Robert Edmond Jones Kenneth Macgowan.

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case of the exceptionally talented artist, Isaac Griinewald, with
whom Andre associated himself for the production of Samson
and Delilah, the director's ideas could dominate in certain
scenes. For example, in the beautiful and effective episode of

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the Jews in the desert which Andre injected into the first
act — a scene for which the director required a symbolic pic-
ture of the fall of the walls of Philistia to accompany the
orchestral music which he used for this interlude. The bril-
liance with which Griinewald executed the conception may
be judged from the accompanying illustration.

The commonest relationship of the director and the designer
has been cooperative. The artist has brought a scheme of pro-
duction to the director as often, perhaps, as the director has
brought such a scheme to the artist. The director has then
criticized, revised, even amplified the artist's designs, and has
brought them to realization on the stage. And the artist and
the director, arranging lights at the final rehearsals, have come
to a last cooperation which may be more important to the play
than any that has gone before.

You find, however, constant evidence of the artist running
ahead of the director in the creation of details of production
which have a large bearing on the action as well as on the
atmosphere of the play. Griinewald brought a setting to the
mill scene in Samson and Delilah which was not only strik-
ingly original and dramatic, but which forced the direction into
a single course. The usual arrangement is the flat millstone
with a long pole, against which Samson pushes, treading out
a large circle as the stone revolves. The actor is always more
or less visible, and there is no particular impression of a cruel

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Samson and Delilah: the mill. A remarkable ex-
ample of an essentially ornamental theatrical set-
ting, designed by Isaac Griinewald for the Royal
Opera in Stockholm. Black emptiness. A slant-
ing shaft of light strikes the millstone in a vivid
crescent. As the wheel travels in its track this
crescent widens to a disk of blinding light, and
then shrinks again. The actual forms of this
setting are sublimated into an arresting composition
of shifting abstract shapes of light.



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THE ARTIST AS DIRECTOR

machine dominating a human being. Griinewald changed all
this by using a primitive type of vertical millstone. The
sketch shows the stage in darkness except for one shaft of light
striking sideways across. The great wheel is set well down
front within a low circular wall. Along the wall Samson
walks, pushing against a short pole that sticks out from the
center of one face of the high narrow, millstone. As he
pushes, the stone swings about and also revolves. This allows
the beam of light to catch first a thin crescent at the top of
the curving edge of the wheel, then a wider and wider curve,
until suddenly, as Samson comes into view, the light brings
out the flat face of the wheel like a full moon. Against this
the actor is outlined for his aria. Then, while the orchestra
plays, he pushes the wheel once more around. This arrange-
ment is extraordinarily fine as a living picture and as an ex-
pression of the mood of the scene. Moreover, it is a triumph
for the artist, because it is an idea in direction as well as setting.
It dictates the movement of the player and manages it in the
best possible way. No other action for Samson is possible in
this set, and no other action could be so appropriate and
effective.

Examples of similar dictation by the artist — though none so
striking — come to mind. In Frankfort Sievert arranged the
settings for Strindberg's Towards Damascus in a way that con-
tributed dramatic significance to the movement of the players.

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The piece is in seventeen scenes; it proceeds through eight
different settings to reach the ninth, a church, and from the
ninth the hero passes back through the eight in reverse order
until he arrives at the spot where the action began. Sievert
saw an opportunity to use the revolving stage, as well as ele-
ments of design, in a way interpreting and unifying the play.
He placed all nine scenes on the "revolver," and he made the
acting floor of each successive setting a little higher than the
last. This results in rather narrow rooms and a sea shore
bounded by formal yellow walls, but it permits an obvious
unity, it shows visually the path that the hero has to follow,
and it symbolizes his progress as a steady upward movement
towards the church.

The artist dictating a particular kind of direction is obvious
enough in Chout (Le Bouffon), the fantastic comic ballet by
Prokofieff which Gontcharova designed for the Ballets Russes.
Gontcharova's settings are not particularly good, but at least
they have a definite and individual character. They are ex-
pressionist after a fashion related more or less to Cubism. They
present Russian scenes in wildly distorted perspective. Log
houses and wooden fences shatter the backdrop in a war of
serried timbers. A table is painted on a wing, the top tipping
up at an alarming angle, one plate drawn securely upon it,
and another, of papier-mache y pinned to it. All this sort of
thing enjoined upon the regisseur a kind of direction quite

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The first scene of Tchehoff's Uncle Vanya. Here
Pitoeff indicates a Russian country side by a rustic
bench and slender birch trees formally spaced
against a flat gray curtain.



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THE ARTIST AS DIRECTOR

as bizarre, mannered, and comic. Chout seems to have had
no direction at all in any creative sense. The regisseur failed
to meet the challenge of the artist.

It is ordinarily very hard to say what share the artist or the
director has had in the scheme of a setting, or whether the
director has bothered his head at all about the setting after
confiding it to what he considers competent hands. It is an
interesting speculation just how much the physical shape of
Reinhardt's productions has been the sole creation of his artist,
Stern. Certainly Stern delighted in the problems which the
use of the revolving stage presented, and only in a single mind
could the complexities of these sets, nesting together like some
cut-out puzzle, be organized to a definite end. It is entirely
possible that, except for a conference on the general tone of
the production, and criticisms of the scheme devised by Stern,
Reinhardt may have given no thought at all to the scenery.
Stern was a master in his own line, and for Rinehardt there
was always the thing he delighted most in, the emotional mood
produced by the voices and movements of the actors. His
carelessness of detail even in the acting, suggests that for him
there were only the biggest moments, the important elements
and climaxes, that put over the emotion of the play.

Sometimes artist and director are the same, as with PitoefF
in Geneva and Paris, or with Knut Strom in Gothenburg. In
such a case setting, direction, and acting are one. But ordi-

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narily there is a division of responsibility, and an opportunity
for the artist to play a part in the production of a drama far
more important than Bibiena's. Just how important it may
prove to be is bound up, I think, with the future of the theater
as a physical thing, and with the temperament of the artist.
Working as a designer of picture-settings, the artist can only
suggest action, but not dictate it, through the shapes and atmos-
pheres he creates. The important thing is that almost all the
designers of real distinction in Europe are tending steadily
away from the picture-setting. They are constantly at work
upon plans for breaking down the proscenium-frame type of
production, and for reaching a simple platform stage or podium
upon which the actor shall present himself frankly as an
actor. This means, curiously enough, that the designers of
scenery are trying to eliminate scenery, to abolish their vocation.
And this in turn should indicate that the artist has his eye on
something else besides being an artist.

The director who works in such a new theater as the artists
desire — in the Redoutensaal in Vienna, for example, — requires
an artist to work with him who sees art in terms of the arrange-
ment of action upon steps, and against properties or screens.
This is ordinarily the business of the director in our picture-
frame theater j with the work of the artist enchantingly visible
in the setting behind the actors, the director can get away rea-
sonably well with the esthetic problems of the relations of

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A scene from Grabbe's Napoleon. The Place de
Greve in Paris is indicated by a great street lamp set
boldly on a raised platform in the center of the
stage. A Jessner production designed by Cesar
Klein.



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THE ARTIST AS DIRECTOR

actors and furniture and of actors and actors. Nobody notes
his shortcomings in this regard. Put him upon an almost naked
stage, and he must not only make his actors far more expres-
sive in voice and feature, but he must also do fine things
with their bodies and their meager surroundings. This is far
easier for a pictorial artist than for the director, who is usually
an actor without a well-trained eye. The director must there-
fore employ an artist even in the sceneryless theater, and employ
him to do what is really a work of direction. The two must
try to fuse their individualities and abilities, and bring out a
composite director-artist, a double man possessing the talents
that appear together in Pitoeff .

The immediate question is obviously this: If the director
cannot acquire the talents of the artist, why cannot the artist
acquire the talents of the director? If the knack of visual
design, and the keen appreciation of physical relationships can-
not be cultivated in a man who does not possess them by birth,
is it likewise impossible for the man who possesses them to
acquire the faculty of understanding and of drawing forth
emotion in the actor?

The problem narrows down to the temperament of the artist
versus the temperament of the director. There is a difference j
it is no use denying it. The director is ordinarily a man sensi-
tive enough to understand human emotion deeply and to be
able to recognize it, summon it, and guide it in actors. But he

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must also be callous enough to meet the contacts of direction
— often very difficult contacts — and to organize not only the
performance of the players, but also a great deal of bothersome
detail involving men and women who must be managed and
cajoled, commanded, and worn down, and generally treated
as no artist cares to treat others, or to treat himself in the proc-
ess of treating others. The director must be an executive,
and this implies a cold ability to dominate other human beings,
which the artist does not ordinarily have. The artist is essen-
tially a lonely worker. He is not gregarious in his labor.

So far as the future goes, the hope for the artist is that he
will be able to reverse the Butlerian process which held in the
relations of director and designer. He must be able to "grow a
director. " This may not be so very difficult. It may very well
happen that an artist will employ a stage manager, as an astute
director now employs an artist, to do a part of his work for him.
He will explain to the stage manager the general scheme of
production that he wants, much as a director explains to an
artist the sort of settings he desires. The stage manager will
rehearse the movements of the actors towards this end. When
the artist sees opportunities for further development of action
and business, he will explain this to the stage manager, and per-
haps to the players involved, and the stage manager will again
see that the ideas of his superior are carried out. Something
of the kind occurs even now where a director employs a sub-

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The first scene from Othello as staged by Leopold
Jessner in Berlin. On long curved steps which
remain throughout, and against the neutral back-
ground of the cyclorama, the artist, Emil Pirchan,
puts the barest indications of place. Here, Braban-
tio's house gleams like a moonstone against a back-
ground of neutral-tinted distance.



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THE ARTIST AS DIRECTOR

director to "break in" the company. Both Reinhardt and
Arthur Hopkins, though thoroughly capable of "wading into"
a group of players, and enforcing action by minute direction
and imitation, generally use the quiet method of consulting
with players, and suggesting changes to them, not during the
actual rehearsal, but afterwards in the protection of a wing
or the privacy of a dressing room.

The presence of the artist as director in some future theater
without scenery, implies a decided influence on the type of
acting.

Such a stage itself, thrust boldly at the spectators, if not
actually placed in the midst of them, tends to dictate a frank,
direct contact between players and audience. In such a house
an actor will be all but forced to desert the purely representa-
tional style of to-day, and to present himself and his emotions
in an open, assertive, masculine manner as objects of art
and of emotion.

The tendency of the artist towards this kind of theater im-
plies, I think, a tendency towards presentational acting. Cer-
tainly I have talked with few who were not receptive to it.

Put together a stage that tends towards presentational acting
and an artist whose instincts run to the same ends, and the out-
come is not difficult to foresee.

The problem at present is, what artist? And where? And
how soon?

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CHAPTER XI
A NEW ADVENTURE IN DIRECTION

THE outstanding director in the German theater to-
day is also the most radical director. And the most
radical director is at the head of the Prussian State
Theater, the Schauspielhaus, in Berlin. His name is Leopold
Jessner, and he is the only man who has threatened to fill the
place made vacant by Reinhardt's retirement. Some say that
he has already filled it, and — with disarming logic — that
Reinhardt was only a mountebank anyhow. Some think Jess-
ner a clever eccentric. Certainly he is the most discussed
personality in the German theater, and his methods are the
most debated.

One word crops up whenever his name is mentioned —
Jessnertreppen. The German language has boiled down into
a single word an idea that we would have to phrase as <c those
crazy steps of Leopold Jessner." It makes a handy stone for
the anti-Jessnerites to throw at the director's friends. Jessner's
friends are beginning to have the good sense to pick up the
stone and throw it back. For the word Jessnertreppen hits off
a virtue — perhaps, the main virtue of the man.

Jessner fills his stage with steps. He seems unable to get

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Othello: act III, scene 3. A towering column,
with its lower end sharpened like the point of a
lead pencil, is seemingly driven into one end of the
central platform. Othello and Iago stand at the
base.

iago: Have you not sometimes seen a handkerchief
Spotted with strawberries in your wife's
hands?



I

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A NEW ADVENTURE IN DIRECTION

along without them. He must have platforms, levels, walls,
terraces. They are to him what screens, towering shapes,
great curtains are to Gordon Craig. In every production Jess-
ner, through his artist, Emil Pirchan, provides some permanent
foundation besides the stage-floor for the actor to play upon,
some arrangement of different levels. In his Richard III it is
a wall all across the stage, with a platform along the top at
the base of another wall, and for certain scenes a flight of
steps like a pyramid placed against the lower wall. In Othello
Jessner uses two platforms, one on top of the other, each
reached by two or three steps, the lower a long ellipse almost
as large as the stage, the upper one smaller and proportionately
broader j upon the upper platform Jessner places certain indi-
cations of setting. For Grabbers Napoleon he uses four or five
steps rising sharply to a platform perhaps four feet high.
Sometimes this platform is supplemented by a high one pulled
apart in the middle to make opposing hills, redoubts, vantage
points in the battle scenes.

The Jessnertreppen are the key to the physical things in
this director's productions. They give the stage one general
shape for each play. They establish a formal quality. They
tend to banish representation in scenery, since only indications
of setting harmonize with their frank artificiality. And —
their main purpose — they provide the director with most in-
teresting opportunities for manoeuvering his actors.

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One of the simplest and most obvious of these is a new way
of making entrances. Such steps as are used in Othello and
Napoleon go down at the back as far as they rise in the front,
and below that the director opens a trap or two in the floor.
Thus he is able to have an actor walk straight up out of the
back of the stage, and appear in a dominating position in the
middle of the action. Jessner uses this novel means of entrance
again and again in Othello y and it is always fresh and effective.
For the return to Cyprus the Moor marches triumphantly up
these steps, to the welcome of his wife.

Far more important, however, is what Jessner does with
the front of the steps. They may be there to help a formal
stage with very little scenery to seem steadily interesting even
to audiences that expect the conventional gauds of the
theater. But their true office is to make possible a sort of three-
dimensional direction for which Jessner has become renowned.
Ordinarily the actor moves in only two directions upon the
stage — right and left, and towards the footlights and away
from them. As a matter of fact, the latter movement is so
unsatisfactory from the point of view of any spectators except
those in the balconies, that the actor really has only one plane
in which he can move visibly and expressively. Jessner does
more than add a third dimension when he sends his actors up
and down the steps. He also gives a great deal more sig-
nificance to the movement towards and away from the audience.

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Othello: act 4, scene 2. Cyprus. The castle.
On the central platform are set two curved screens
of dull salmon pink. Behind, the quivering dark-
ness of the unlighted cyclorama. Emilia, dressed
in deep crimson, stands in the foreground.



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A NEW ADVENTURE IN DIRECTION

Beside the sense of movement — always an intriguing thing
in the theater — Jessner provides in his steps a mechanism
for solving many dramatic problems. His actors do not spend
their time getting out of the way of the actors behind them.
They are not shuttling back and forth in an effort to let the
audience see all the players at the same time. One actor can-
not "cover" another if he stands on steps. Even a very large
crowd can appear on such a stage without the individual speak-
ers being lost. As Lee Simonson showed in his use of different
levels for the Theater Guild's production of He Who Gets
Slappedy with the proper sort of elevations on the stage a
large number of actors can play a very complicated scene with-
out confusing their relationships or assuming awkward posi-
tions.

But a great deal more important than this negative virtue is
the positive contribution of steps in permitting many more and
much finer compositions than the flat floor permits. Jessner
composes freely in three dimensions. He composes both for
esthetic and for dramatic effect.

There are times when you can see him arranging his actors
with nothing but the esthetic aim in mind. Take the first
scene in which Napoleon himself appears in Grabbers drama.
It is not a particularly good setting in some waysj it is a rather
obvious and ugly silhouette of a bastion and a slanting parapet
leading up to it. The scene shows Napoleon receiving reports

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from an officer and giving orders. Jessner deliberately places
Napoleon on top of the bastion against the sky and stands the
officer stiffly on the parapet below j the relation of the two
men as characters in the play is thus established visually as
well as through the text. The relation of the two men as a
composition — not as characters — has to be disturbed by the
entrance of a second officer. It is obviously impossible for
Napoleon and the first officer both to retain their positions if
the second officer is to fit into a composition. Accordingly the
first moves just enough to establish a new esthetic relation
embracing all three.

Jessner is free with his dramatic compositions and occa-
sionally altogether too obvious. He keeps his dominant people
at the top of the Jessnertreppen, or brings them down as they
lose command. He handles the accession of Richard III as
Shakespeare did, and as very few directors have since done.
When the burghers come to ask Richard to be king, they find
him "aloft, between two bishops/' in compliance with Buck-
ingham's advice: "Go, go up to the leads." Jessner has Rich-
ard walk upon the platform above the wall} it is his first
appearance on high and he maintains his place until the battle
at the end. At the close of Napoleon, the emperor, who has
appeared hitherto only at the top of the steps, is seen seated,
broken and disconsolate, on the lowest step of all, with a sink-
ing sun behind him, and the soldiers above.

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Othello: act 4, scene 2. Iago lurks in the shadow

of a great black shape distorted like the trunk of
i some fantastic tree. Cassio pursues Roderigo

» along a narrow path which skirts the base of the

cyclorama; you see their running figures, far

away and small.



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A NEW ADVENTURE IN DIRECTION

It would seem safe to infer from all this that Jessner is
not a realistic producer. He might, of course, have achieved
many of these effects within a natural setting, but only at the
cost of a great deal of laborious planning and maneuvering.
As a matter of fact, Jessner doesn't use one ounce of energy try-
ing to be either natural or plausible. His method is openly
expressionistic.

Jessner distorts the natural in a hundred ways to achieve
something expressive of the drama. The first scene in Napo-
leon> as he gives it, is supposed according to the text to pass in
the arcades of the Palais Royal, lined with booths. Various
episodes, dialogues, and harangues take place between different
speakers and different knots of the crowd. The usual method
of handling such a scene is to turn on and off the speech of
the different groups of actors at will, making certain speakers
and parts of the crowd obligingly inaudible to the audience.
There is little enough of nature in such a business, but Jessner
banishes even that. He keeps the stage empty except for small
crowds that rush out, along with the speakers or show-barkers,
for particular episodes.

Jessner handles crowds even more arbitrarily at times. Later
in Napoleon, during a riot preceding the news of Napoleon's
return from exile, a revolutionist kills a tailor. As his body
sinks to the steps, the crowd of red-clothed men and women
falls upon him, almost as if to devour the corpse, and covers the

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steps as with a great blood-red stain. In Richard III, when
Gloucester appears as king in a red cloak upon the top of
the red steps, which are placed for this purpose against the
wall, his eight retainers, also in red, sink down in a heap
below him like a pile of bloody skulls. In Othello, when the
Moor returns in triumph to Cyprus a cheering crowd comes
with him up the steps from the back. When he has reached
the top and can go no higher, the crowd sinks prostrate. For
a moment he seems to grow in stature, and his triumph to
tower upward.

These are all compositions in three dimensions, as well as
violations of ordinary human conduct. Jessner can also create


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Online LibraryRobert Edmond Jones Kenneth MacgowanContinental stagecraft → online text (page 9 of 15)