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Craig and Appia: Comparison of Stage Lighting

Jennifer MacGregor April 23, 2002

Craig and Appia were both innovators in their time and made many scenic reforms. They accomplished major improvements in the perception of theatre lighting and methods of its use: these had a major affect on the course of all stage lighting that followed. Though their first meeting wasnt until 1914, both of them had been pursuing a new vision of theatre that was very different from the melodramatic and realistic staging of their time. Their ideas leaned towards expressionism and sets that werent just two-dimensional backdrops: they required sets that unified the drama, actors, time and space into one living art. This was a term used by both artists in their later years to describe their idea of theatre as a true art. Although their visions on lighting were similar, they each had their own approach and added their own character to their works and ideas on lighting. Craig would be called a painter of light, where as Appia focused on lights ability to act as the visual realization of music. Their different attitudes can be explained by looking at their background, i.e. Craig as an actor and Appia from the explorations of Wagners operas. They both fought for an entire reform of theatre and promoted their newly created ideas about living art to a sometimes skeptical, sometimes appreciative audience. Their forward thinking ideas have profoundly influenced theatre of today.

Though they didnt meet until 1914 (Appia n.1862, Craig n.1872), their ideas for lighting in the theatre had some remarkable parallels and similarities. They both had an uncanny ability to predict the future of theatre. As well, they both distinguished lighting as a separate entity or part of the theatre. Appia tells us how, at the time, lighting was just left up to the electrician who merely provided illumination. Both Appia and Craig wanted to abolish the practice of lighting stage to see every detail. They disliked scenic painters and wanted to dispense with them; Craig was particularly vehement on this subject. Each of them also wanted to abolish footlights and have their lighting come from every different direction (as opposed to their fixed, standard placement in borders, wings and footlights). Lighting provided them with a means of expression and helped to unify their scene. Appia and Craig both saw theatre lighting as its own component. This is different from the thinking of the time and it was their ideas that gave us the lighting designer of today; J. Michael Walton feels that [p]erhaps the development that would have most excited Craig, though less in office than in its significance, is the arrival of the lighting designer as an independent artistic functionary. Their treatment of lighting as a integral part of the expression of theatre as an art was one of the things that allowed them to progress theatre as far as they did.

Appia explains that the present scenery was entirely the slave of [scenic] painting. Light was a slave to it as well: [r]uled by painting, light is in fact completely absorbed by the setting. Lighting was given no chance to explore its own artistic life: lighting developed independently of scenic painting and became its slave as well. Appia laments that in his time, because of the painted scenery, there was no question of true stage lighting . . . Scenic artists of the time did not consider that lighting could offer them anything but illumination; electricians had no other worry than to make the picture visible lest any detail be lost. Appia also blames the audience for this obsession with massive illumination: their need for expression in the performance consisted in the desire to see everything in the greatest detail, even night and interior scenes had to have everything visible. Gosta Bergman, in Lighting in the Theatre, explains how electric light lent itself to this phenomenon. The introduction of electrical light into theatres in 1879 soon led an increase in the volume of light on stage in the 1880s and -90s. He states how [a]t many theatres, this worship of light led to excess. They virtually drowned the stage in light from the permanent lighting system and arc lamps. This increase in light was what both Appia and Craig were rebelling against. They saw electric light as a means to add more control to stage lighting in order to meet their own ends: creating expressionalistic theatre. Both opposed detail in scenery, asserting it as unnecessary, even bad: [t]here is not a single play that demands one hundredth of them [details]. Craig claims that the downfall of designers is that they tell too much with their scene at once. He explained that useless information was absorbed at the expense of something more important: the eye cant look at two things at once. Both Craig and Appia advocated, neigh, demanded the simplification of the stage--indeed, that was the very work Craig devoted himself to. Craig claims [s]cenery has to speak as well as the actors but it is better when it says only that which is necessary; Appia desired a stage set only so far as is necessary for the comprehension of the poetic text. Scenic painting had too many unnecessary details, and both Appia and Craig called for it to be abolished from their new theatre. Of scenic painters, Craig remarks that the Greeks, whom he admired, had not colour brought in by the pailful,--brought in by some studiopainter out of work . . . Colour, for Craig and Appia, was produced by light. The other main view they shared was that lighting had the ability to express; their new idea of theatre as an art was centered on expression and light provided them the means to do it. The lighting was a living thing and three-dimensional, meaning it was well suited to work with the living and three-dimensional actor. It also helped bring to life the drama itself. Appia saw an emotional and intellectual plot underlying the stories of Wagners operas and felt the job of the staging was to express that. To his scene he added

steps, levels and slopes that were calculated to establish mass and volume: he felt that these were the expressive element that made visible the inner plot of the drama. In his scene, lighting was the soul, the inner essence which provided the expression. Craig has a scene face which expressed his inner plot. When designing for a play, he looked at it first with his minds eye. For Craig, the face had a shape which received the light and danced with it. For Craig, the scenes spirit was change. Here, with both Craig and Appia, we see their idea that theatre is an art that expresses. Light plays a vital role in the expression for each of them: as the soul (Appia) or as the medium that plays with the spirit or face (Craig). Though they each portray it differently, lighting is one of the essential mediums of expression in their new art.

The main distinction between Appia and Craigs view on theatre lighting was how they viewed its purpose: Appia as the visualization of music, and Craig as a medium to paint with. This distinction is very clear with both of them: Craig tells us I paint with light, while Appia explores luminous sound. Their different views give them different approaches to the use of lighting. Their different approaches come very distinctly out of their different backgrounds: Appia from his study of Wagner, and Craig from his work as an actor. Both of their views found a home in modern lighting today.

Craig viewed light as something to paint with and move his set through. He talks about lights movement through space; the two-dimensional painted sets failure in this area partially led to his desire to abolish scene painters. He triumphs the virtues of the palette lighting gives him: The scene stands by itself--and is monotone. All the colour used is produced by light, and I use a very great deal of colour now and again,--such colour as no palette ever can produce. I think I may say that I have not seen colour so rich used in any scene on any stage but this. . . .

Using light to paint gives him a simple scene with movement, form and colour and no scenic paintingexactly what he had set out to do. Appia even directs us

to lights fabulous ability to colour and claims all combinations of colour can be created with it. In order for the light to paint, Craig needed to find the set pieces which worked together with light to give it life. He used screens that were white to reflect light and act as a three-dimensional space for his actors. He devised a system of such screens and called it The Thousand Scenes in One Scene. In this Scene and others he advocates the use of monotone screens and backdrops. These screens need only a minimum amount of light as they create much reflection. As well, the screens allow all of the colour in the scene to be painted on with light and, as Appia points out, colour was the scenic painters main resource. Craig now provides no room for scenic painters in his theatre: they are replaced with lighting. The screens also facilitate higher visibility of actors and objects placed in front of it: Craig lists this as number one in his list of general and useful facts for the use of light for acting. This idea works well because it backlights the actor or object. Backlight gives objects their shape and prevents them from appearing two dimensional. Keeping the screens bare and free of coloured patterns again, falls in with the idea of simplicity and the need to eliminate highly detailed painted scenes. Painting with light also gave Craig another advantage: I can light the face, hands and person of any given actor, be he on any part of the stage, and without lighting the scene, and I can paint with light any part of the scene without obliterating the actor for a moment.

He states that this was not possible eight years before (1914). Craig enjoyed the new possibilities his screens provided to him in this respect and he and others made good use of it. Because of Craig, lighting sets and actors differently is commonplace today. Back then, separation of light for the actor and light for the scenery gave him much new freedom; it gave him the ability to explore future realms of scenery as well as gain much more control of his stage picture.

Appias approach to stage lighting is one based on music. Through his study of staging Wagners plays and his work with Emile Jaques-Dalcroze in eurhythmics, he determined that expressiveness starts in music and that the dramatic actions themselves are generated by the music. Appia guided his Wagnerian reforms on a quote by Schopenhauer: music, in itself, never

expresses the phenomenon, solely the inner essence of the phenomenon. He put music at the forefront of his new theatre: [m]usic alone can guide us over the new path . . . , and he gave to lighting the role of expressing music visually in space: light was the soul of Appias mise en scne. Appia explains that there is an intimate relationship between light and music. He uses the example of the ancients having united them by making Apollo the god of both. In the theatre he puts the performer in the place of Apollo: [t]he center where sound waves, on one hand (through rhythm), and light beams, on the other (through plasticity), converge, is the human body. This is the meaning of the term conciliatory, the temporary incarnation of the god of light and sound.

The human body transfers the temporal music to space, and projects it with the aid of lighting. Lighting gives objects their plastic form, makes them alive and three-dimensional. It therefore provides the medium for the rhythm to be expressed visually: Rhythm intimately unites the life of sound with the movements of our body. . . . On the other hand, plastic forms are indispensable for the light to be expressive. There remains the task of uniting the movements transmitted by rhythm to our body, which is the essence of music flung into space, with plastic forms revealed through light, which is the essence of light.

Appia viewed lights convergence with sound as the desired union for the work of the future. Appias connection between light and music can also be seen in the terms he used to explain his new ideas of lighting design. He needed to devise, while working in Hellerau, a light organ to control his lights which were placed everywhere in the hall. His light organ allowed the expression of the emotional nuances of the music under the control of a single person. With it he could control and modulate intensity, color, movement and beam size. The choice of the name clearly represents how he viewed light function. He also developed the idea of a lighting plot: lightings equivalent to a musical score. He was the first to do so. His light plot allowed him to convey emphasis and counterpoint; it visually corresponded with the flow of the music-drama. He introduced lighting as something not just for illumination, but for expression as

well. He used lighting to sustain and modulate mood and atmosphere. Craig also employed these concepts, though he was more concerned with the use of lighting changes to help change scenes and moods quickly without having to close the curtain. The other major concept Appia gives us that counterpart music with light is the idea of luminous sound. Luminous sound is the harmonious and infinitely variable balance between illumination and creative or plastic light. This idea was to be explored at the Jaques-Dalcroze Institute to inspire a new sense of musico-luminous in its pupils. The hall that Appia designed in Hellerau embodied his ideas of luminous sound. The hall was lit by thousands of light concealed behind translucent linen to create luminous atmosphere and provided him with his diffused and formative, or highlighting, light. It was here that he employed his light organ and new ideas for the first time in 1912. The reaction to his ideas was overwhelmingly favorable.

Appia paired lighting and music together, while Craig, who painted with light, saw more of a relationship between lighting and the set. Light allowed Craig to change scenes harmoniously without a break; indeed Craigs use of one set for the whole production required light to help change its mood and place. Changes in lighting allowed the towering rock envisioned for the set of Macbeth to provide both the interior and exterior scenes. The idea of lighting changing the scene was also essential to his Thousand Scenes in One Scene. The ability to form his screens into whatever place is required was completed by adding the light belonging to each place. A quote, from The Times with regards to the staging of Hamlet in 1912 in Moscow, explains that the screens value lays not so much in themselves as in their formation and lighting. Craig feels that the changes in lighting and scene express emotions by acting in concert as in a duet, figuring it [position] out together as in a dance. Appia, in contrast, had the light dance to the rhythm of the music.

How Appia and Craig employed their lighting was guided by their perception of its purpose. As mentioned previously, each of their backgrounds set them on the path they took: Craig from the experience of an actor and from a more practical background, and Appia from reforms of Wagnerian staging and eurhythmics. While their approach differed, their reforms opened up an alternative to the theatre of their time; it led to one based on expression and life--a living art. Their ideas moved forward a whole genre of theatre that strongly influenced all parts of the theatre, especially theatre lighting, after them until today. Appias work with eurhythmics gave the precise adaptation of

luminous vibrations in space to musical vibrations, and Craig discerns that [t]o simplify the stage has been the work I have devoted myself to for the last twenty-five years./ I think I have done what I set out to do. Both brought a new world to our eyes, visible because of their innovations in lighting:

. . . through light, anything is possible in theatre . . .

Walton, 2. Appia, Ideas on Reform of Our Mise en Scne, 101. Ibid., 103. Ibid., 103. Appia, Comments on the Staging of The Ring of the Nibelungs, 92. Ibid., 92. Bergman, 297-8. Appia, Ideas on Reform of Our Mise en Scne, 103. Craig, Scene, 14. Craig, as quoted in Enid Rose, 75. Appia, as quoted in Richard C. Beacham, 6-7. Craig, Scene, 5. Ibid., 23. Appia, Eurhythmics and Light, 151. Craig, Scene, 20-1. Ibid., 14. Appia, Ideas on Reform of Our Mise en Scne, 103. See description of Macbeth in On the Art of Theatre (23) and Scene (23). Craig, Scene, 27. Schopenhauer, as quoted in Appia, Comments on Theatre, 179. Appia, Comments on Theatre, 182. Beacham, 7. Appia, Eurhythmics and Light, 150. Appia, Comments on Theatre, 178. Ibid., 178. Beacham, 9. Ibid, 9. Appia, Eurhythmics and Light, 151. Beacham, 15.

Since castles are made from rock and are the same colour, the setting can work for all of the scenes needed in the whole play. Craig, On the Art of the Theatre, 25-6. As quoted in Walton, 152. Craig, Scene, 20. Appia, Eurhythmics and Light, 151. Craig, Scene, 14. Appia, Comments on the Staging of The Ring of the Nibelungs, 93.


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