The Designer as Cultural Critic

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


In a 1944 New York Times interview, Robert Edmond Jones bemoaned the continued commercialization of the American stage. The New Stagecraft may have legitimized the design profession and brought renown to its artists but, he conceded, it had failed to inspire a truly innovative modern American theatre. In the minds of many audiences, the New Stagecraft had been merely one scenographic style among many, a movement that was “over and done” because it became “fashionable.”1 He described a conversation at a cocktail party with a woman raving about a recent production that included a “real icebox” and “real ice cubes.” “This gave me something to think about,” Jones mused. “My mind ranged back thirty years to the famous Childs Restaurant which David Belasco set boldly on the stage of his theatre in the third act of ‘The Governor’s Lady,’ complete with real coffee urns and real waiters and real butter cakes. Here we are, I thought, after thirty years, face to face with the old conflict between realism and imagination in the theatre.”2 For Jones, “Belascoism”—the wholesale insertion of “real” items onstage to represent “real” locations offstage—was the antithesis of an imaginative design process that embraced the stage as a canvas open to interpretation. It failed to reach the same artistic standard as the New Stagecraft, he argued.


Stage Designer Cultural Critic Representational Strategy Realistic Detail Suburban House 
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© Christin Essin 2012

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