27 February 2020
Appia, Adolphe, and Richard C. Beacham. “Ideas on a Reform of Our Mise en Scène.” Adolphe Appia: Texts on Theatre. London: Routledge, 1993, pp. 59-65.
Originally written by Adolphe Appia in French and first published in 1902.
This essay outlines some of the major ideas of Adolphe Appia, an influential Swiss theatrical designer and thinker. It has two main threads. The first is an argument against stage presentations that rely on traditional “flat” scenic painting to create the false illusion of three dimensional worlds. The second argues for a theatrical world which combines form, space and light in atmospheric and sculptural ways that respond to the physical presence of the actor. Much of the article is a logical proof demonstrating that two-dimensional "old fashioned" stagecraft and true dramatic expression are at odds with each other. The last third of the article is a description of an unrealized set and lighting design for Sigried Act II as a practical and theoretical expression of Appia's ideas.
Other important themes in this essay are: mise en scène, the primacy of light in visual perception, theater as a primary and unique art form, "anti-naturalism," theatrical style, signs & signifiers (note: this connects interestingly to postmodern theory and writers like Barthes), human physicality and visual storytelling.
The essay is clearly written and expresses a strong a philosophy that seems to be as deeply felt as it is articulated.
How does this relate to scenography?
This essay is directly about scenic and lighting design. It presents an original concept of stage design that was influential throughout the 20th century. It boldly broke with its Victorian past. While its theories are no longer revolutionary, and its understanding of the dynamics of performance is much more limited than today, it is historically important.