The Framing Device

Consider this a prologue.

Last autumn, I took a course on performance spaces. In my opinion, the course itself was not at all well-designed, but the material was very interesting. We looked at classical Greek ampitheatres, modern site-specific performance spaces and just about everything in between (with the inexplicable exception of English Renaissance theatre).

There's a lot to be said on this, and I plan on writing more eventually, but at present I want to make just one single, oversimplified point.

In the Italian Renaissance, the proscenium stage began to replace the ampitheatre. There's some debate as to why this happened. The visual artists of the period had discovered perspective -- if you painted or drew a two-dimensional picture in a certain way, you could create an illusion of depth. One theory has it scene-painters, realizing the potential of perspective for their backdrops, encouraged the development of the proscenium arch as a framing device to place the audience directly in front of the stage -- the illusion would fail within the banked seating of an ampitheatre.

Nowadays staging is more diverse. Many stages are still framed by the proscenium arch, but others are surrounded by or surround their audiences, and sometimes the barrier between audience and stage is broken down altogether. Different framing devices create different effects.

There's an interesting type of theatre going on in Canada today that isn't often examined[1] as such. Its actors are heavily scripted and increasingly bad at memorizing their lines. Performances occasionally border on the catatonic, while new set designs are met with outrage. Reviews are poor all around. And things keep getting worse; most of the cast doesn't even bother to show up for performances anymore.

But we needn't worry -- a solution has been proposed:

Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski suggested on Tuesday that the House of Commons broadcasters avoid using wide shots on days when attendance in the House is meagre, in an effort to keep viewers in the dark on how many MPs are actually present.

"It concerns a lot of members, and it frankly doesn’t look good for Parliament," he told the Procedure and House Affairs committee, which is reviewing the broadcasting guidelines.

Time we stopped messing about with framing devices and took a closer look at the picture, don't you think?

  1. This doesn't count, but it's hilarious. ↩︎