sounds do not record well and seem false

when played through electronic equipment on a stage. Elaborate

mechanical devices are therefore constructed to simulate these

sounds, such as rain or thunder.

Technicians also create special aural and visual effects simulating

explosions, fire, lightning, and apparitions and giving the illusion of

moving objects or of flying. See also Acoustics (theatre).

K. Stage Management

The stage manager serves as a liaison among the technical personnel

and between them and the creative staff, oversees rehearsals,

coordinates all aspects of production, and runs the show in

performance. The stage manager “calls” the show—signals all

technicians when to take their cues—and supervises the actors during

the production.

The running crew is determined by the needs of the production. It may

consist of the following: scene crews, or grips, who shift the scenery;

prop crews; wardrobe crews, who assist the performers with their

costumes and maintain the costumes between performances; sound

technicians; electricians; and flymen, who operate all flying scenery. In

commercial theatre, all technicians belong to the stagehands union.

When the scenery is built, it is “loaded in” and set up. Lights are hung,

focused, and gelled—given coloured filters. Technical rehearsals are

then held, during which light, sound, and scene, and scene-shift cues

are set and rehearsed—first with the crews alone, then with actors.

Finally, in dress rehearsals, the show is rehearsed with all elements

except the presence of an audience. When a show closes, the set is

“struck” and “loaded out”.