Prof launches book series on leading stage designers

When York theatre Professor Peter McKinnon was in Seoul last November, he was thousands of kilometres away from the University campus, but his students were not far from his thoughts. It was there in the South Korean capital that McKinnon had a brain wave to produce a series of books for students on the world’s greatest scenographers and theatre architects.

“I was having breakfast in Seoul with [internationally renowned French stage designer] Jean-Guy Lecat and thought ‘this guy has such fantastic ideas,’ and I wondered if he had ever written them down,” says McKinnon (right). McKinnon suggested to Lecat that he write a book and offered to take on the task of producing it.

McKinnon teaches stagecraft, theatre management, and design and production in the Faculty of Fine Arts. From the start, he was adamant that the book be “affordable so students could buy it.”

In June, the book discussed over morning coffee and croissants in Seoul was launched at the Prague Quadrennial, the international festival of theatre design. McKinnon was attending the event with York students touring Europe as part of a summer theatre design course on Western culture and architecture (see Headline News).

Titled One Show, One Audience, One Single Space, the new book is “Lecat’s manifesto for stage design in which he discusses what is wrong with contemporary stage design and space, and what we ought to do about it,” says McKinnon. In the volume, Lecat also recounts highlights of his 41-year career, including his early years in the Vieux-Columbier Theatre in Paris, his later involvement in the New York theatre scene, and his 25-year collaboration with the innovative British theatre and film director Peter Brook. 

Lecat’s text was translated into English by writer and arts administrator Alice Toyonaga (BA ’02), then edited by McKinnon. To preserve the linguistic authenticity of Lecat’s account, McKinnon says that in editing, he left in some of the “Gallicisms” so that “it would read like something that was not written by an English speaker.”

The final product is a 96-booklet in both of Canada’s official languages, published by OISTAT (International Organization of Scenographers, Theatre Architects and Technicians). Fifteen pages of photos of theatres and stage sets, including past productions designed by Lecat, separate the French and English sections.

Right: A set made of paper by Jean-Guy Lecat for the ballet Himalaya

McKinnon, who sits on OISTAT’s executive committee, says that One Show, One Audience, One Single Space was met with a “terrifically warm response by colleagues.” Buoyed by this reception, McKinnon is already cooking up the next book in his planned series on the leading theatre production practitioners.

The next volume, scheduled to be launched in 2009, will focus on Taiwanese set designer Alan Nieh, who “is considered by many as the father of Taiwanese modern stage design,” says McKinnon.

Copies of One Show One Audience, One Single Space cost $15. They are available from McKinnon, through the Theatre Department.

Story by Olena Wawryshyn, York communications officer