The practice of the scenographer is shrouded in mystery, with more smoke and mirrors than a post-apocalyptic production of Macbeth.
It was in the 19th century that the first ‘scenographtounges’ appeared, those who can speak directly with the materials of the stage. A terrifying account recorded in Vienna says much about the practice:
“With but a few utterance of his tongue the very stage itself he did shape, from the simplest command of “left a bit” to the more troubling “more airyness” it did as he commanded and formed the settings for our play. To be witness to such a practice was terrifying indeed, but to be honest it made the get out a piece of piss!”
There have been more and less powerful scenographtounges spoken of throughout history, Gordon Craig was said to maintain an army of marionette soldiers in the basement under his workshop if ever he felt threatened. The study of this has gained strength throughout the years, and a link between vocality and the responses from the space have been notable, Josef Svoboda was said to have a vibrato to his voice described by those who knew him as “a kind of stepping effect” which might explain some things.
Attempts have been made to regulate and register the practice of Scenographtounges after a number of tragic occurrences. A scenographer in Soviet Russia caused a set of steps to eat itself after an argument with the director and a Dutch boy in Amsterdam discovered his hidden gift for the practice when he inadvertently made a wall mounted musket go off in the second act of The Cherry Orchard, startling several respected actors and causing a merchant to shiver.
The issue of registration has divided the Scenography community into believers and deniers. With radicals on both sides, one particular group of deniers have carved careers in using as little setting as possible to reduce the potential for ‘the dark language of stage space’. One such act of radicalism is the work of an unknown assailant on Julie Taymor’s ‘Spiderman the Musical’ who is believed to have communicated with the set using the language of stage space combined with dangerous sweeping rhetoric to turn the stage into a bitter, untames beast resentful of Taymor’s continued efforts with the production.
Another prominent case occurred at the 1921 première of Luigi Pirandello’s ‘Six Characters in Search of an Author’ in Rome, when a rogue Italian futurist stole the entirety of the meticulously constructed set moments before the rising of the curtain. In a remarkable twist of fate, the tone of bewilderment that came from the put-upon actors gave Pirandello’s text a prophetic meta-theatrical modernism around which the play now came to revolve (in the absence of their preferred centrepiece of a ball-pit and slide). Theories have since emerged that the culprit, having deftly evaded the furious author’s attempts to find him (in an episode commonly referred to as ‘One Author in Search of a Right old Character’) may have sought refuge with the mysterious group known as Staatliches Bauhaus, whose school for the gifted was rumoured to house individuals with remarkable abilities relating to scene and space. In the event that these rumours have some credence, it is likely that the material taken from Pirandello might have proven a sufficient gift to guarantee the mysterious figures’ entry to the school.
The contemporary understanding of this language is basic, deriving from the ancient Greeks who it is believed had a mastery of the subject beyond all comprehension. By their own standards the chariot scene at the end of Medea was no bother at all, regularly a performance would be accompanied by a maelstrom of stone and sand whirling in a circular fashion around the audience and maiming any hecklers who tried to ruin the who-dunnit ending to Oedipus Rex.
Statistics estimate that at least 4,000 scenograptounges live and practice in the UK in secret, government investigations are on-going and the production Warhorse is a particular focus after a figure dressed in jeans, a long sleeve black t-shirt, steel toed boots and equipped with ground plan size drawings, was seen muttering above the performance on The National’s stage. The National deny the involvement with the dark arts and instead credit their achievements on practice, determination and Handsprings innovative puppet systems.
The increased venues for anonymity offered by the internet seems to have fostered a new generation of scenographtounges that are bolder, starker, and more neon than ever with their talk of a scenographic plane that extends occupies both spatial and temporal dimensions.
All we can know for sure is that the theatres’ viewing public will remain in the dark about this mysterious group of practitioners as long as there exist onstage rain and snow effects to keep them distracted.
The poor fools.
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