The scenographic turn and the linguistic turn

Authored by: Austin E. Quigley

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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Like many of the concepts we use to guide our theatre thinking and theatre practice, scenography is a term with a range of implications. The word “scene,” to which it is related, sometimes designates the visual background of a situation and sometimes the whole situation. Scenography is thus sometimes used minimally, to cover only the design of the set, and sometimes maximally, to cover every functioning element of theatre structures. This variability responds to the recognition that, over the years, successful designers have included painters as well as architects, craftsmen as well as playwrights. These uncertainties about the scope of scenography register persisting uncertainty about its nature that have long been complicated by the unclear relationship between scenography and play scripts, and that complexity is grounded in centuries-old debate about the relationship between, and relative priority of, the visual and the verbal in the theatre. This relationship has become even more critical at a time when many involved in theatre and theatre studies conceive of a “scenographic turn,” one that echoes the “linguistic turn” taken by many modes of inquiry in the twentieth century. 1 Should we view these as analogous or as alternative turns and might they usefully inform each other? To anyone working in the theatre, these are all related issues that might well benefit from being considered together, as we weigh the appropriate scale and scope of scenography.

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