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DRAMATIC PRESENTATION OF THE PLAYS
THE DIFFERENT WAYS OF PRESENTING PLAYS
There are a number of delightful ways of sharing a play with one's friends or an audience.
1. There is the realistic dramatic presentation, which uses "period" costumes and picture scenery approaching in beauty and accuracy the actual scenes of the play.
2. Then there is the curtain stage presentation, which uses reflected lights of various colors, suggesting atmosphere rather than attempting to reproduce scenery.
3. There is the Elizabethan stage production, which uses a stage modeled upon that of the theatre in Queen Elizabeth's or Shakespeare's time. To present a play in the very way that Shakespeare himself staged it is very interesting. The Elizabethan stage did not have scenery and could not suggest atmosphere by means of the effect of lights, but it did have a most ingenious arrangement of balconies, windows, doors, and curtains for suggesting place, and there need be nothing today to prevent our using lighting effects with it just as with our modern curtain stage.
4. The outdoor production or the simple platform play is a simpler type than that for which Shakespeare evidently wrote his plays, but because Shakespeare's company often had to adapt productions to simple conditions when traveling or when the theatre was closed on account of the plague or by lawsuits over the ownership of the building, Shakespeare wrote his plays so that both the atmosphere and the location of many of the scenes wou'd be suggested in the conversation of the characters. In this book the interpolated speeches of the prolog are designed to assist in the accomplishment of the same purpose. As for costumes, the actors in Shakespeare's day usually wore their own clothes, and whether the times represented in the play were ancient or modern, and the setting England, France, Rome, or ancient Greece, the costumes remained the same. How
ever, we should hardly be content today to have our players represent Brutus on even the simplest stage without some suggestion, at least, of the Roman toga, or Malvolio without the cross garters and long yellow stockings! Pageant producers have devised ways of modifying our ordinary clothing by concealing parts of it and adding striking features from the costumes of the periods of the plays. Such costumes are a great help to an audience in realizing the atmosphere and period of a play.
5. A form of presentation that is less distinctly playing, but which has, nevertheless, been developed into a form of entertainment with delightful possibilities, is the formal group reading. An auditorium with a platform intimately close to the audience is best suited for this purpose. Most of the movement upon the stage is omitted. The readers sit in groups which correspond roughly with "on the stage" and "off the stage." Music breaks in promptly at the close of acts and episodes. Those who are to be "on" in the next scene take their places before the music ceases which is the cue to begin speaking. The readers, by having their books in hand, enjoy perhaps the safest chance that they could have, if inexperienced, to portray a mentally calm characterization of the parts. The physical problems of stage business are eliminated. However, the reading should be not less finished than that of an acting company. The platform requires no scenery. With good furniture and reading lamps shedding softly tinted light, the platform makes a splendid appearance and is a satisfying setting without scenery. There is no costuming.
6. The informal group reading of the classroom or of a home evening is the commonest of all presentations and ranks in memory often with the finest readings one has heard. The enjoyment of a play by those who take part in it should not be curtailed by lack of stage accessories. To put one's self into the mental state and feelings of another requires neither scenery nor costumes, but imagination. Entrances and exits require no further formality than walking to the front of the room and retiring to one's seat or merely arising from place and sitting down again.
7. The re-creation by a single actress of all the acting rôles in a play is the recent achievement of Miss Gay McLaren. This young
woman, by becoming each of the players in the dialog in turn, exactly as he looked, spoke, and acted in a notable stage production of the play, marks one of the most interesting developments in the presentation of plays. Miss McLaren does not "make up," of course, nor use costume, and she approximates the stage movements but as she turns from one impersonation to another, her whole per sonality and attitude on the platform change. This is a part of the dramatic reader's art, though the reader does not act out stage business. The reader creates a speaking manner for imaginary characters; Miss McLaren reproduces the acting conduct of a real company.
8. Dramatic reading. Much dramatic reading falls short of excellence because of the failure to create virile, picturesque, contrasting personalities for the characters-personalities that the audience can "see" in the voice and features of the reader. This form of presentation is particularly abused by the reader who will not learn his play by heart, and who, consequently, is forever referring to the book just when he should be free to impersonate the characters. At its best, however, this kind of play presentation is one of the most satisfactory and pleasing forms. The stage directions for the present volume have been worded so that they may serve as the explanatory announcements of a dramatic reader.
THE STAGING OF THE PLAYS
Using the Picture Stage. A forty-minute performance is very short to be divided into a number of acts and scenes. The intelligent use of a quiet, smoothly run front curtain, however, need not jar upon the sensibilities of the audience, and even the painted scenery of a picture stage can be adapted so that changes of scene are accomplished practically without interruption, if usual methods are slightly modified.
For each of the playlets but one set scene is specified. Back drop curtains of the other scenes can be lowered in front of this quickly and noiselessly.
The sides of the stage may remain the same throughout the performance. They can consist of plain canvas or burlap screens,
neutral colored in daylight, but apparently transformed with each new scene by the reflection of different colored lights. Tormentor wings mask the right and left entrances in front of the screens from the view of the audience. Some of the playlets specify arched entrance ways cut through the side, others masking pieces of trees or foliage, but practically no shifting of the side pieces need be resorted to during the presentation of any single playlet.
However, if painted scenery seems to be more desirable for the sides, the most readily shifted pieces consist of a set of four double These screens are straight pieces of scenery, folded in two down the middle. One wing of the screen is toward the audience; the other is out of sight, but folded back in such a manner as to make the screen stand upright without additional support. Since only one face of the screen is visible to the audience at any time, the four faces may be painted to show four different scenes or three scenes and one neutral-colored face, the latter to be played upon by colored light, as described in the preceding paragraph, or left simply as the inconspicuous frame of a picture already realistic enough from the use of the scene drop curtain at the back.
A set of such double picture screens would serve for one complete playlet, and even interchangeably for all of the playlets in the book. Most of the back drop scenes and sets can also be used in a number of the playlets. A list of interchangeable picture scenery is given on pages 389 and 390.
It is well to remember that picture scenery can be altered, or the same canvas can be repainted many times. With an amateur scene painter at hand, pictures are often changed to show a fresh setting for new productions. Samuel French, 28 W. 38th Street, New York, publishes a booklet, Secrets of Scene Painting and Stage Effects ($1 50), which will be helpful to an amateur. French also sells colored plates at 30 cents each showing scenes adapted in detail for scene painting. There are professional scenery painters to whom theatrical supply or costuming houses in almost any city will refer inquiries or orders.
Less satisfactory than painted scenery, at least from the standpoint of durability, is the paper scenery obtainable from Samuel French. The paper scene of a fine oak hall costs from $25 to $30,
plus postage, a simpler room $20-$30, a garden scene $7.50-$10.00, or a forest $7.50-$10.00. Paper representations of brickwork or stone coping come in sheets 40 by 30 inches at 42 cents a sheet. An exterior door costs $1.50. Paper scenery has to be mounted upon canvas screens or pasted upon compo board or the back wall of the stage like wall paper.
The Curtain Stage. On a small stage gray cheesecloth draped in soft folds upon the walls makes a beautiful background for the brilliant costumes of the players. Gray also takes light well, and the drapings are scarcely recognizable as the same scene when some part of the stage is thrown into partial darkness and colored or mottled light is directed upon it.
However, the players off stage may not pass behind hangings of cheesecloth or let their shadows fall upon such thin material while the curtain is up. Canton or outing flannel, therefore, makes a better, if somewhat more expensive material for a larger curtain stage. Gray flannel is not always carried by a local dealer and may have to be ordered some time ahead. Pearl gray is much better than the usual gray, and to obtain this white Canton flannel may be sent to a dyeing works to be dyed the right shade, or some one in the community with experience in dyeing fabrics might accomplish the desired result.
The curtains are sometimes suspended from wires, though light iron tubing or a wooden frame is far more satisfactory. Small curtain rings are distributed along the wires or tubing, and the curtains are hung to these by means of small safety pins made with