chapter  5
4 Pages

What is a theatrical designer?

We call a theatrical designer a man who brings into the theatre a visual picture of “better life,” created by means of colors and forms, – in order to include it as a component part into the general production. This is what distinguishes an ordinary designer from a theatrical one. The theory defining art as the “creation of better life” can be applied

to every art and consequently to the art of painting, – but not every painting, picture or architectural motive can be called “theatrical.” They might be called so, only if they were created for the purpose of including them in the theatrical “ensemble,” and are qualified to remain in it. It means, – they must not overpower nor be crushed by the other elements of the theatrical production, which are: the human voice, the plastique of movements, music, the struggle of feelings, the dialogue, etc. The ideal of “better life” is harmony, the substance of our actual daily life – chaos. That is why, in a theatre which strives to show the “better life,” the artist-painter should be an integral part of the general harmony. A performance lacking in general harmony can never be successful. But how can one expect general harmony in a commercial theatre, if

the procedure in getting together a production consists usually in the following: The manager who has decided to produce a certain play, picks out his actors, a stage director, a scenic designer and a composer, not because of the spiritual response he might expect of them, but only according to his own financial resources. After the question of their respective salaries is settled, he usually calls a general meeting for all these people, with the exception of the actors. (Sometimes, though, he invites to this meeting the stars of the production.) During the meeting he simply tells them what to do, often even without asking for their suggestions. Then starts an amicable little chat, during which most of those present agree with the opinion of the producer, who pays

been a successful By the way, saying this I don’t try to be funny, as I was once myself in

a New York production run by a rich grocer. Then, having established a superficial plan of work they start everyone separately on a conscientious fulfillment of his tasks. How often had I to pity these honest efforts wasted in vain! What good is there in a beautiful set, when it is delivered to the director just before the opening night? When the actor has to act without knowing what is behind his back? How can an actor be successful and play with ease a complicated scene on a bridge, or let us say, on a stairway, if it is for the first time that he has to walk upon a shaky and badly adjusted construction, and if until then had to rehearse only between four old chairs? I once saw from the wings the opening night of “Romeo and Juliet.”

The actress representing Juliet stood on the balcony, and playing the greatest of female lovers was furtively glancing toward the side wing, where stood the head-carpenter, responsible for the erection, just in time for the performance, of the wobbly balcony. Standing in a heroic posture and watching the scared Juliet, he was whispering reassuringly, “Don’t fret, if you’ll come down, I’ll catch you anyway!” I wonder who was at this moment Juliet’s real hero, – Romeo or the stage carpenter? No one could feel at ease wearing for the first time a pair of brand

new shoes! Yet they want the poor actor to feel at home and to be in a creative mood, in perfectly strange and unfamiliar surroundings. For instance, the director rehearses the actors in a forest scene during a night storm. They struggle in vain to find the necessary mood, to express the feeling of fear, chill, discomfort, of the wet swampy ground under their feet, of the rain streaming down their necks. There is such a scene in “King Lear.” Who, if not the artist with all his scenic effects could help the actor in such case? Because the actor certainly needs assistance, having before him a most difficult problem, that of finding the basic feelings of his part. You cannot after all, wallow them in mud or pour water on them, in order to furnish them the necessary mood. No one but the artist by his drawings and his sets, creating the impression of an “ideal storm” can help the actor to get into the mood of feeling an “ideal” horror in front of a raging nature. How often the actor spoils his interpretation, not knowing until the

last moment what the physical appearance of the character he plays should be, or, which is still worse, when during the dress rehearsal he comes to the conclusion that the looks of his “living character” have nothing in common with the character he had in his mind. He must