Theatre Of Today - The Artistic Forces: The Stagesetting, Or 'inscenierung.'
( Originally Published 1914 )
FOR this chapter we must coin a new word. There is no English word to convey the idea of stage-setting in the modern sense. The German attitude toward stage-setting has given the German word for it a distinct meaning a meaning which must be associated with the new art as it spreads around the world. The corresponding word in England and America is lacking because the corresponding fact is lacking in the theatres of England and America. So it is not from affectation but from necessity that we shall speak of modern stage setting as "Inscenierung."
"Inscenierung" comprises the whole process of putting a play upon the stage the acting, scene designing, lighting, and so on and the harmonising of these factors to express the particular quality of the play produced. If in the following pages the word "Inscenierung" may be used somewhat more narrowly to signify the mere setting as apart from the action, it will be only with the implication that this setting is an organic part of the play as a whole. No other country (except for a few theatres in Russia) has taken such an attitude toward stage-setting as Germany. The Germans have created the fact; they have a right to the name.
For several reasons the stage-setting of the nineties became unsatisfactory to theatre-goers and theatrical producers. These settings rigidly followed the ideal which was thought to be implied in the Ibsen dramas and the later realistic plays that of reproducing nature, of reproducing on the stage "a real room with the fourth wall left out." This ideal had done fine service. It had cleared the stage of a mass of useless properties, had replaced the silly superfluity of conventional adornment with something of the bareness or of the irregularity of life, had placed two doors where six had flourished before, had put in the scene a chair where the play called for a chair.
All stage setting previously had been, like the plays themselves, conventionally put together by clumsy men of the stage. The realistic drama said "We must show life as it is," and the idea became something like a religion to thousands of workers in the theatre. After a struggle, the bitterness of which we cannot realise now, the idea triumphed, and all theatres which pretended to stand for the best in drama strove to reproduce the physical semblance of life down to its tiniest detail.
But when realism had achieved three walls in all accuracy what was to be done? It could not stand still. It must go on logically and put in the fourth wall, or adopt a new ideal and this ideal was supplied by a striving for a certain sort of simplicity. Why exercise artistic selection in one part of the drama the action and not in another the setting? After all its simplification the stage setting remained too elaborate. Two doors and half a dozen chairs were too many. Out of the complexity of external facts people wanted to deduce something of the simplicity of their inner meanings. "Give us the really important, significant facts," they seemed to say, "and let the rest go."
But there were also technical reasons, perhaps still more influential, why the old realistic setting was unsatisfactory. A landscape or an interior was painted to give the illusion of life. This was sometimes achieved to a remarkable extent. But the moment the actor came on the stage one saw the unreality of the setting against the living presence of the man. Instead of illusion the process became one of persistent disillusionment. This continual evidence that the scene was pretending to be what it was not made its failure the more depressing. A purely conventional setting would have been less unreal.
Still more the old stage setting was unreal because of the technical difficulties of perspective. Perspective and distance cannot (at least out-of-door scenes) be reproduced; they can only be suggested. To represent distance the scene painter had made use of converging lines according to the ordinary pictorial laws of perspective. But for several reasons this back perspective looks utterly unreal in the presence of the living actor. For instance, the back curtain usually represents the scene as being on a level with the spectator; but when the spectator is above the actor, even slightly, he looks at the living scene from quite another angle than that with which he seems to be looking at the painted scene. Certain exaggerations necessary to stage perspective become evident as the actor moves backward and for-ward and establishes varying perspective relations with the back drop. Still worse, the back drop was usually lighted with the same light as was used for the actors; that is, the light quite evidently did not undergo the variations of distance, and bore evidence to the fact that all was close to the audience. Most important of all, the "back drops" were very obviously painted on cloth, and none too well painted either.
Mr. Kenneth Macgowan, one of the most spirited of the younger American dramatic critics, has explained the anomaly of stage perspective as follows : "There are two sorts of stage perspective. Both fail. One is in the side walls of rooms or the exteriors of buildings on the sides of the stage. The artist scales down the height at the back to give an effect of greater length toward the rear. Of course the effect fails the moment a man, who reaches half way to the ceiling when he stands down stage, walks back. For the ceiling comes down to meet him, and lo, he is a cubit greater in stature, if we measure him by his environment. The other kind of perspective is in the back drop a landscape or a vista of houses. It fails not because of the proximity of actors ; skilful lighting can make it seem to be a good way off. The failure is purely a mechanical matter of the eye. The presentation cannot be made to counterfeit nature. When the eye looks at real things of varying distances, the lens in the eye expands or contracts to change the focus to suit the distance. The two eyes also shift positions in the sockets so as to triangulate to the spot looked at. Now when the eye is focusing on a piece of canvas thirty feet off as it must, to see clearly or when the two eyes are centring their lines of vision on the same point that distance away, there is an automatic report to the brain of the nearness of the object. Moreover, as the eyes move from a mountain peak on the back drop to the painted foreground there is no readjustment of the positions of lenses and eyes. There would be a great one in nature. Naturally the effect of flatness is still further increased. This can be overcome, I think, only by the presentation of distance so hazily that the eye hardly tries to focus, but merely takes an impression."
This tendency away from the precise and literal is not a fad of preciosity, but rather a movement toward democracy. For the old perspective stage, as we have seen, could be illusory only when viewed from one point in the auditorium in the old theatres, the king's box. The impressionistic setting is equally valid from what-ever point it is viewed. Thus the artistic impulse is putting itself at the service of men.
In addition to the anomalies of perspective, one finds that a realistic setting usually dissipates the attention. An interior scene, with all its very natural doors and tables and chairs, invites us to examine to look with equal interest at all parts of the stage.
But obviously a play, since it is a selected action, must be seen with the attention centred on the important. This psychological demand becomes insistent as the novelty of strict realism wears off, and, once the spectator has felt the thrill of a setting which actively draws his attention toward the important, it never de-parts.
One more condition, a dramatic one, made a change necessary. Realism as applied to an elaborate play, say one of Shakespeare's, demanded much time between scenes for building the setting. These waits, sometimes of ten minutes for a five-minute scene, not only tired the spectator, but destroyed the dramatic continuity. A "Macbeth," which pulses on from scene into scene, should not be brought to a dead stop, filled with lights and gossip, whenever the situation changes. Many modern plays, too, like those of Tolstoy, ask for frequent changes of scene. And one finds that with all these works it is profitable to sacrifice elaborateness of the setting for continuity of the play. It is true that with the more recent stage inventions producers might give a Shakespearian play with short waits and still with something like old time elaboration in the settings, but it is to be noticed that now that producers have seen the beauty and dramatic fitness of the simpler settings, they don't want to.
Out of these conditions and dissatisfactions there arises a man, new to the theatre, symbolic of its altered nature the regisseur. The older theatre had appointed men to be responsible for the various parts of the drama ; the regisseur is to be responsible for their harmony. But this is not enough, for one cannot harmonise parts that weren't made to harmonise. The regisseur must not only be responsible for the assembling of the parts ; he must be responsible for their designing and making from the beginning. So the regisseur becomes the autocrat of the modern theater, caring for the design and equipment of his play house, planning and supervising the construction of his scenes and costumes, working out the technical details of scene shifting and building, determining the nature and even the details of the acting, and imagining the lights and all their variations, even down to the spotting of a certain part of a certain actor's robe at a certain point in his part. The regisseur, in short, is responsible for the whole. And the fact that he was never needed before the twentieth century (excepting perhaps in ancient Greece) is proof that the drama has become what it never was before.
As we look into the European theatres to-day we are never in a moment's doubt whether the stage settings are "old" or "new." The new have "a something" about them which arrests our attention and stimulates our interest. We are puzzled to know just where it is. It is not in the externals, for the setting may consist of walls and tables and chairs, just as in our American theatres (only better done). But there is something in the arrangement and ordering of it all which gives us at once stimulation and repose. It is purpose. The new settings are designed with some artistic end in view. We find our eye centring on this or that spot, while the other parts contrast with it and lead up to it. In short we feel, what we never felt with the old settings, that we are in the presence of an artist.
There is never too much in these settings, and what there is is artistically as well as dramatically necessary. They suggest reality, rather than represent it; and when our imagination is thus stimulated we make reality real because, in a sense, we create it ourselves. Bare walls, simple lines, harmonious colours, soft lights these are part of the new stage settings. One never feels that the scene screams at the top of its voice. A modern interior is a real room, not a fantastic or precious one; but its doors and windows, tables and chairs are part of a picture placed within the proscenium frame. The inscenierung of a classical play, say by Shakespeare or Goethe, will catch the spirit of its milieu; if its action passes in a castle, it will make use of the romantic opportunities of the old grey stone, the mysterious arches, the creeping stairways. A landscape in modern inscenierung is not a paper and canvas copy of leaves and grass and shrubbery, but the picture of that landscape, the leaves forming a dark mass, the road a cleft of white in the greenery, and the shrubbery a mass of dark at the side. The colours are attuned to each other, and the lines and masses group themselves around some central point. The background is a real solid, not a flimsy panel; it is real distance, not a flapping sky curtain. The footlights (if they are used at all) do not glare and force the actors to use exaggerated make-up. Light and shade are not painted on canvas but are the living consequences of a real light. And the central secret of it all is artistic selection the using only of what is necessary and that with a definite purpose.
Suppose you are sitting in a darkened auditorium; you look into the proscenium opening and see all blackness, except here, at one side of the foreground, a noble pier belonging to the nave of some German Cathedral. The pier is of yellow grey stone, built to support huge weight and dignity. About it are many niches, deco-rated with delicate tracery, and within the niches are statues of the saints. This you see, and nothing more, except a poorly clad girl, kneeling, despairing and terrified, between the mysteries of good and evil, of God and the Devil. It is Gretchen. The spirit of evil is behind that pier, thundering fearful scoffings against the trembling sinner. It is the Cathedral scene from "Faust." What need here of aisles and church pews, candles and stained-glass windows? It is the sanctuary of God, and one great column will tell of His dignity and presence here better than many details that know not what they are about. "Remember," says Gordon Craig, "that on a sheet of paper which is but two inches square you can make a line which seems to tower miles in the air, and you can do the same on your stage, for it is all a matter of proportion."
This is the practical basis of it suggestion rather than representation.
"Do not look first at Nature," Craig continues ; "look in the play of the poet."
And that is the inner inspiration of it all.
Just how a producer should set about designing his setting is a theoretical problem much quarrelled about among the producers themselves. Some aim mainly at producing a beautiful picture in the artist's sense of the word. The artist, for instance, sees on an old fashioned stage a Macbeth's castle which, if it were copied on canvas, would outrage any artist of any school. It merely represents some corner of some imaginary castle, a corner chosen for no reason at all or merely for its dramatic fitness. By all the tests which the artist applies to a canvas proportion, balance, rhythm and so on this picture is meaningless. It lacks what every artist demands in his work, some-thing known as style. The producer will select the essential thing is this castle the stairway down which Lady Macbeth walks in her sleep. This he will place in a semicircular recess at the back, and it will form a beautiful curve from the top half way down. This stair-way is the chief fact in the setting dramatically and artistically. At each side is a black wall, in front of it is a bare stone floor.
Or perhaps the producer has been controlled chiefly by another sort of purpose. He has to design the Plat-form scene in "Hamlet." He shows us in the fore-ground the floor of solid stone; off to the left is an immense patch of sky, grey and impenetrable; at the right is a large square tower, black as darkest midnight. When the haunted figure of Hamlet appears outlined against the sky with the square tower beside him setting off the curves of his figure and cloak, we look at nothing but Hamlet. That is, the producer's whole aim was to centre our attention and interest upon the actor.
But besides mere beauty and mere dramatic emphasis the producer may have a third principle in designing his scene. Imagine a large, gloomy room, with dark walls and heavy curtains where a man seems lost in the stale deadness. The oppressiveness is sensed rather than seen. But the oppressiveness which we feel is not so much that of the room as that of the characters in it. Or suppose a dark gallery, with square altars at each side, and flames ascending from them. In it all we feel the heroine's dominant emotion the very spirit of agonised supplication, the "motif" of the scene. That is, the setting was intended to shadow forth the subjective meaning of the action, to make sensible states of soul.
These three motives, beauty, dramatic emphasis and subjective truth, are of course not mutually exclusive. They can (and probably should) all be present in a good stage-setting. But they represent three of the principal tendencies of modern inscenierung, and also, to some extent, three types of modern regisseurs.
As a conscious tendency the movement toward artistic stage-settings goes no farther back than the beginning of the twentieth century. But for many years preceding there had been experiments of one sort or another, and expressed theories that seem to look forward to modern times. The German architect Schinkel, designer of the Royal Schauspielhaus in Berlin, took a critical attitude toward stage settings, demanding that they should support the drama without imposing their idiosyncracies upon it. For instance, he hated the construction of scenes by means of canvas wings (the only method then in existence) and proposed to mask the sides by means of hanging curtains which should remain throughout the play. Immermann, as artistic director of the Dusseldorf Theater, attempted to put Schinkel's ideas into practice. But the German stage of the time (like the English) was wholly dominated by the actor's art, and he met with no encouragement. The chief impulse toward stage reform, before the middle of the century, was a scholarly one. In 1843 Tieck produced "A Mid-summer Night's Dream" in "the Shakespearian manner" at the Royal Palace in Potsdam, and Immermann before him had made the experiment.
But a new and partly artistic impulse came to Germany from England. Charles Kean, son of the great actor, instituted in 1852 his "Shakespeare revivals" which attempted to be "a true and complete image of the history and customs of a people." This was the beginning of the realistic and archaeological Shakespeare scenery which is cultivated today by Beerbohm Tree. Through Dingelstedt, director at Munich and Weimar, the idea reached the Meininger brothers at their little private theatre, and was fostered by them with almost religious fervour. The famous journeys of their troupe, which continued from 1874 until the nineties, opened the eyes of German audiences to the possibilities of stage-setting. Their realistic tendency, somewhat simplified, was continued at the Deutches Theater in Berlin, under L'Arronge, from 1883 to 1894, and under Otto Brahm, from 1894 until 1904. The reaction to the influence of the Meiningers showed itself in the famous "Shakespeare stage," at Munich, arranged by Intendant von Perfall and Oberregisseur Savits. This fulfilled Schinkel's old demand for side curtains, and made use of the conventional fore-stage, which is now a common thing in German stage-settings. The Munich Shakespeare stage marked a desire for simplicity, but it was once more an English influence, that of Gordon Craig, which gave the great stimulus toward beauty which marked the first decade of the new century.
Before his influence was felt, however, Adolph Appia, probably the most powerful theorist of the new movement, had written his remarkable book, "Die Musik und die Inscenierung." In this, as an artist, he at-tempted to deduce from the content of the Wagner music-dramas the proper stage-settings for them. His conclusions anticipated much of the best work of recent years and his theories have been put in practice in more or less modified form on a great many stages not so much (if at all) for the Wagner dramas them-selves, which are living under a rigid tradition (the "what the Master wished" myth) but for operas and the more lyrical plays where the producer has artistic ability and a free hand in applying it.
Appia started with the principle that the setting should make the actor the all-important fact on the stage. He saw the realistic impossibility of the realistic setting, and destructively analysed the current modes of lighting and perspective effects. But unlike the members of the more conventional modern school, he insisted that the stage is a three-dimension space and must be so handled as to make its depth living. He felt a contradiction between the living actor and the dead setting. He wished to bind them into one whole —the drama. How was this to be done?
Appia's answer to this question is his chief claim to greatness genius almost. His answer was "By means of the lighting." He saw the deadliness of the contemporary methods of lighting, and previsaged with a sort of inspiration the possibilities of new methods which have since become common. This was at a time when he had at his disposal none of the modern lighting systems. His foreseeing of modern practice by means of rigid Teutonic logic in the service the artist's intuition makes him one of the two or three foremost theorists of the modern movement.
The lighting, for Appia, is the spiritual core, the soul, of the drama. The whole action should be contained in it, somewhat as we feel the physical body of a friend to be contained in his personality. Appia's second great principle is closely connected with this. While the setting is obviously inanimate, the actor must be in every way emphasised and made living. And this can be accomplished, he says, only by a wise use of lighting, since it is the lights and shadows on a human body which reveal to our eyes the fact that the body is "plastic" that is, a flexible body of three dimensions. Appia would make the setting suggest only the atmosphere, not the reality, of the thing it stands for, and would soften and beautify it with the lights. The actor he would throw constantly into prominence while keeping him always a part of the scene. All the elements and all the action of the drama he would bind together by the lights and shadows.
With the most minute care each detail of lighting, each position of each character, in Appia's "productions," is studied out so that the dramatic meaning shall always be evident. Hence, any setting of his contains vastly more thought than is visible at a glance. It is designed to serve for every exigency of the scene so that a character here shall be in full light at a certain point, while talking directly to a character who must be quite in the dark, or so that the light shall just touch the fringe of one character's robe as she dies, or so that the action shall all take place unimpeded, and so on. At the same time, needless to say, Appia's stage pictures are of the highest artistic beauty.
An extension of the Appia practice has given some producers the idea of using the stage partially or entirely without any "solid" effect. We might call this sort of setting "pure atmosphere."
Chief among the producers of "pure atmosphere" is Ottomar Starke, a remarkably talented young regisseur who has worked mainly in Mannheim and Frankfurtam Main. His "atmosphere" is produced by the use of net curtains of comparatively delicate texture used in connection with lights and special devices, many of which are his own inventions. The effect depends upon a partially darkened stage. On the net-curtains, from above and behind, are thrown lights of various subdued hues. The nets absorb and diffuse the light, mingling with each other into an atmospheric whole. Under this practice they lose the definiteness which has always spoiled their effect with the footlight system. Some-times the whole light of the scene is thrown from behind the back drop, which is semi-transparent. By skilful gradation and colouring of this back curtain fine effects of luminosity can be obtained. Clouds, or even flying beasts and humans, can be figured upon the back drop by means of a sort of moving picture machine. The secret of the use of net-curtains (beyond the general secret of knowledge and skill) lies in the use of the back light, which illuminates them (as contrasted with the front lighting, which simply reveals them).
But it is the theory of this method which is most interesting. "Lighting," says Mr. Starke, " is my music." Let the stage, by means of its lights, be as alive as the drama itself. Let the mood of the lights vary with the mood of the music or of the action. The internal unity which Appia foresaw is thus strikingly realised in Starke's procedure. Under this the lighting is usually quite arbitrary, making no pretense at natural justification, partly because it throws the whole emphasis on the subjective values of the setting and partly because, in the regisseur's opinion, stage setting should be "not nature, but style." Even where definite "plastic" or solid settings are required he usually surrounds them, as it were, with atmosphere, and lays chief stress on the effects of lighting.
Quite in opposition to Appia, who wishes to banish the painter and his principles altogether from the theatre, is George Fuchs, of Munich, who aims at a form of stage-setting that will permit the artist full play. This form is the "relief" or two dimension stage, as in use at the Künstlertheater in Munich. Curiously enough, Fuchs starts from precisely the same premise as Appia that the business of the setting is to emphasise the actor. But he argues thus : Since the actor must be emphasised, arrange such a stage as will permit him to be always in the foreground, where his voice and gesture will have full value. True perspective is impossible ; therefore give up the third dimension altogether. In compensation you can have all the genius of the painter at your disposal, working untrammelled on a flat surface.
This type we might call the "pure picture" stage, since its obvious effort is toward pictorial beauty of effect. The stage (as at the Künstler) is very shallow, and is provided on the sides with a permanent frame in the shape of plain towers (with doors for entrances and exits) which can be moved toward or away from each other in order to contract or enlarge the frame. The background is usually a simple back drop or a single set piece of scenery placed either before a neutral curtain or before the cyclorama. The characters are seen out-lined against this background like silhouettes (hence the name "relief stage"). As often as possible they are seen in actual profile. In effect the whole is seen as though painted on a canvas. There is no attempt to make the characters seem plastic, rather the contrary.
This machinery demands a special treatment. The designs will tend toward the conventional, and proportion "pure proportion" will have high value. Pictorial beauty must be sought at every stage of the drama. Action and gesture must be somewhat conventionalised and studied, and quite removed from the actuality of life. The setting must choose only one or two significant details of the supposed scene (or even omit details altogether) and use them for the highest decorative effect. In short, the whole must aim at style, in the aesthetic and narrower sense of the word.
It is evident that such a method is somewhat limited in its application, that it will vary in its success ac-cording to the type of play presented, and that it can-not claim to represent anything like the whole art of stage production. Still the range of plays which can be satisfactorily presented on the relief stage is larger than one might suppose. Shakespeare, the problem play and comic opera, are all capable of conventional production, if the true motive of the conventionalisation, suggested by the play itself, be made the basis of it. The Cathedral scene in "Faust" will show only one solid pier against a black curtain. The garden scene will have a somewhat stiffly painted "back drop" with a railing and a bush or two in front. A modern interior will have merely a single "back set" showing a door and a window in a bare wall, and a few necessary "properties." "Orpheus in the Underworld" is played almost without scenery, the "picture" arising from the costumes and groupings.
The whole idea may strike one as stiff and grotesque, and certainly it sounds so in description. But it should be regarded as an experiment in conventionalisation and should be seen to be judged. Its stimulus to the theory of stage-setting has been very great.
Another pioneer, the father of them all, is Edward Gordon Craig of England. His work is in many respects the most radical and daring of all, and his influence is at present greater than any other one man's. But unlike the Germans he is not a theorist in the logical sense, and his "principles" can hardly be put into words. His practice will be described at greater length in the chapter on "Stylisation," a theory or way of looking at the subject of stage-setting which owes its vitality in great measure to him.
These three men, Appia, Fuchs, and Craig, are the chief original influences in modern inscenierung (out-side of Russia). They are of the sort who are "hard to get hold of," and their practice is often better than their precept, but in the future history of the modern stage movement they will bulk very large indeed.
We have said that the impulse toward artistic scene-setting came from England. It "came" in rather too literal a sense. For English theatres, on the whole, were strangely slow to understand and adopt the new ideas, which English audiences insisted on regarding as "foreign." The dignified and stately Shakespearian tradition of Beerbohm Tree continued to dominate both acting and scenery. Some of the most intelligent of the English theatrical people are bitterly opposed to the innovations. Miss Lena Ashwell combats the principle of the regisseur, saying that under it the actress is not allowed to act her part, but must act the director's idea of the part. Miss Horniman, who is radical from head to toe, says that Craig's settings seem to her "pure nonsense."
It is Granville Barker who chiefly represents the new ideas in England. His remarkable seasons at the Court, Kingsway and Savoy theatres have given him an influence which he has used to vitalise English and stage methods. His Shakespearian performances, played at extremely rapid pace, have set a new tradition for Shakespearian acting. The settings, too, for these productions, have been unusual. They have returned in large measure to Shakespearian simplicity of stage, and have borrowed generously from Germany for de-tail. And the London public has liked it all immensely. Or at least it has been very curious. Perhaps Mr. Walkley's opinion of Barker's "The Winter's Tale," published in The London Times, best illustrates the prevalent attitude : "It was bound to come. Here, like it or lump it, is Post-Impressionist Shakespeare. The costumes are after Beardsley and still more after Bakst; the busbies and caftans and deep-skirted tunics of the courtiers come from the Russian Ballet, and the bizarre smocks and fal-lals of the merry-makers at the sheep-shearing come from the Chelsea Arts Club Ball. The Old Shepherd inhabits, a model bungalow from the Ideal Home Exhibition with Voysey windows. Leontes reclines upon a seat which is frankly Art Nouveau. The Bohemian peasants are genuine Thomas Hardy. Squads of supers have symmetrical, automaton like movements which show the influence of 'Sumurun.' It is very startling and provocative and audacious, and on the whole we like it."
In Paris, Jacques Rouché, a rich dilettante, leased a run down theatre on one of the outer boulevards, and managed it for several years as the Théâtre des Arts.
He was frankly addicted to German scenery, and was freely hated, when he was not sneered at, on that account. And now, by an extraordinary stroke of radical judgment on the part of the French Ministry, he has been made director of the Paris Opéra, and there he is doubtless planning, while professing to the news-papers the obligatory pre-occupation with "l'art français," to exemplify modern ideas in a way that will make history at the capital.
In nearly all modern inscenierung, whatever the "motif," there is some amount of conventionalisation. This calls into use a number of technical methods al-most unknown to the American stage. They are necessarily somewhat artificial, and do not attempt to conceal their artificiality. Indeed their artificiality is often a part of their artistic purpose. Mr. Starke's remarkable settings for "Julius Caesarr," already mentioned, illustrate what is meant. For these designs are a study not only in decorative beauty, but also in practical economy. The six scenes were built on three wagons which were supplemented by simple additions here and there. A wagon, after being used for one scene, was simply reversed for another, its rear part being designed for the purpose. Far from producing a disagreeable effect this procedure actually helped to bind the play together by revealing, so to speak, its mechanical unity.
Another device is that of conventionalising the front part of the stage only. Some sort of setting, presumably suggesting the spirit of the play, will be arranged for the front part of the stage, allowing a curtained opening in the middle. Behind the curtains the setting will be changed for the various acts, and will be carried out with partial or complete realism. The front setting may remain constant through the play or may be varied, with different curtains or decorations. Mr. Urban's setting for the third act of "Tales of Hoffmann" will illustrate a modification of the idea. The sides of the conventional front may remain curtained during a part of the play, to be uncovered for some scene in which the whole of the set will not be out of place.
Still another practice is to keep the conventional front constant and in full view of the audience through-out the play, making all the scene changes behind the inner curtain. The conventional front acts as a sort of frame for the stage pictures; it can be very potent, if wisely chosen, in binding all together into the dominant mood. It goes without saying that the action need not be kept behind this front setting, but can come forward whenever special emphasis, or the press of circumstances, demands. Indeed, it is hardly wise to keep the action too far back, since the acoustical results may be disastrous. And there is no reason why the action should not press forward, since the front setting is an artistic frame merely, and not a mechanical one.
A certain sort of conventional forestage has been used very extensively for some years past in producing Shakespeare and other classics, and has proved invaluable wherever it has been wisely used. The forestage can be conveniently built out over the usual orchestra pit in the ordinary theatre. Much of the action will take place here, especially that of an intimate sort, as, for instance, the comic relief scenes in Shakespeare, playing in front of the regular curtain, somewhat as vaudeville comedians come out to entertain the audience during changes of scene. It is quite possible, also, to provide a special curtain and simple properties which can be used on the forestage for scenes of secondary importance, at the convenience of the producer. Some European stages, as, for instance, that at Weimar, are provided with easily convertible forestages, formed by raising the floor of the orchestra pit to the level of the stage and connecting the forestage and the auditorium by means of steps.
One very useful artistic device which has been strangely absent in the old stages is the contracted proscenium frame. There is no good reason why every stage picture should be as wide as the full proscenium opening. Certain scenes, as, for instance, a prison or a small interior, are thus made ludicrously large, and the actor is often drowned in a sea of space. Further, the larger scenes are more effective when alternating with small ones. Modern practice in Europe contracts the stage frame at pleasure, either by means of sliding sides as at the Künstlertheater, or by side and top curtains of neutral shade, or by a special frame designed for each scene and let down from above. Many scenes on the German stage are played with a stage width of no more than twelve or fifteen feet. The resulting intimacy and variety (not to mention economy) make the device too valuable to dispense with.
The use of the cyclorama, in whatever form, has caused certain changes in the general method of scene setting. The old practice demanded that the "wings" be always "masked" that some sort of scenery be placed at the sides of the stage to hide from view the bowels of the stage farther in. Thus we had frequently the anomalies of trees flourishing on the top of a mountain or on a desert prairie. Simplicity in an out-of-door scene was thus impossible. The necessary "masking" is now done by the cyclorama. It is no longer needful to put into the scene anything that is not required by the drama. With proper lighting we can get some-thing like an effect of infinite space in all directions.
The triumphant shoutings of some of the newer producers should not hide from us the fact that they are all sorely puzzled over certain problems. They say, confidently enough, that the setting should express the action and harmonise with its spirit. But they are under the disadvantage that very few of the plays they produce were written for this style of production.
The chief difficulty they meet with lies in the inevitable contradiction between the parts and the whole. Each setting of each scene, they maintain, should harmonise with its action; but also, all the scenes should harmonise with each other, else what becomes of unity? Most dramatists, Shakespeare for instance, wrote with the effect of the individual scenes in mind. The "unity of the whole" was the merest by product, to be discovered, if at all, after considerable mystic delving. Thus any unity which a regisseur may give to his production must usually be got at some sacrifice ; many of the individual scenes must be falsified, or at least robbed of their full potential effect, that they may be made to harmonise with the particular "unity" which the regisseur has arbitrarily selected for the play.
Take the same problem in its more detailed phase. The torch which Lady Macbeth holds as she descends the circular stairway, casts before her a lengthened shadow which precedes her on her deathly march. This shadow is a good mass, considered merely as pure design. It is also fitting from the dramatic standpoint. It is an ideal little touch, the shadow being at once good drama and good pictorial art and got without straining. Now imagine how complicated the problem becomes if one seeks to get something of the same double fitness in every moment of a long scene, when characters are coming and going, when the action demands many movings and shiftings. Must we give up this double fitness, or strain the action of the play in order to achieve it? Or perhaps, must we write new plays with this nice fitness continually in mind?
Of course no answer can be given. Each problem is unique, each producer must throw his personality into its solution. Sacrifices and compromises are demanded continually, and not more than half a dozen producers in the world at present are ready to take a thorough course and achieve their artistic unity at all costs.
These problems more properly belong in the chap-ter on "Stylisation," where they will be discussed and illustrated more completely. But they will enter into a producer's troubles the moment he envisages inscenierung as something having its own artistic values.
It can be readily inferred from what has been said how such revolutions in the background of the drama must affect what we regard as its more intimate parts —action, gesture, voice, and so forth. As a matter of fact the success of such a producer as Max Reinhardt is due at least half to the modulating of his acting to his artistic ensemble. Many German theatres which have as good or better stage setting at times, fail to achieve his effects because they are working with actors who have carried down from a former generation their traditions of acting based on "points" or "effects." If we are changing our conception of the acted drama as a whole it is evident that not alone the stage-setting, but also all the actor's work, must be modified to the new ideal. It is not merely the harmonisation of individuals to the acting ensemble, a thing which was well enough known and practised in the nineties, but the harmonisation of these individuals and of the ensemble itself to what the "stylists" would call the "mood," that inner value from which the whole drama is conceived as taking its rise. Gesture is coming to be regarded as revealing not the sentiments expressed, but the sentiments felt. The "tempo," which formerly was aimed merely to set the effect of the individual scenes, is now thought of as a whole, even with something of a decorative value, like the allegro, andante, scherzo, and presto of a symphony. To many producers "points" have value not in themselves or even in their revelation of character, but only in their revelation of the "mood" of the play. The art of make-up, be it also noted, suffers certain happy changes under the newer system of lighting: for under the glare of the footlights an actor had to overcome, by violent pencillings and colourings, the deadly effect of the light which tended to make all things as one; under a natural lighting the actor's face and expression retain something like their natural values. Costumes, it need not be said, must be chosen with regard to the colour of the other costumes and to the colour scheme of the whole scene.
How completely the new conceptions of stage-setting have changed the practice of production has only been suggested in the present chapter. The revolution has opened the theatre doors to many specialists and workmen formerly foreign to it, and they are bringing their best fruits to its service. When we have seen who these men are and how ancient and noble is the tradition they bear, we shall realise better the import and the complexity of modern inscenierung.