My 2IC Jane of Sandringham and I have been taking you on a journey through aspects of puppetry and opera. To provide a background to Theatre as an Art Form we are going to look at some the elements that are used to present a performance, specifically Theatrical Scenery and Costumes.

Some years back I was asked to help paint the setting screens for a local school play. I was given a large rectangular canvas and had to paint a dormitory scene. I assumed that the scene was to be horizontal and painted it so. There were shrieks when the scene was collected as the play producers had expected a vertical scene to fit the stands from which the scenery was the hang. Some quick cutting up and resewing was done and all was well. But I learnt how thwart with problems the theatre world can be and how hysterical theatre people can be when the opening night is looming!!

As far as the western world is concerned we can thank the Greeks for introducing the concept of theatre as early as the C6th BC. But I’m going to fast forward to the C19th and introduce you to the concept of Theatrical Realism. Theatrical realism was a general movement in 19th-century theatre that developed a set of dramatic and theatrical conventions with the aim of bringing a greater fidelity of real life to texts and performances, heralding the coming of modern theatrical works.

In a conversation with Harald Holst (a member of the Christiana Theatre) Ibsen said that every scene and every picture ought as far as possible to be a reflection of reality. There must be equal truth to life on all counts. (Ibsen.Net)

Prior to this time theatre scenery was minimal and the costumes and text carried the drama. Here is an engraved print of the interior of the 17th-Century Duke’s Theatre- a very ornate theatre but no scenery.

(Source: Victoria & Albert Museum)

What I do want to do today in introduce you to Lucia Elizabeth Vestris (née Elizabetta Lucia Bartolozzi, 1797-1856) an English actress and contralto opera singer but more notable as the first female actor-manager in the history of London theatre. Here is Lucia as Pandora at the Olympic Theatre in 1831.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Madame Vestris with her business partner, Maria Foote, and later with her husband, the actor Charles James Mathews (as referred to above), initiated several theatrical innovations, such as the use of historically correct costumes and more elaborate scenery, including a box set with ceiling,  which she is said to have introduced in Britain. This is a diagram of the box set.

The Box Set creates the illusion of an interior room on the stage in contrast with earlier forms of sets in which two dimensional sliding flats with gaps between them created an illusion of perspective. In the Box Set authentic details include doors with three-dimensional mouldings, windows backed with outdoor scenery, stairways, and, at times, painted highlights and shadows.The fourth wall was invisible (absent), separating the characters from the audience, and the ceiling was tilted down at the far end of the stage and up toward the audience. Doors slammed instead of swinging when being shut, as in reality. The Box Set first appeared in 1832 in Madame Vestris’ London production of The Conquering Game by William Bayle Bernard. It gained wide usage by the end of the 19th century and is a common feature of modern theatre. (Wikipedia)

The Hero Image today (Scene from Mr. Boucicault’s New Drama Illustrated London News, November 30, 1861)is a slice from an illustration of the Slave market scene from The Octoroon also by Dion Boucicault performed in London in 1861. As an aside, there is a wonderful sculpture by the English artist John Bell called The Octoroon and based on Boucicault's play. We will look at the works of John Bell later but in the meantime if your'e interested in sculpture check out this link.
It is important to note that not only was the scenery becoming more realistic so were the themes of the plays.

Nowadays, especially in terms of film, we have gone beyond realism. Having just seen Incredible 2 with a child I can assure you I don’t like the way the art of creating backgrounds to stories is developing. There is much to be said for the simple Box Set. We will continue to look a little more at theatre in the coming days.

A word from Subscriber S of Wheelers Hill who has provided us with a newspaper cutting on Japanese Australian Artist Kyoko Imazu with her clay Yokai, which are “not too scary” for children.