Spatial oscillations in the American avant-garde

Authored by: Stephen Bottoms

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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The twentieth century saw a huge range of experiments with theatrical form but, scenographically speaking – as Bonnie Marranca has observed – avant-garde practice in the West was consistently notable for “its embrace of performance space, and rejection of setting” (quoted in Chaudhuri 1994: 27). Often dispensing with scenic apparatus altogether, or else integrating it almost seamlessly with the architectural aspects of a performance venue, experimental practitioners sought to articulate and explore space itself as a primary concern of the theatrical event. More specifically, the post-war American avant-garde – on which this chapter focuses – can be read as oscillating productively between treatments of space as environment, on the one hand, and as landscape, on the other. Should the spectator be surrounded and encompassed (environmentally) by the theatrical event? Or should she be permitted to sit separate and undisturbed, while being presented with a dispersed pictorial plane (a landscape) across which the eye can range freely?

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