In Continental Europe where the term is widely used, the last thirty years have seen scenography move out of academic papers and find a home in the studios of theatre designers and the greenrooms of many theatres. Increasing numbers of theatre designers in the UK are also describing themselves as “Scenographers”.
In the USA however, the term has not been adopted with the same passion, perhaps due to fundamental differences in the way theatre in the USA is produced. On her website www.stephstuff.com, Stephanie A. Schoelzel (Scenographer and Costume Designer) describes heated debates over the use of the term and the unique differences between USA and European theatre.
Interestingly Stephanie describes herself as both a Scenographer and Costume Designer – in Europe the term “Scenographer” would perhaps suffice as most in the industry would assume that a scenographer would have a good level of expertise in not only costume design but its construction too. In the UK, an undergraduate student on a theatre design course would not survive for long without designing costumes, researching costume history and their construction, and more often than not getting to grips with a sewing machine. Then of course there is lighting, scenic painting and construction, props making, sound effects, puppet making and a whole universe of technical know-how. In most schools there are also complimentary courses in fine art, performance art, photography, graphic design, illustration and no doubt… time management.
The required skills for any theatre designer or scenographer will of course vary depending on the production and the company for which he or she is working. A commercial production in the West End of London will quite likely have a designer and a costume designer and even regional theatre designers will on occasion be supported by an assistant designer or work in collaboration with a costume designer. However a young designer aiming to break into the industry will carry in their kit-bag a range of artistic media and skills; costume making, scenic art, construction, and of course a talent and ability to design a performance environment and costume.
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