Today’s scenery and set design in theatrical productions can range from extremely simplistic to deliriously technical. Sometimes it is fun to look back at how far we have come in scenery design and the art of theater that has evolved over the past centuries. Here is just a glimpse into what set and stage design used to be like so long ago:
Did you know that . . .
- The western tradition of theater began in ancient Greece. Ruins of the earliest theaters – great outdoor amphitheaters – are still standing in places like Greece, Italy and Turkey. Designers of those theaters understood that maximum communication between the stage and audience was essential. The actual set design was minimal and usually relied on costumes, some props, and occasional items that stood on the stage.
- Prior to the Renaissance, set design consisted merely of drawings or paintings on the back wall of a theater. Some theaters were open air theaters and relied only on the dialogue to give audience members a clue as to the setting.
- During the Renaissance, mathematicians would help design sets to give the illusion of space, depth and perspective.Tables, moving pieces, and other gadgets helped with sound effects.
- During the 19th Century, playhouses emerged that were designed specifically for shows that would allow for props, furniture, and design elements to make the performance come alive.
- During the 20th Century, the first college set design course was offered at Yale University.
- Today, set design has grown and evolved from these humble beginnings. It now relies heavily on the steadily advancing technology. There is an increasing use of computer-generated imagery, computerized lighting systems, robotics, and other technologies that allow stage walls and floors to move, rise, and drop at the touch of a finger. I wonder what the next few decades will mean for set design?