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Choosing how to stage a play is a very personal process. It has to filter through the director's vision of the play, which is impacted by the director's personal history and values. When I direct a play, I always start with a deep consideration of the theme. That is what guides me as I start to see pictures in my head as I read and re-read the play.
The first big decision when doing a play that is from another time and place is to decide whether or not to set it in that other time and place. Questions to consider here:
- Will I be able to communicate the theme clearly to an audience with it set in a remote time and place? For example, will a contemporary audience be able to relate to late 19th century Norway?
- Will I obscure the play too much by placing it in another time and place? For example, will Ibsen's ideas and language lose their intensity if in contemporary dress?
- Or, can I present the play less realistically and make more symbolic choices? For example, use a unit set that is not detailed out in any specific way, or use a set that is completely symbolic; I could see staging A Doll's House in front of a set that is a bank of doors. This would heighten the ideas of choice - what doors are open to Nora?
Once I've made that decision, the rest will follow suit. The production should be unified, so if I've decided to set the play in 19th century Norway, that will determine the look of the costumes, props, sound, etc. It will be realistic for the time. If I've decided to update it, then the rest of the production values should also be in that time. Think about Romeo and Julietset contemporarily, using guns instead of swords.
The most interesting choice, at least to my artistic self, is often the non-realistic/symbolic one. If I go with my bank of doors set, I still can choose what sort of costumes to put on my actors. I could justify 1910s or 1950s style clothes as those time periods have echoes of the women's rights issues in Ibsen's play. Props and sound should probably unify with the costumes, to avoid too much of a hodge-podge.
Lighting is a whole other issue, as it is not subject to the time and place question. Lighting is really another character, if handled carefully. It is used to create mood, create tension, focus the audience's attention, etc.; those uses are consistent in whatever style or concept the rest of the production has.
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