Immaterial Light in Scenography | Symposium Paper

Theatre & Performance Research Association (TaPRA) Postgraduate Symposium 2018 | Materials and Materiality: How do they Matter?

9 February 2018 | Central Bankside, The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London.


Material form from immaterial content: Light and architecture as mediums in contemporary scenography

RAPHAÉ MEMON | Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

Light is immaterial, but has a function to make material. We can align the discovery of fire (light) to the origins of theatre. In the space of the black box theatre, or in the context of the city or live event, light as a material helps to negotiate and direct the making and perception of space. This paper will discuss the role of light as a casting medium, in generating space through scenography.

We can learn a lot about immaterial light from architectonic principles set out by 1st century BC architect Vitruvius. He described the gathering of people around a fire in the forest as the first form of assembly. This was a crowd around light, as action, and therefore as an act of theatre. The telling of stories around the fire developed into new methods of engaging and mesmerising audiences. For example, the use of light as a crucial material in Kanye West’s 2016 ‘Saint Pablo Tour’ and Beyoncé’s 2016 ‘Formation Tour’ creates a setting of the contemporary gathering around light, thus highlighting the importance of how an immaterial light is able to cast a material spell on audiences. Light performs on the architecture of this staging, and scenography is created and experienced like no other.

Contemporary scenography is most effective when light and architecture come together in synergy, with the assembly of people as fundamental. Vitruvius stated how his primitive gathering around the fire was like a congregation of atoms, getting energy from the light. When creating theatre, light is both the casting and binding medium. However, what this paper uncovers is the importance and benefits of an architectural understanding into creating scenography with immaterial light.


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