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The Search for Dynamic Imagery
Raimonda Bitinaitė-Širvinskienė
The influence of cinema
Set designs of the 1950s and 1960s were transformed by a search for dynamic imagery. The pace of life intensified. In the mid-20th century, cinema and television markedly changed society's daily life and its recreational and social habits. The dynamic images streaming from movie and television screens had a magical influence on viewers, reinforcing the sense that the world was constantly changing around them. Film clips and projected images began making inroads into theatres, driving out and replacing boring, static painted backgrounds with dynamic and active imagery that often competed with actors for attention.
Western European theatres embraced surprising experiments in set design beginning in the mid-20th century.  Several screens would be placed on stage showing different evolving storylines simultaneously. A leader in the creation of split-screen techniques was the Czech set design master Josef Svoboda, who in 1959 incorporated nine screens with close-up and distant imagery filmed from various angles (for example in Josef Topol's Jejich den [Their Day]). With the help of moving screens, Svoboda recreated the controversial political events of the day (in Algeria and Vietnam) and create visual doubles and "live broadcasts" featuring footage filmed with television cameras during the performance, both outside and inside the theatre, that was then immediately shown on the screens on stage.
Understandably, Lithuanians could only dream of such fantastical events, even if they were aware of them from journals and magazines. Financially strapped Lithuanian theatres had a difficult time even showing a few clips of filmed footage. Mikhail Percov alone adapted filmed images for his production of Nikolai Pogodin's Third Pathétique in 1961, using them as a symbol for an ever-changing reality. Naturally, such expensive equipment could only be employed in so-called "mandatory program" productions for which the state provided more ample funding.
Nevertheless, resourceful Lithuanian artists found other ways to create cinematographic effects, drawing on their past experience and work with painting. They revived the practice of creating myriorama MyrioramaFrom the Greek, myriados meaning ten thousand, and horama meaning image. discovered in the 19th century, arranging a series of paintings in a row on a flat surface. The swath of images was rolled onto a spool which, when turned, would allow the images to move and change. The changing imagery introduced dramatic intrigue for the viewing audience, creating the illusion of evolving action and helping to avoid the need for curtains that "cut off" sections of the performance.
This method was used to "demonstrate" set designs by Mikhail Percov for Pavel Kohout's play Such a Love in 1957. Later, Percov tried various adaptations of projected imagery, incorporating them into the text to relay the contrasts between reality and visions, the everyday and the ideal–perhaps the only artist in Lithuania to do so at the time.
Most artists, however, continued to employ the conceit of painted scenes.  Romualdas Lukšas painted a screen to symbolize the view of the world through a window  (in Václav Blažek's A Rich Evening in 1961). Janina Malinauskaitė's set designs for Benjaminas Gorbulskis' operetta Meilė ir skarda (Love and Tin), produced at the Kaunas Musical Theatre in 1960, portrayed symbols depicting life's progress. In a 1961 production of Ignas Pikturna's Saulei tekant (As the Sun Rises), Lithuanian designer Jonas Vilutis, inspired by the laterna magica Laterna magicaLaterna magica (from the Latin, meaning "magic lantern"), is a device, similar to a diafilm projector, for displaying images painted on glass. The first images using this device were displayed by changing illuminated images on coloured slides placed into a wooden or cardboard box, which then appeared on a wall or screen. Images reminiscent of shadow theatre helped create facsimiles of moving people or changing natural scenery. It is believed that the laterna magica was discovered in 1640 by the German Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680).  Other sources claim that the discovery should be credited to the Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695). Plays using this display technique were quite popular in the mid-17th century. in 1795, the viewing public showed particular interest in the phantasmagorical productions by Belgian stage magician Étienne-Gaspard Robert (Robertson), who, with the help of talented actors and musicians, used projection to create the images of witches, spirits and people rising from the dead. The laterna magica was revived and perfected in the 20th century by the Czech director Alfréd Radok and set designer Josef Svoboda. The improved technique was first shown at the World's Fair in Brussels in 1958. The Laterna Magika theatre has operated in Prague since 1959 (with Svoboda acting as artistic director from 1973 to 2002). technique used by Josef Svoboda, attempted to create a montage of several realistic images through painting.
Svoboda's creative work that was associated with expressionist pursuits and experimentation with projection and light was found to be closer to the traditions of Lithuanian set design. Lithuanians understood the attempts to evoke emotional effect through the use of beams of light as well as the creation of associative images modeled on the effects of sunlight and heat. Other Czech artists worked in the same expressionist spirit as Svoboda. František Trester reinforced imagery's dramatic nature by playing spaces against each other, creating hyperbolized images, and by using flashes of light to convey hostile human environments and emphasize human loneliness.
The influence of Svoboda's work is well illustrated by a production of William Shakespeare's Macbeth at the Panevėžys Drama Theatre, using transparent projected imagery. Designer Algimantas Mikėnas worked on the production together with director Juozas Miltinis. Projections of unfinished contoured drawings and the light from the projectors in the darkness were intended to highlight the dramatic condition and conflicting emotions of the play's protagonist. Miltinis' experimentations with lighting were undoubtedly influenced by his experiences in Paris and the creative work of his classmate, Jean Vilar. As director, Miltinis often experimented with projector placement himself on stage, seeking the proper lighting perspectives, arguing with artists, and looking for ways to more closely link the fluid stage imagery with the actor to reveal the central idea of the dramatic work.
Only after theatres installed new lighting equipment in 1964 did the opportunity arise to attempt more complex compositions, connecting projected images with drawings that were used often by both Czech artists as well as German (Karl von Appen) and Russian (Vadim Ryndin) designers.
For a 1964 production of Mikhail Sholokhov's play Virgin Soil Upturned at the Panevėžys Drama Theatre, designer Jonas Surkevičius fashioned montages of various panoramic images and a rotating, compact set construction. In his set design for Jonas Avyžius' Kaimas kryžkelėje (Village at a Crossroads), staged in 1965 at the Kaunas Drama Theatre, Feliksas Navickas utilized a huge cinerama screen, incorporating panoramic images on a magnified scale to create a sensation of freedom. A panorama painted from a low-angle perspective was then overlaid with a projection of the same drawing, creating an almost mystical image of immense expanses and a sense of freedom.
Projection was first used on the stage of the Lithuanian Opera by Estonian artist Voldemar Peilo in 1964. In the opera Gudrusis Antsas (The Sly Antz) by R. Pats, projections emphasized the ongoing changes in values and the hierarchical system, and the projected images took on symbolic meaning, supporting the artist's personal narrative.
Set designs as playful actors
As theatre repertoires changed between 1956 and 1968, so did the perception of dramatic genres. Comedies appeared more frequently alongside the usual mandatory "programmatic" plays, allowing designers to interpret staging more freely. Artists discovered a playful approach to set design, based on recurring movements, while repeatedly appearing objects complimented the movement. Unexpected situations and combinations—between human actors, or between humans and objects—engaged in one continuous playful narrative. Set designs became more mobile and dynamic, participating in the action of the play. The ancient Greek theatrical device known as periaktos PeriaktosPeriaktos (plural of periaktoi, Greek for "revolving") was a stage device consisting of a revolving, solid isosceles triangular prism that was used for displaying and rapidly changing scenes. Periaktos were used in ancient Greek and Roman theatre: each side of the prism would depict a different scene. The device came into frequent use in the 16th and 17th centuries, built on a larger scale than its ancient version, constructed from three frames and then covered with fabric on which landscapes, architectural details or skyscapes could be painted. Placing periaktos along the edges of the stage allowed designers to depict a sense of horizontal depth. The term "periaktos" was first used by Italian renaissance theatre. staged a rather surprising return to the scene. Many designers also began to use medieval "simultaneous setting Simultaneous settingSimultaneous setting, also called multiple setting, was a staging technique using the simultaneous display of several scenes representing all of the locales of a play. The first use of mobile sets (ekkyklema) appeared in ancient Greek theatre. In medieval theatre, set compositions were composed of several platforms or pavilions (representing heaven, gates, houses, palaces, hell). Baroque theatre also used similar sets with floors of various heights and multiple stages. In Lithuania, multiple setting was used in plays performed for the Grand Duke's court." compositions reminiscent of panel designs.
Igor Ivanov crafted a playful set design for a production of Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers at the Klaipėda Drama Theatre in 1965. Basing his parody of The Three Musketeers on improvisation, the play took place in settings that were constructed and then dismantled, using building blocks proposed by the designer. This helped reinforce the partnership between actor and set, recalling a 1933 production of Alfred de Musset's No Trifling with Love designed by Stasys Ušinskas using similar blocks. Interestingly, cubic compositions appeared several years later in set designs by Russian avant-gardists (by E. Stenberg, in Mayakovsky's Listen!). Ivanov's Three Musketeers evolved from Bertold Brecht's Herr Puntila und sein Knecht Matti (1963).
Cubic forms and the ancient simplicity of a graphic background recalling theatre's earliest roots were playfully adapted for a staging in 1967 at the Academic Drama Theatre of three one-act plays–Oratorius (The Orator), Maniakas (Maniac), and Pranašas Jona (The Prophet Jonah). The production's director Kazimiera Kymantaitė called on the modernist Vytautas Valius to be her set designer. The successful avant-garde concept for the play shaped later partnerships between directors and visual artists.
The use of repetitive patterns of elements and personified objects was playfully adapted by Viktorija Gatavynaitė in a children's play at the Youth Theatre called Ri-ku Ta-ku, hailed by critics as "one of the best plays for children created in our theatres in recent years." Antanas Vengris, „Ri-ku Ta-ku“, Tarybinis mokytojas, 1967 03 04. Similar accolades were given to designs using moving frames in Arūnas Tarabilda's production of The King Stag (1965) and Mikhail Percov's staging of Carlo Goldoni's La Donna Volubile (1959).
Ancient periaktos were used by the young artist Sofija Kanaverskytė in a production of N. Lyubimova's Stebuklingoji žolelė (Miraculous Grass) at the Panevėžys Drama Theatre in 1964.
New concepts for productions were not always well received by audiences, however. For many, such innovations were unacceptable precisely because they were unusual. Some teachers, for example, even forbade children to go see The Three Musketeers. Critics panned the production: "musketeers are handsome in the movies, but they were ugly" Roma Pauraitė „Nors eilės praretėjo“, Komjaunimo tiesa, 1966 01 26. in the Lithuanian production. Conservative viewers needed time to adjust to new aesthetics.
The newly discovered mobility of set designs and the evolving stage narrative were conducive to new interpretations of dramatic works. The young designer Dalia Mataitienė (then working under her maiden name Kopustinskaitė), selected for her first independent work the compositional design used one year earlier at the Warsaw Drama Theatre by Otto Axer, in a production of Masquerade. The set incorporated steps leading up to a rounded platform with rectangular panels arrayed in the centre. Mataitienė replaced the dramatically contrasting spaces and painted flats used by the Polish artist with a rhythmically arranged composition of light, geometric shapes.
The static appearance of the round, columned stage was deceptive. Once touched, the columns would transform into fluttering ribbons, creating an air of intrigue and unexpected allusions to carnival masks, thus complementing director Romualdas Juknevičius' emphasis on the work's farcical aspects, its incompatible characters and their aristocratic behavior. Mataitienė was among the first to understand the "performance" characteristics of set design and employed them with great effect in her designs for Masquerade. According to theatre critic Irena Aleksaitė: "From a visual perspective, Juknevičius' Masquerade was one of the most beautiful and striking productions on this theatre's stage." Irena Aleksaitė, Režisierius Romualdas Juknevičius, Vilnius: Baltos lankos, 1998, p. 317.
The same maneuverability in set design was attempted by director and set designer Jonas Surkevičius in his production of A Month in the Country in 1962. Light, translucent curtains that undulated with every movement on stage expressed the characters' "pent-up, fervent feelings" (I. Aleksaitė). According to Rachilė Krukaitė, "as the action progressed, audiences would come to understand that all of the objects on stage were also part of that action." Rachilė Krukaitė, „Reginys dinamikoje“, in: Muzika ir teatras: Almanachas, Vilnius: Vaga, 1966, p. 57. Having taken on a new role in theatre, set design testified to the artist's changing view of his fellow man and the world around him–one that was more intimate and more psychological in focus.
The moving images variously employed in the set designs of the 1960s complimented the action of their productions. Set design elements became active collaborators with actors. At the same time, it permitted designers to free themselves from a dependence on text and expand the visual characteristics of their productions.


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Sources and links

„Vaizdų invazija arba Tuštumos formavimas. Scenografijos pionieriai”, 2012 03 14
Irena Aleksaitė
Režisierius Romualdas Juknevičius
Vilnius: Baltos lankos, 1998
Rachilė Krukaitė
„Reginys dinamikoje“
Muzika ir teatras: Almanachas, Vilnius: Vaga, 1966
Roma Pauraitė
„Nors eilės praretėjo“
Komjaunimo tiesa, 1966 01 26
Antanas Vengris
„Ri-ku Ta-ku“
Tarybinis mokytojas, 1967 03 04
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