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Gordon Craig's Scene Project: a history open to revision


The article proposes a review of Gordon Craig's Scene project, an invention patented in 1910 and developed until 1922. Craig himself kept an ambiguous position whether it was an unfulfilled project or not. His son and biographer Edward Craig sustained that Craig's original aims were never achieved because of technical limitation, and most of the scholars who examined the matter followed this position. Departing from the actual screen models saved in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Craig's original notebooks, and a short film from 1963, I defend that the patented project and the essay published in 1923 mean, indeed, the materialisation of the dreamed device of the thousand scenes in one scene.

Screens; Scene; Models; Stagecraft; History


O artigo propõe uma revisão do projeto Scene, de Gordon Craig, uma invenção patenteada em 1910 e desenvolvida até 1922. O próprio Craig manteve uma posição ambígua sobre se foi ou não um projeto irrealizado. Seu filho e biógrafo Edward Craig sustentou que as aspirações originais de Craig nunca foram alcançadas devido a limitações técnicas, e a maioria dos estudiosos que examinaram o assunto seguiram essa posição. Partindo das telas modelos guardadas na Biblioteca Nacional da França, dos cadernos de anotação originais de Craig e de um curta-metragem de 1963, eu defendo que o projeto patenteado e o ensaio publicado em 1923 representam, de fato, a concretização do sonhado dispositivo das mil cenas em uma cena.

Telas; Cena; Modelos; Cenotécnica; História


L'article a pour but de faire une révision du projet Scene, de Gordon Craig, une invention brevetée en 1910 et développée jusqu'en 1922. Craig lui-même a soutenu une position ambiguë s'il s'agissait ou non d'un projet irréalisé. Son fils et biographe, Edward Craig a défendu que les aspirations originales de Craig n'aient jamais été atteintes à cause des limitations techniques et la plupart des chercheurs qui ont examiné la question ont suivi cette position. Je pars des écrans modèles gardés à la Bibliothèque Nationale de France, des cahiers d'annotations originaux de Craig et d'un court métrage datant de 1963, pour défendre que le projet breveté et l'essai publié en 1923 représentent la vraie concrétisation du dispositif rêvé des milles scènes en une scène.

Écrans; Scène; Modèles; Techniques de Scénographie; Histoire

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  • BABLET, Denis. The Theatre of Edward Gordon Craig. London: Eyre Methuen, 1981.
  • CRAIG, Edward Gordon. Scene (Notebook). Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale de France, 1910. (Microfilm Craig's Collection.)
  • CRAIG, Edward Gordon. Model A - scale of measurements. Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale de France , 1910. (Microfilm Craig's Collection.)
  • CRAIG, Edward Gordon. Scene. London: Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, 1923.
  • CRAIG, Edward Gordon. Catalogue of an Exhibition of Drawings and Models for Hamlet, Macbeth, the Vikings and Other Plays. Manchester: Manchester Art Gallery, 1912.
  • CRAIG, Edward Gordon. A Word of Recognition. In: CRAIG, Edward Gordon. Toward a New Theatre - forty designs for stage scenes with critical notes by the inventor Edward Gordon Craig. New York: Benjamin Blon Inc., 1969.
  • CRAIG, Edward. Gordon Craig: the story of his life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1968.
  • DORN, Karen. Dialogue into Movement: W. B Yeats's theatre collaboration with Gordon Craig. In: DORN, Karen. Players and Painted Stage: the theatre of W. B. Yeats. Sussex/New Jersey: The Harvest Press/Barnes and Nobles, 1984.
  • EDWARD Gordon Craig. Direção: P. Guilbert e A. Venstein. Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale de France , 1963. 16mm, son., black and white. (Gordon Craig Collection.)
  • EYNAT-CONFINO, Irène. Beyond the Mask: Gordon Craig, movement, and the actor. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1987.
  • INNES, Christopher. Edward Gordon Craig: a vision of theatre. London/New York: Routledge, 1998.
  • NEWMAN, L. M. Resources for the Future Study of Edward Gordon Craig: the seventh annual Gordon Craig memorial lecture, Venice. In: NEWMAN, L. M. Gordon Craig Archive: international survey. London: Malkin Press, 1974.
  • ROOD, Arnold. After the Practice, the Theory: Gordon Craig and the movement. Typescript of the 3rd Annual Gordon Craig Lecture, prepared for publication in Theatre Research, with some additional material. New York: Victoria & Albert Museum, 1970.
  • ROOD, Arnold. After the Practice, the Theory: Gordon Craig and the movement. Theatre Research, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, v. II, n. 2-3, p. 81-101, 1971.
  • SENELICK, Lawrence. Gordon Craig's Moscow Hamlet. Westport/London: Greenwood Press, 1982.
  • SYMONS, Arthur. A New Art of the Stage. In: SYMONS, Arthur. Studies in Seven Arts. New York: E. P. Duton and Co., 1907.
  • YEATS, William Butler. Plays for an Irish Theatre. London/Stratford-Upon-Avon: A. H. Bullen, 1911.
  • 1
    Edward Gordon Craig (1963), directed by P. Guilbert and A. Venstein.
  • 2
    In 1913, after having already worked hard with models and screen samplers for a long time, the book Towards a New Theatre, with forty images - some recently carved, others etchings made in 1907 -, already drafted the idea of a historical evolution of stage patterns, one that will be fully developed in the final version of the text called Scene from the 1920s. Basically, there he will definitely affirm that his invention, the one patented in 1910, means a fifth period for the theatre history - the first one was the Greek theatre; the second one was the Christian medieval theatre; the third one was the commedia dell'arte; and the fourth one was the post-renascence theatre, played inside buildings, and which, according to Craig, seized theatricality with the burden of realistic representations.
  • 3
    "So then I would have given you the thing itself, no its likeness, had I been employed after having shown what I could do. But even in spite of all this indifference I have been able to take the work a step forward towards reality by taking a step back. In this way, these etchings we can call the parent work from which another has sprung. This other is smaller - aims to do less - ask less - and in some ways resembles its parent. It was a by-product of the twenty designs at the end of the book. This lesser scene, 'The Thousand Scenes in one scene', I have used once in a Theatre in Moscow for a performance of 'Hamlet', and it has been used by W. B. Yeats, to whom I was proud to give it, in some performances in his old Abbey Theatre. But even though it has been used in all, I suppose, for about five hundred performances, it has never been used as I intended it to be used, except on two large models stages which I built in Florence. On these stages I allowed it to live and it behaved well. In Moscow and Dublin it was not quite free to be itself and I cannot think it did well" (Craig, 1923, p. 19-20).
  • 4
    The collection of Arnold Rood was donated by him, before his death, in 1985, to the Victoria & Albert Museum, from London, England, and can be researched at the reading room in the Blythe House, a building of that institution in Kensington Olympia.
  • 5
    Arnold Rood, following Edward Craig's suggestion, magnifies the role played over Craig's Scene project by Isadora Duncan and her free style dance practices.
  • 6
    He published the illustrations with the patent specifications and some of Craig's stage layouts for some of the productions Craig devised graphically.
  • 7
    To follow Le Boeuf's point about the deep contradictions in Craig's theoretical production, see his article Gordon Craig's Self-Contradictions in this same issue of the Brazilian Journal on Presence Studies.
  • 8
    The models were very similar to puppet theatres, with a stage box structure where the screens could be handled and lit up.
  • 9
    The series of etchings labelled Scene was produced in 1907 and published in Towards a New Theatre (1913).
  • 10
    Eynat-Confino has made a detailed description of the productions of the Purcell Operatic Society: Dido & Aeneas (1900), Masque of Love (1901), and Acis & Galatea (1902) (Eynat-Confino, 1987, p. 34-41).
  • 11
    Since Dido & Aeneas, from 1900, Craig was indeed making an important move towards the idea of a scene, this new place that historically would mark a new conception of the theatrical space. Two other outstanding stagings made in the following two years would be accomplished: Masque of Love, in 1901 (of Purcell Dioclecian and presented in the Coronet Theatre, in Nothing Hill in a double bill with Dido and Aeneas); and Acis and Galatea, in 1902, (from Haendel, and presented in the Great Queen Theatre in a double bill with Masque of Love). In the same Venstein's short film already mentioned, Craig remembers these past performances very clearly and says that they were the best things he actually did in theatre.
  • 12
    Transcription of Craig's speech in Edward Gordon Craig (1963).
  • 13
    Transcription of Craig's speech in Edward Gordon Craig (1963).
  • 14
    The text was republished, authorized by The Times, in the catalogue of another exhibition of the Craig's sceneries and models, realized in 1912 in Manchester City: Catalogue of an Exhibition of Drawings and Models for Hamlet, Macbeth, the Vikings and Other Plays (Craig, 1912).
  • 15
    Karen Dorn details how Yeats, working with Craig's screens, changed completely the first staging of The Hour Glass, from 1905, in the staging made in 1911, and, even, the dramatic version in the second staging with the screens, in 1912 (Dorn, 1984, p. 23-33).
  • 16
    In November 2013 I proposed to the students of Dr. Hugh Denard, Assistant Professor in Digital Arts and Humanities, Trinity College Dublin, the development of a virtual Screens Game, made of Craig's patent specification of the Scene project. They actually developed a virtual simulation of the screens' use Yeats has done in the Abbey Theatre staging of The Hour Glass, in 1911. See in: <>.

Publication Dates

  • Publication in this collection
    Dec 2014


  • Received
    01 Mar 2014
  • Accepted
    11 May 2014
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