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15.03.2012 in Top Stories Bookmark and Share

Book showcases stage ‘designs that mattered’

Performance design professionals, historians and arts audiences alike have reason to celebrate the publication of World Scenography 1975-1990. This thoughtfully curated, lavishly illustrated anthology documents the most influential theatrical designs of the period.

World Scenography 1975-1990 documents lighting, set and costume design

The book covers set, lighting and costume design for all forms of performance, from theatre and dance to opera and spectacle. Encompassing material from hundreds of contributors, it highlights some 430 significant works from more than five dozen countries.

Co-editors Peter McKinnon, professor of stage design and production in the Department of Theatre, Faculty of Fine Arts at York University, and Eric Fielding, professor emeritus of scenic design at Brigham Young University, Utah, led an international team of researchers and associate editors for the project.

The editors point out that the publication is neither encyclopedic nor a collection of “greatest hits”.  The intent, they say, is to showcase, contextualize and document for posterity “designs that mattered, that made a difference”: seminal designs that had a major impact on the development of the art form, its practice and reception.

Groundbreaking productions cited in World Scenography 1975-1990 include the political puppetry of the American Anti-Bicentennial Pageant at the University of California (1975); English director Peter Brook’s Mahabharata (1985), which was staged in quarries in France and Australia, as well as in theatres in the US and Spain; and the opening ceremony for the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland, New Zealand.

Notable designers featured include Tony and Drama Desk Award-winner Maria Bjornson of France/UK (Phantom of the Opera, 1988); German designer Achim Freyer, winner of the Prague Quadrennial lifetime achievement award (Woyzeck, 1989; The Magic Flute, 1982); Sun-Hi Shin of Korea (A Bicycle, 1983; An Encounter, 1990); Canadian designer André Caron (Cirque Réinventé, 1987,  for Cirque du Soleil); veteran Broadway designer Robin Wagner (A Chorus Line, 1976; On The Twentieth Century, 1978; Dreamgirls, 1981); and York University theatre  Professors Teresa Przybylski and Phillip Silver.

World Scenography 1975-1990 is the first publication in a projected three-part series. It builds on the foundation established by Stage Design Throughout the World, a four-volume series edited by René Hainaux that concluded in 1975. McKinnon and Fielding are already planning volumes two and three of World Scenography, to span 1990-2005 and 2005-2015, respectively. When complete, the World Scenography series will be the largest, most comprehensive scholarly work on theatrical design ever created.

McKinnon notes that the motivation and passion behind this epic endeavour is the transitory nature of design for live performance. “Theatre design work is as ephemeral as the work of the actor,” he says. “Once the show is over, it disappears. If we don’t photograph, catalogue and preserve our design work, we run the risk of losing it forever.”

The editors of World Scenography are themselves leading contributors to the field.

Peter McKinnon

McKinnon has served as lighting designer for some 450 shows, principally dance and opera, across Canada and internationally, and has produced shows off- and on-Broadway and in Edinburgh, Scotland. A past president of the Associated Designers of Canada, he was an organizer of the Canadian exhibit at the 2007 Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space. His editorial credits include the international lexicon Theatre Words and One Show, One Audience, One Single Space by Jean-Guy Lecat.

Fielding has designed scenery and/or lighting for more than 250 productions for stage, film, television and special events. He designed the gold medal-winning American exhibit at the 1991 Prague Quadrennial and created the World Stage Design exhibition, directing its premiere showing in Toronto in 2005. He is a 30-year member of United Scenic Artists 829, a Fellow and former vice-president of the United States Institute for Theatre Technology, and former editor of the journal Theatre Design &Technology (TD&T).

World Scenography 1975-1990 is designed by Randal Boutilier (BFA ’00), an alumnus of York’s Visual Arts Program. The series, to be published both in print and online, is an official project of the International Organization of Scenographers, Theatre Architects and Technicians (OISTAT). Both McKinnon and Fielding are long-serving executive members of OISTAT, a UNESCO-recognized organization that draws together theatre production professionals from around the world. The long list of international supporters of the World Scenography project includes the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

McKinnon and Fielding will be in attendance at a reception marking the Canadian launch of the publication on Thursday, April 5, 7 to 10pm at TheatreBooks, 11 St. Thomas Street, Toronto.

For more information, visit the World Scenography series website.

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