Scenography, Pratice

An Approach to Projects in Scenography

An Approach to Projects in Scenography | Acclaimed and Awards | Novelties


An Approach to Projects in Scenography


Each executable media has its charm. The first step is to situate oneself within its double setting: performance environment and story. I use this bodymind like the instrument of a shaman, in the way that singers or dancers think of their voice or body as an instrument. I read the script (or perhaps only the premise if there is no conventional dialogue) as if entering it, to understand what it is “dreaming.”


When doing research, rather than to clone artifacts of any referenced culture, I attempt instead to assimilate its values and aesthetic sensibilities so that I can create as if a member of its society.


My mentor, Don Stowell and his, then mine, Lester Polakov, urged their students to form a clear graphic metaphor with the director in order to keep the production intent focused. I came to understand that there was even more at stake: the dance.


In creating a space or the beings distributed within that space, think of all potential movement:

- the arc of events;

- the gesture of the characters and between characters;

- the costumes as an aural extension of the performer in the mask of their character;

- the spatial course of the story and of the venue in which it is told, simultaneously;

- properties that interface between the characters’ intent and the space in which they find themselves;

- the temporal line of its lighting;

- and if there is a camera, its dance among these.


The shapes and colours of the scenographic elements and their relative tensile strength or viscosity are conceived in motion, expressing the change about to unfurl on stage, in the immersive environment or before the camera. This movement impulse transpires whether the performance is a “period picture” / “style piece,” a speculative world or realist in intent. Until the set geography is described, or the armature understood, its cladding might be only awkward or deceitful. This was the lesson to learn as a neophyte: always think movement. That it might be stilled or quick, light or leaden, oblique or strident, pained or free is not the point. Negative space is extremely active and it is our responsibility to play with it. The critical utility of play is to sculpt the outcome of an existence.


In the practice of scenography, aesthetic pleasure can even be discovered in the elegant deployment of resources. This is not separate from the dance, but rather its meta-choreography. It is in this sense that the “Art Director” of a film is an artist. It is stilted to preoccupy oneself with “mood” or “atmosphere.” That will grow organically out of our deeper procedural concerns, revealing itself to us and to our audience alike.


A Note on Documentation

Ownership of collaborative work has only become thornier with the advent of online communication. Elegant production photographs and personal reels elude the very workers who invent their subject matter even if only to provide evidence of competence and productivity to prospective clients. Circumventing that inconvenience, representation of these projects come from my own design proposals and photographs unless otherwise indicated. Attributions are as meticulous as possible. Think of this section as the excerpts of a scenographer’s show bible, just like Patin’s. If my notes are in error, I am pleased to be informed of it.


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To Cite This Page

CMS “An Approach to Projects in Scenography.” Valérie C. Kaelin Website; Scenography; Practice; December 31, 2012. Accessed Month, Day,Year.

MLA Kaelin, Valérie C., “An Approach to Projects in Scenography.” Toronto, 31 Dec. 2012. Web. Add Day, Abbreviation for Month, Year.