- An Introduction to Theatre Design by Stephen Di Benedetto, and: Scene Design: Rendering and Media by Wenhai Ma
These two new texts for the design classroom provide students and professors with affordably priced tools to help students learn the design process and how to convey their ideas well through renderings. Stephen Di Benedetto’s An Introduction to Theatre Design introduces students to the design process across all theatrical disciplines. Wenhai Ma’s Scene Design: Rendering and Media details tips and techniques for rendering scenic designs in watercolor, acrylic, gouache, and both colored and water-soluble pencils. Together, the pair represents much needed options for the design classroom.
Di Benedetto’s textbook is a thorough introduction to the design process and approaches for scenery, lighting, sound, and costuming, accompanied by solid chapters on visual thinking, design history, and collaboration. Unlike Ma’s text, which reads more as a guide to his approaches and designs, Di Benedetto’s is pointedly a textbook and succeeds at that goal. Each chapter has an introductory page with highlighted key topics, which are then accompanied by summations of the case studies and examples, where appropriate. Throughout, the text delineates the processes used to effectively design for the theatre and is well-suited for a broad-based introductory-level course that covers multiple and evenly addressed design areas. The text’s focus on process, creativity, collaboration, and learning to think like a designer presumes that students have had a more practical introduction to technical theatre through a stagecraft course. A glossary and thorough bibliography at the rear provide students with a quick reference to key concepts and additional readings in contemporary and historical design.
The text and chapters are logically arranged to introduce students to key concepts and then to each type of design. Finally, all lessons are brought together in an illuminating chapter on collaboration that explores The Lion King and The Phantom of the Opera, and continues the text’s refusal to privilege one member of the design team over another. This balance is replicated in the design history section, where an obviously necessary focus on scenery and architecture in earlier periods progresses to be more inclusive as technologies developed and traditions changed.
Di Benedetto punctuates his discussions with well-selected and keenly relevant quotations from designers, reinforcing main points and simultaneously introducing students to key names. Images are smartly chosen from well-known contemporary plays and seminal productions with which students should become familiar. With the notable exception of chapter 3, “The Vocabulary of Visual Thinking,” images are well-integrated throughout the text; in this chapter, the elements of design are introduced in notably image-free text and are followed by Di Benedetto’s typically well-analyzed production photos, which then reinforce the earlier explication of terms. The image analysis in the latter half of the chapter is most effective, but for an introductory student, the jump, for instance, between a reference to Robert Wilson’s use of line on page 49 and the corresponding image and analysis on page 65 might be too much.
Indeed, these case studies and examples are one of the most interesting and helpful parts of the textbook, particularly for undergraduates. Production images are well-selected as exhibitions of particular techniques, and the textual analyses of the design elements in each photograph are masterful examples of thorough analysis. Not only does Di Benedetto cogently dissect what the reader is viewing, but he also models the thought processes and presentation processes that introductory-level students must master to effectively discuss design choices. Regrettably, these are the most visually problematic sections for readers: the small white text on maroon background for the case studies becomes difficult to read in short order, even if the choice does make it quite easy to quickly find the relevant parts of each chapter. Formatting aside, the discussion of design techniques in the case-study sections is delightful throughout and one of the main strengths of this textbook.
Conversely, Ma’s Scene...