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His sketches and plans are meticulously thought through, but the volumes cut and assembled after them enjoy but a fleeting life. The sets of the scenographer last no longer than the shows for which they had been created.


While the craft of the visual artist has little to do with the performing arts (acting, directing, choreography), he must nevertheless master a good understanding of them all, because the object of the scenographer's work is not his decor, but the show that is staged in his set. Similar to the actors, the director or the composer, the scenographer invests his efforts into refining the theatre show. But in contrast to the other artists, the scenographer has to employ a different versatility, changing his role at need into a production manager, a painter, a commodity specialist or a mechanist.


Though the scenographer does not belong within the inner circle of actors led by the director, he is always in their midst. The scenographer’s work does not unfold in the spotlight; his craft takes place at such time that the hall is empty, in the days and nights before the premiere. Although he is not to be seen by the public, the decor he has envisaged, the space he has designed, the colours, the lights and the shadows he has created will envelop both the actors and the audience during the artistic performance. His design can either raise the artistic experience to a new dimension or completely ruin it. Though ephemeral, his immense three dimensional ‘painting’ is alive and vibrant; it has the power to transport the spectator into another dimension, to leave a lasting impression on their soul, sometimes a life-transforming one.


But the most bewildering paradox of scenography is its potential to create a space of mesmerizing beauty. Beautiful stage designs raise gasps of amazement among the audience, bringing nominations and awards, ensuring collaboration contracts for the entire season. However, the exclamation ‘very beautiful scenery’ is well reminiscent of the adjective ‘nice’ paintings (or symphonies). Equally you might find decors which are, simply put, ugly. But does a successful set design have to be ‘beautiful’? What makes a good set in theatre? What makes a good set designer?


Perhaps the most important quality of a good scenographer is its sincerity, the same goal of the acting. His decor has to be ‘born’ from within the artistic production rather than be ‘made up’ for it.  A decor built up according to its ‘home-made’ scale model is fundamentally different to the one born through ‘midwifing’ the play, growing it through the interaction of the actors, the director and the scenographer. The textures, the nuances, the proportions, the shapes and colours invented in the studio are experienced very differently in the live act, in a performance hall, compared to any digital 3D model built on a screen. The shapes imagined in the scenographer's atelier must harmonize with the story seen from the audience. Therefore, the decor is a living form, growing from one rehearsal to another along with the maturing of the show. The ultimate success does not reside in its being a millimetric replica of the scale model but in its organic immersion in the artistic development.


The talented scenographer can balance this complex creative process with very practical skills: to work within limited budget, within limited time resources, making best use of the time and skill of myriad of other professionals (carpenters, metalworkers, painters, prop makers). The sequence of manufacturing different pieces of his decor has to be done in a very well thought through order working from the general to the minute. On the other side this precision has to be matched with equal flexibility; he should be able to adapt to emerging decision, unexpected problems or brave turn arounds.


A skilled scenographer is a psychologist, a leader, a team player, able to instil trust and to stimulate the imagination in his collaborators. His project is ultimately is a team achievement. A good scenographer can adapt his design to the possibilities of the fabrication department, to the skills of his team and of course to the budget. These constraints are merely another means to stimulate his fantasy and creativity.


At each rehearsal he is equally able to be follow his initial vision or to change and adapt as the situation demands. A good scenographer has got a perfect sense of balance. On one side he can follow his personal vision with great passion and conviction, on the other he is receptive to the artistic taste, inspiration or needs of his actors and director. He can adapt to suggestions received from any of his artistic or technical collaborators and able face the unpredictable up to the last minute.


The first criteria of value, the most important predictor of success, the attribute without which the mere concept of ‘art’ does not exist is thus sincerity. It is for this reason why many otherwise ‘beautiful’ stage designs are ultimately unconvincing. ’Natural beauty’ has a different radiance and a different ‘life’ on stage compared to contrived, artificial aesthetics. Sincerity is thus the condition ‘necessary and sufficient’ for authenticity. This skill (called by Andrei Pleșu ‘hygienic’) lies entirely within the hands of the artist.


Splendid decors which are in the way of the actors are an example of bad scenography. A successful scenography cannot include any unnecessary object, any crammed composition, any light effect which hinders actor’s performance or derails from the vision of the director. The good scenographer lays his art in support of the actors, faithful to the story, serving the artistic vision of the director.


The scenographer is the creator of the atmosphere built through colours, shapes, textures and various ornaments which reconstruct a story of another time, of another place. The success of his art is measured by its ability to transport the audience in an imaginary world.


Ultimately, the successful scenographer is the one who is able to stick to the original intention of the director whilst also remaining within the budget, the deadlines and within all the conditions imposed by the theatre. During each rehearsal, his design will grow as a living being. Not only would he meet the expectations but will surpass them, surprising his collaborators, adapting to all the needs of the artists, to all the financial and technical restrictions. He is able to transform every challenge into a chance to refine his art even more, to emerge through every obstacle

with radiant creativity.

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