The Designer as Author

Part of the Palgrave Studies in Theatre and Performance History book series (PSTPH)


Robert Edmond Jones’s collected papers at the Harvard Theatre Collection include numerous drafts of lectures he developed on practices of stage design and the state of the contemporary American theatre. In 1940, Jones traveled the country on a lecture circuit, speaking to students at a number of colleges and universities about his professional experiences and, more significantly, his projections for a future theatre that would capture the modern spirit of the nation.1 While many of his colleagues had by then left the theatre for lucrative opportunities in film or industrial design, Jones remained dedicated to an idealized vision of the American theatre, one that might still emerge from the hands of the next generation. He urged his audiences to create a “new and vital form of theatrical expression” that connected with contemporary spectators.2 What the modern theatre needed most were young artists with a “dramatic imagination,” the ability to help spectators see more beauty in the mind’s eye than on the literal stage, to lift them to a place of poetic contemplation and heightened awareness. Jones published a compilation of his lectures in The Dramatic Imagination (1941) in which he directly hailed young artists as his principle readership. He encouraged them to “take the little gift we have into the hall of the gods,” to use the stage to realize an American theatre that embodied the spirit of modern living.3


Modern Theatre Design Profession Future Theatre Production Photograph Aesthetic Theory 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Ralph Pendleton, ed. The Theatre of Robert Edmond Jones (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1958).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Robert Edmond Jones, The Dramatic Imagination (New York: Theatre Arts, 1941), 91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 6.
    Thomas Alan Bloom, Kenneth Macgowan and the Aesthetic Paradigm for the New Stagecraft in America (New York: Peter Lang, 1996), 68–74. Baker’s influence in the American theatre was documented in Theatre Arts Monthly when Stanley Russell McCandless published a US map plotting the locations of Harvard and Radcliffe students working in professional or little theatres.Google Scholar
  4. Jones is listed as a working designer in New York City. “The Baker Map,” Theatre Arts Monthly 9, no. 2 (1925): 106.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Carl F. Kaestle and Janice A. Radway designate publication as a “handmaid of nationalization and professionalization” during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century as the United States “expanded geographically and consolidated economically.” A History of the Book in America, Vol. V: Print in Motion: The Expansion of Publishing and Reading in the United States, 1880–1940 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2009), 8.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    In a 1923 publication, Oliver Sayler describes Jones as the most important native designer working in the American theatre and lists Simonson and Bel Geddes as Jones’s “chief rivals.” He not only hints at a friendly competition between the three designers, but also notes that they “work in a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect.” Our American Theatre (New York: Brentano’s, 1923), 153.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    Michel Foucault, “What is an Author,” in The Essential Foucault, eds. Paul Rabinow and Nikolas Rose (New York: New Press, 1994), 377.Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    John Rouse, “Textuality and Authority in Theater and Drama: Some Contemporary Possibilities,” in Critical Theory and Performance, eds. Janelle G. Reinelt and Joseph R. Roach (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1992), 147Google Scholar
  9. 12.
    Jo Mielziner, Designing for the Theatre: A Memoir and a Portfolio (New York: Atheneum, 1965), 9.Google Scholar
  10. 14.
    Howard Bay, Stage Design (New York: Drama Book Specialists, 1974), 8.Google Scholar
  11. 15.
    Clifford Eugene Hamar, “College and University Theatre Instruction in the Early Twentieth Century,” in A History of Speech Education in America: Background Studies, ed. Karl Richard Wallace (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1954), 572–94.Google Scholar
  12. Kenneth Macgowan’s chapter, “The University Theatre,” in Footlights across America: Towards a National Theater (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1929), 107–31.Google Scholar
  13. Shannon Jackson’s discussion of early twentieth-century university theatre programs in Professing Performance: Theatre in the Academy from Philology to Performativity (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 16.
    Mark S. Morrisson, The Public Face of Modernism: Little Magazines, Audiences, and Reception, 1905–1920 (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2001), 3; 9.Google Scholar
  15. Richard Ohmann’s Selling Culture: Magazines, Markets, and Class at the Turn of the Century (London: Verso, 1996).Google Scholar
  16. 18.
    James L. W. West, American Authors and the Literary Marketplace since 1900 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988), 24.Google Scholar
  17. 20.
    Orville K. Larson, Scene Design in the American Theatre from 1915 to 1960 (Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas Press, 1989), 46.Google Scholar
  18. 21.
    Dorothy Chansky, Composing Ourselves: The Little Theatre Movement and the American Audience (Carbondale: Southern Illinois Press, 2004), 82.Google Scholar
  19. 23.
    Olga Taxidou, Mask: A Periodical Performance by Edward Gordon Craig (Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1998,) 3.Google Scholar
  20. 24.
    Sheldon Cheney, “The Most Important Thing in the Theatre,” Theatre Arts Magazine 1, no. 4 (1917): 171.Google Scholar
  21. 26.
    DeAnna M. Toten Beard, Sheldon Cheney’s Theatre Arts Magazine: Promoting a Modern American Theatre, 1916–1921 (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2009), 4.Google Scholar
  22. 27.
    Peter Jelavich, Munich and Theatrical Modernism: Politics, Playwriting, and Performance 1890–1914 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985), 2.Google Scholar
  23. 31.
    Sheldon Cheney, “The Stage Designs of A. A. Andries,” Theatre Arts Magazine 1, no. 1 (1916): 23.Google Scholar
  24. 33.
    Sheldon Cheney, “Cloyd Head’s Grotesques,” Theatre Arts Magazine 1, no. 1 (1916): 15.Google Scholar
  25. 34.
    Hiram Kelly Moderwell, “The Art of Robert Edmond Jones,” Theatre Arts Magazine 1, no. 2 (1917): 50–61.Google Scholar
  26. 37.
    Hiram Kelly Moderwell, “A Note about Lee Simonson,” Theatre Arts Magazine 2, no. 1 (1917): 15.Google Scholar
  27. 38.
    Lee Simonson, “The Painter and the Stage,” Theatre Arts Magazine 2, no. 1 (1917): 6.Google Scholar
  28. 42.
    Sheldon Cheney, “The Exhibition of American Stage Designs at the Bourgeois Galleries,” Theatre Arts Magazine 3, no. 2 (1919): 81.Google Scholar
  29. 43.
    Rollo Peters, “The Newest Art,” Theatre Arts Magazine 2, no. 3 (1918): 120.Google Scholar
  30. 44.
    Herman Rosse, “Artificiality and Reality in the Future Theatre,” Theatre Arts Magazine 3, no. 2 (1919): 97.Google Scholar
  31. 45.
    Rollo Peters, “If I Must,” Theatre Arts Magazine 3, no. 2 (1919): 98.Google Scholar
  32. 46.
    Raymond Johnson, “The New Stage Designing,” Theatre Arts Magazine 3, no. 2 (1919): 122.Google Scholar
  33. 47.
    Norman Bel Geddes, “The Theatre of the Future,” Theatre Arts Magazine 3, no. 2 (1919): 123.Google Scholar
  34. 48.
    Bruce Bliven, “Norman-Bel Geddes: His Art and Ideas,” Theatre Arts Magazine 3, no. 3 (1919): 179–90.Google Scholar
  35. 49.
    Norman Bel Geddes, A Project for a Theatrical Presentation of The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri (New York: Theatre Arts, 1924), 7.Google Scholar
  36. Kenneth Macgowan, “The Next Theatre,” Theatre Arts Magazine 5, no. 4 (1921): 310.Google Scholar
  37. 50.
    Bel Geddes was introduced to Craig’s theories through Moderwell’s The Theatre of To-day (London: John Lane, 1914).Google Scholar
  38. Jennifer Davis Roberts, Norman Bel Geddes: An Exhibition of Theatrical and Industrial Designs (Austin, TX: Michener Galleries, Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, 1979), 8.Google Scholar
  39. 51.
    Norman Bel Geddes, Miracle in the Evening, ed. William Kelley (New York: Doubleday, 1960), 248.Google Scholar
  40. 53.
    Norman Bel Geddes, Horizons (Boston: Little, Brown, 1932), 156.Google Scholar
  41. Fredrick J. Hunter also describes Bel Geddes’s working process in “Norman Bel Geddes’ Conception of Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy,’” Educational Theatre Journal 18, no. 3 (1966): 238–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. 55.
    Martin Puchner, “Manifesto = Theatre,” Theatre Journal 54, no. 3 (2002): 451.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. 59.
    Sheldon Cheney, “The International Exhibition in Amsterdam,” Theatre Arts Magazine 6, no. 2 (1922): 140.Google Scholar
  44. 64.
    Christopher Innes, Designing Modern America: Broadway to Main Street (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005), 30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Innes cites a series of publications that ran images of Bel Geddes’s Divine Comedy Design, including the journals Theatre Arts (1921).Google Scholar
  46. 65.
    Dana Sue McDermott, “The Apprenticeship of Robert Edmond Jones,” Theatre Survey 29, no. 2 (1988): 195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Christine Stansell, American Moderns: Bohemian New York and the Creation of a New Century (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2000), 57–58.Google Scholar
  48. 67.
    Kenneth Macgowan, The Theatre of Tomorrow (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1921), 13.Google Scholar
  49. 68.
    Kenneth Macgowan and Robert Edmond Jones, Continental Stagecraft (New York: Harcourt, 1922), ix.Google Scholar
  50. 74.
    Lee Simonson, The Stage Is Set (New York: Theatre Arts, 1963), 17–18.Google Scholar
  51. 81.
    Lee Simonson, “Settings and Costumes in the United States,” in Settings and Costumes of the Modern Stage, with Theodore Komisarjevsky (London: Studio Limited, 1933), 95.Google Scholar
  52. 82.
    Lee Simonson, Part of a Lifetime: Drawings and Designs 1919–1940 (New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, 1943), 67.Google Scholar
  53. 83.
    Raynette Halvorsen Smith, “Where Are the American Women Scene Designers?,” Theatre Design and Technology 24, no. 1 (Spring 1988): 54.Google Scholar
  54. 86.
    Aline Bernstein, Three Blue Suits (New York: Equinox Cooperative Press, 1933), 10.Google Scholar
  55. 89.
    Aline Bernstein, “Scissors and Sense,” Theatre Arts Monthly 9, no. 8 (1925): 515–16.Google Scholar
  56. 90.
    Richard Kennedy, “Forward,” in My Other Loneliness: Letters of Thomas Wolfe and Aline Bernstein, ed. Suzannne Stutman (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1983), xix.Google Scholar
  57. 94.
    Aline Bernstein, The Journey Down (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1938), 130.Google Scholar
  58. 97.
    Aline Bernstein, The Martha Washington Doll Book (New York: Howell, Soskin, 1945), n.p.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Christin Essin 2012

Authors and Affiliations

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations