The Open-Stage Movement

Authored by: Dennis Kennedy

The Routledge Companion to Scenography

Print publication date:  October  2017
Online publication date:  September  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138917804
eBook ISBN: 9781315688817
Adobe ISBN:


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Of the many innovations of theatrical modernism, one of the most lasting was a movement to reconfigure the physical stage. Convinced that the proscenium theatres of the nineteenth century in Europe and the Americas hindered the relationship of the audience to the action, a number of influential practitioners sought to create a playing space that was more open, both metaphorically and actually, than the proscenium stage that implied a “fourth-wall” barrier between spectators and actors. The logic went like this: the over-decorated box settings of the period increased audience passivity by virtue of making actors and scene into an illusion of a self-contained world, rather than an unguarded place that stimulated the imagination. Further, realist three-dimensional scenography usually required numerous set changes, with a closed curtain and entr’acte music, which slowed the progress of the drama. To English and German reformers this seemed especially inappropriate for Shakespeare, whose plays had been written for a non-illusionist stage. Shakespeare’s flow of scenes, moving briskly from one fictional locale to another, demanded, they thought, a swifter sequence.

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