1 January 2020
Bogart, Anne, and Tina Landau. The Viewpoints Book: A Practical Guide to Viewpoints and Composition. Theatre Communications Group, 2004.
Viewpoints is a practical training program for actors and performers developed by forward-thinking theatre artists during the middle and later years of the 20th century. It rejects popular traditional Western performance tropes such as frontal theatrical presentation, virtuosic technique, social message and psychological fetishism. In a parallel to minimalist art and postmodernist dance practice, it favors the idea that the process of art making is the art itself. This means that a performance is the sum of the various actions and movements collected in the rehearsal room as part of non-hierarchical group process, similar to what we today understand as “devised performance.” Actors and directors do not rely on historical character development or auteur theory to stage their works. Instead, Viewpoints uses physical awareness, chance, games and task-based activities to generate content. It also looks to music, architecture, social patterns and immediate physical surroundings for inspiration.
This book is a practical guide to learning about and teaching the nine Viewpoints: tempo, duration, kinesthetic response, repetition, shape, gesture, architecture, spatial relationship and topography. It is organized into chapters devoted to each individual Viewpoint. Each chapter includes a description followed by suggested practical exercises and activities. It also uses real-life examples from the authors to express its points. It also introduces the idea of “composition” which is the method for incorporating materials generated from individual Viewpoints into a cohesive theatrical performance.
The intended audience of this book is actors and directors who wish to use the Viewpoints to generate new work or develop their performance technique. Its focus is what happens in the rehearsal room. Its concerns are the conditions and activities affecting actors and directors during development and rehearsal. It is less concerned with the final product - the theatrical performance in front of an audience - and even less so with how that product looks.
How does this relate to scenography?
Viewpoints speaks about design directly. This is an important book for contemporary designers. Notably, there is a section toward the end called “Viewpoints and Design” which makes suggestions for incorporating Viewpoint-theory into design practice. Some of the major themes are an interest in including designers within the rehearsal process, the rejection of the idea of a “set” in favor of the concept of a “arena,” an emphasis on full integration of design ideas within performance, and the disavowal of illusionistic or traditional “background” scenery. Embedded within this is the idea of a design practice that relies on research and production methods similar to minimalist and postmodern art and is very different from what is taught in conventional scenic design training.
Viewpoints positions itself as a specific artistic practice informed by and related to many different disciplines beyond theatre. Visual investigation and exploration are core concepts. Many of the suggested activities involve visual practice and mindful “looking.” One activity devoted to visual framing, and another called “soft focus,” are particularly relevant to design. References are made throughout the book to painting, sculpture, film and architecture. The visual artists Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, well-known as pioneering figures in the development of postmodern dance, are also referenced as important to the development of the practice of Viewpoints.
Additionally, Viewpoints is extremely relevant to sound design for its interest in music, pitch, tempo, rhythm and durational composition.
Additionally, Viewpoints sets forth rules for the physical conditions of the rehearsal space and attire worn by performers, ideas that overlap with the purview of design.
The Viewpoints bibliography includes many books on art, design and visual thinking. The theatrical designers Neil Patel, James Schuette, Mimi Jordan Sherin and Brian Scott are singled out as important disciples of Viewpoint practice.