The Stage and Early Scenery
Scenery is both an art and a craft - it melds centuries of creativity, change and invention - the effects of which are still seen in scenery today. It is closely related to other elements in productions like stage machinery, lighting, properties and effects.
It is reported that even in the time of the philosopher, Sophocles, there was painted scenery. Roman spectacles, like comedies, tragedies or dramas, included structural scenic units that were painted.
The true stages of the ancient Greeks and Romans are unknown except for what has been found through research and deduction (as early as the 6th century B.C., the Greek poet, Thespis, is said to have originated drama by creating the Greek tragedy). Three common types of space used in Greek and Roman theater are the proscenium, thrust and the arena stage, each of which has its own requirements for staging and design.
In these times, the background was often drawn from the architectural surroundings. This meant that little or no information about a locale was relayed to the audience. Many times playwrights would need to insert dialogue in order to describe an atmosphere, locale, time, or to give a visual setting for an audience. Spectators could have had the same view whether attending a comedy or a tragedy!
During Medieval times there was both suppression and revival of the theater. Productions were done inside churches, and those that became too elaborate were moved outside the confines of the building. In fact, some of the stage platforms were mounted on wagons called pageant wagons. Special effects progressed during this era, and stage machinery and rigging were invented to facilitate moving objects and people.
The Renaissance brought about the construction of many theaters throughout Europe, moved audiences indoors permanently and introduced:
- an elliptical stage allowing better sight lines
- elaborate scenes built using a technique that enhanced the audience's perception of the scene (forced perspective)
- the 'Craked' stage design (no, not the farm implement - this is where the stage in back, upstage, is higher than the front),
- painted scenery with elaborate detail, and the use of 'stock sets' was a major contribution, and
- drops, like a 'comic scene' or a 'tragic scene', which were hung upstage.