A Guide to Studying the Relationship Between Engineering and Theatre

by Debra Bruch


The Experience of Theatre

How Theatre Happens

Directing Theatre

The Relationship Between Engineering and Audience

-- Introduction

-- The Space

-- Technical Conditions

-- Climate Conditions

-- Safety

-- Theatrical Conventions

-- Performance Conventions

-- Style Conventions

-- Creativity

Theatrical Conventions



The Unexpected

The Revelation


Magical means to make the engineering product appear without showing the mechanism that makes it work. The magical convention usually stimulates a sense of wonder in the patron, and helps create an otherworldliness kind of experience for the audience. As with all theatrical conventions, the Magical theatrical convention happens during performance.

Much of the machinery during the Italian Renaissance period, especially machinery to change scenery, was developed to allow the magical convention. The style of the day was to create illusion. Combining the illusion created by perspective and the illusion created by the magical convention run by unseen machinery helped create a theatrical world, an otherworldliness, for the patron. Combined with audience expectations, the illusion created a world in the theatre of what ought to be. The illusion was a reality to the patron, and the magical convention helped make it real according to the verisimilitude of the time by stimulating a sense of mystery or wonder. Mystery was a factor in separating the everyday world of what is with the theatrical world portraying what ought to be.

Theatrical artists/engineers who developed machinery during the late nineteenth century had a different goal relating to the ideology of the day. Their goal was to create the illusion of a reality of perception primarily through the five senses. By concealing the mechanism that made something work, the audience saw the theatrical world paralleling the everyday world. The verisimilitude in the theatre depended on a matching of what they saw and heard onstage either with what they actually saw and heard outside the theatre or, if their life experiences were narrow, with what they believed to exist in real life outside the theatre. Belasco was especially concerned with crafting that kind of illusion.

Modern productions in proscenium type of theatres often, but not always, use the magical convention. The opening number of the 1980s run of Pippin in New York City showed what seemed to be a lonely handkerchief on the stage floor. The actor reached down and pulled on it and, magically, the entire set entered the stage. It set a vital mood of wonder, mystery, theatricality, and magic for the remaining performance. Sound and lighting are also major utilities for the magical convention in many modern theatre productions.

© Debra Bruch 2005