What is Digital Scenography?

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July 20, 2015

Scenography is the word used to describe all of the elements of a theatrical production which establish atmosphere and mood. These elements might include the set, lighting, sound, and even the way space is divided on stage. Scenography creates a sense of place in the mind of the audience, moving us from an empty stage to Vichy France, or New York in the 1980s, or to the top of a waterfall or bottom of a deep cave.

Scenography is not limited to traditional theatre. Scenographic techniques are applied by interior decorators, restaurants, trade-show boots, galleries, museums, theme parks. Chances are you have engaged in a bit of scenographic practice yourself if you’ve ever dimmed the lights for a romantic meal or arranged the books or furniture in your office to set a mood.

Digital Scenography is the application of new and emerging technologies to the centuries-old practice of scenography. The simplest example involves projection mapping, the application of projected video to objects or facades in order to make them appear animated. More complicated techniques incorporate interactivity, allowing the projections to be manipulated live on stage by the performers. Even more complicated approaches involve asking questions like: How will audience members who grew up using the internet react to a play that was written a hundred years ago? How can we create complex emotional mood using new technologies never seen on stage before?

The work that I produce professionally revolves around these sorts of questions. I incorporate novel technologies because they let me create interactions that were never possible before, and I use these performances as a means of research to ask deeper questions about how these technologies change the way we relate to each other and to the ways we tell each other stories.

As Arnold Aronson writes in The Stage as Simulacrum of Reality:

“For much of the history of theatre, scenography has functioned as a means of creating a material reality for the presentation of the immaterial: the mythical, allegorical, and fictional, or perhaps the illusion of an actual locale… But in a world in which so much human interaction is mediated through electronic and digital technologies it is increasingly difficult for the stage to exist meaningfully as a site of physical and tangible interaction. …new technologies are emphasizing the dematerialization of the stage: the stage as a permeable and ephemeral space that more accurately represents our perception of the experiential world.”


Lighting: Some of the most effective scenography is created using only lighting, as in this Tribeca Indian restaurant which also makes use of the light fixtures themselves as a scenographic element. (photo: livingthelist.com)


Stage Design: Lars von Trier’s Dogville used a schematic scenography where place names were inscribed directly on the stage. The abstraction of the rooms and buildings made the people and the objects on stage even more significant. (photo: Lions Gate)


Scenography: Theme parks use elaborate scenography to transport visitors to impossible places. In this case summer tourists in Florida get to visit Harry Potter at snowy mid-winter Hogwarts. (photo: Reuters)


Projection Mapping: One of the most straightforward applications of digital technologies to scenography is interactive projection mapping. Surfaces, in this case the floor, animate and move in response to the performance." (photo:AToU Company’s production of SHiNMu)


New Technologies on stage: Cellphone cameras are everywhere. How can a play be staged differently to make use of mobile video? (photo:Leviathan by MOTUS)


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