Creating the context of a narrative on stage
All drama is about love and death, tragedy and comedy, illusion and reality, and is told to spectators by actors – the ‘ carriers of the myth “ in a dedicated performative space. The spoken or sung words tell the story, and the visual artist seeks to enhance those words so that the ‘ eyes see what the ears do not hear ‘. To tell this story, there has to be a synchronicity of all the component parts, verbal, musical, visual, textual, ideally bound into a coherent theatrical language, that provokes and engenders critical debate. For the American designer Ming Cho Lee, Theatre is ‘ an arena where the great issues of life are wrestled with “
Words are ambiguous, and frequently create misunderstandings and misconceptions. “ Design’ implies an applied art, and ‘ Scenography ‘ in the English speaking world, is often mistaken as another word for ‘ Set Design’ . In 1970 the young writer and theatre creator from a small village deep in the Ardeche in France, Roger Planchon, began quite naturally in his productions to ‘‘paint pictures with people“ on the stage describing his evolving practice as ‘l’ecriture scenique‘ – the writing of the stage space, the original definition of the Greek skeno-grafika . ‘Director ‘ a title now taken for granted, no longer describes the interdisciplinary skills and vocabulary needed to meet the challenges of contemporary theatre practice, that unite the disciplines .
Drawing however, is very precise, even when free. Just a movement from thin to thick of a line drawn by Matisse describes the volume of a body, clearly, beautifully, evocatively. The visual theatre artist has to be a compulsive observer of human life, and have instantly at hand the means to record what is seen, and a retrieval system so that they are of use to the retelling of timeless stories that are the lifeblood of theatre. Nothing co-ordinates memory as efficiently as the brain, eye, hand and pledging a drawing to paper.. and a pencil never lets one down !
Telling a story, even the same one, from generation to generation, is the most enduring legacy in human civilization, and is always re-interpreted in contemporary context.
Pamela Howard – trained at Birmingham College of Art and Crafts/ Birmingham Repertory Theatre and the Slade School of Fine Art London, where she specialized in Theatre Design. She continued training during the 1970s commuting from England and France, where she worked with the great director Roger Planchon; ‘ he taught me all I know’ remains her dedication. She progressed working as a freelance designer in many of the major Regional Theatres in UK, including the National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Theatre and many productions in Europe and USA. Since 2000 she has been working mainly as an opera director/scenographer in Czech Republic and UK. She is author of “What is Scenography” (published by Routledge), production designer of The Great Game (Tricycle Theatre London/USA) , and an educator, gallery curator and fine artist.