Theatre Design & Technology - Spring 2021 - 55

The History and Theory of Environmental Scenography, 2nd ed.
By Arnold Aronson
Methuen Drama, 272 pages
Paperback $32.36, hardcover $91.80, eBook $25.88
Reviewed by Rachel Aanstad
Arnold Aronson has revised and updated his classic work with the publication
of The History and Theory of Environmental Scenography, 2nd Edition. The
first edition was originally written in
1981, based on his 1977 dissertation,
and it is easy to understand why such
a revision was necessary. Quite a lot
has happened in the last 44 years, and
the original text was due for a revamp.
I agree with Aronson's observation, in
the forward, that the title could be misleading to contemporary readers. The
text's definition of " environmental scenography " is what we would now call
" immersive theatre " and bears no relation to sustainability, Green design, or
environmental theory. This is a book
for people who want to study historical scenographical theory as practiced
in early to mid-20th century in Europe,
Russia, and the United States. He has
added content to this new edition on
immersive theatre; he touches on Sleep
No More and mentions a few other 21st
century immersive productions in the
final chapters of the book, which ultimately warranted the publication of this
new addition. There have been smaller

updates throughout the text, and those
are identified in the forward. The author's prose is lean and clear. He breaks
down the different movements and their
proponents chronologically, giving each
erstwhile immersive theatre maker a
few paragraphs in this encyclopedic
work. The author is clear in the preface,
and the conclusion, about what the limitations and scope of the book are.
As it turns out, once you take away
the proscenium, there are still only so
many ways you can put on a show with
designated performers and an audience.
This book describes those in exhaustive
detail and it describes them as a series
of theatrical conceits, many of which
are not new, but were declared as such
by their early 20th century proponents.
For example, the Dadaists proclaimed
that they were the first to have outdoor
performances. We know this is not historically accurate, and honestly is just a
bit silly, which could be considered par
for the course for Dadaism. Aronson is
aware of these contradictions, and remarks on them, but does not study this
type of historical dissonance in depth in
this text.
Aronson does not distract from his
environmental theatre focus by branch-

ing out into the broader historical context
of world events and technological developments. The individual reader is responsible to infer many connections based on
their own knowledge of each time period.
For example, there are plans documented
here for extremely ambitious theatres
with levitating seating, rotating platforms,
conveyor belts, and the like. None of these
were built at the time of their inception,
yet some of the ideas have since been
incorporated into theme park attractions as new materials and construction
techniques have been developed. This
text introduces us to the kernels of many
scenographic ideas, some of which will
develop more fully through the natural
progression of time and technology. Aronson is an excellent writer who uses his
impressive understanding of scenographic theory to create a thorough cataloging
of the varied and dynamic theories about
performance spaces.
Rachel Aanstad has an MFA in Scenography
and is the Artistic Director of Rose City
Shakespeare Company. You can listen to her
audio production of Twelfth Night with a
full ensemble cast by searching for " Twelfth
Night Podcast by Rose City Shakespeare " on
any podcast app.

ADVERTISERS
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H & H............................................................................................................................ 4
Harlequin ................................................................................................................ C4
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IWeiss........................................................................................................................ 17
Modern Theatres 1950-2020 ............................................................................ 51
USITT ...........................................................................................................C2, 19, 40

SPRING 2021 | THEATRE DESIGN & TECHNOLOGY

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Theatre Design & Technology - Spring 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Theatre Design & Technology - Spring 2021

Contents
Theatre Design & Technology - Spring 2021 - Cover1
Theatre Design & Technology - Spring 2021 - Cover2
Theatre Design & Technology - Spring 2021 - 1
Theatre Design & Technology - Spring 2021 - Contents
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Theatre Design & Technology - Spring 2021 - Cover3
Theatre Design & Technology - Spring 2021 - Cover4
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