30 September 2020
Jones, Robert E. “Toward A New Stage.” The Dramatic Imagination. New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearch, 1941, pp. 131-148.
This essay, written by the famous set designer Robert Edmond Jones sometime before 1941, considers realism as a design style within the context of American theatrical practice. Realism, Jones asserts, fails to serve theatre as an art form and has found a more appropriate fit in the world of film. Jones writes at length about the poetic and imaginative aspects of theater and makes the case that realistic scenery tends to limit, rather than expand their potential. Realism is mostly a passing fad, and served better by the medium of film which depends on photographic representation for its very being. Jones writes largely from his own personal and professional experience and makes references to canonical playwrights such as Shakespeare, Chekhov and Wilder as well as theorists such as Emerson. This essay emphasizes Jones’ belief in theater as a dynamic and mysterious art form rooted in written text, spoken word and human performance.
How does this article relate to scenography?
This essay is useful to theatrical design students in search of their own artistic voices and who may be considering elements of realism or naturalism within their own work. Regardless of whether one agrees with the essay or not, it encourages readers to think in depth about the essential nature of performance and spectacle. Jones’ sincere love of theatre as an art form is well expressed and inspiring.
This essay contains several references to the imaginative power of sound design and would be particularly interesting to sound design students.
Also, this essay is useful for conveying the idea that atmosphere and evocation of place are more powerful tools than strict representation of place. At one point Jones emphasizes that set designers should turn away from the problem of creating “stage settings to the larger and far more engrossing problem of creating stages.”
Pictured: Awake and Sing!, Belasco Theater, 1935, scenery designed by Boris Aronson