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Theatre Journal 54.3 (2002) 508-510
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Space and the Postmodern Stage
Space in Performance:
Making Meaning in the Theatre Space and the Postmodern Stage
Space and the Postmodern Stage. Edited by Irene Eynat-Confino and Eva Sormová. Prague: Ekon, 2000; pp. 182. $10.00 paper.
Space in Performance: Making Meaning in the Theatre. By Gay McAuley. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1999; pp. 310. $50.00 cloth, $19.95 paper.
Two recent books, Space and the Postmodern Stage and Space in Performance: Making Meaning in the Theatre, address the experience of theatregoing in terms of the physical and the architectural. Both works consider varieties of performance spaces, the social significance of auditorium design, and the use of scenery and props. Space and the Postmodern Stage foregrounds design elements of theatre productions, while Space in Performance focuses most strongly on blocking. Both examine spectatorial experience as much as artistic choice.
Space and the Postmodern Stage presents a complex and multifaceted image of the state of international postmodernism in theatrical design and direction, and the scope of the ideas covered is breathtaking. A collection of short essays developed from papers presented at the Prague 1999 International Conference on Scenography, "Theatrical Space in Postmodern Times: Contemporary Concepts and Methodologies," hosted by the Theatre Institute in Prague and the Scenography Working Group of the International Federation for Theatre Research, the book features offerings by eighteen authors with backgrounds as varied as those of Jaroslav Malina, former Rector of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, and Christine A. White, a professional lighting designer who teaches Television Studies and Theatre in Education at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Although many of the selections include some discussion of what postmodernism is or how it ought to be understood, the editors avoid a narrow definition in the interest of giving as many authors as possible a voice in the proceedings.
One admitted drawback to this approach is that the overall effect, while provocative and colorful, [End Page 508] lacks focus. In order to give the collection of essays a shape, editors Eynat-Confino and Sormová organize the book in three sections: "Constructing the Space," "Music, Lighting, and Costumes," and "Sites, Performers, and Spectatorship," headings that ultimately prove to be arbitrary. The "Constructing the Space" selections, for example, include, among other articles, William Green's examination of the work of the early twentieth-century designer Robert Edmond Jones and Jean M. Ellis D'Alessandro's Foucaultian interpretation of Webster's text of The Duchess of Malfi.
Nonetheless, many useful themes emerge. Several of the essays explore how scenography and costume create layers of meaning in a production: Jarka M. Burian presents Josef Svoboda's relatively low-tech use of mirrors to dramatize subtext; and Valerie Lucas discusses the Victorian quotations in settings and costumes of Julian Crouch's and Phelim McDermott's Christmas pantomimes. Analogies from computer technology prove helpful. Katriina Ilmaranta compares the "'floating transparent images'" of computer graphics programs such as Photoshop to postmodern set designs (84). Robert Cheesmond draws a parallel between web surfing and spectatorship: "Like the web surfer, it [the audience] knowingly constructs systems of meaning from the imaginative patterning of the real and the suggested" (148). John M. Clum, Michael Cramer, and Kathleen Irwin, in separate articles, examine how performance venues add meaning to or impose meaning upon productions. Clum considers the restoration of Times Square's New Amsterdam Theatre, with its selective nostalgia that denies its past as both a second-run movie house and a venue for high culture, as a "means of both hiding and expressing contemporary consumerism" (120). This particular space serves as a fitting home for Disney's The Lion King, of which "one could say multiculturalism and contemporary serious theatre have been co-opted, homogenized, and marketed" (122). Cramer points out that late twentieth-century theatre complexes have often been constructed with reference not to "what was good for the theatre community or even what was good for the theatre complex, but what was...