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Developing the Modern Scene Design Process: Cognition and the New Stagecraft

Bisaha, David (2015) Developing the Modern Scene Design Process: Cognition and the New Stagecraft. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation examines the working processes and professional activities of American scenic designers between 1910 and 1950. Beginning with the assertion that a common idea of design process has persisted among American professionals for much of the century, my case studies probe the history of “the process.” Previous historians have noted that the modern scene design process was heavily informed by the New Stagecraft movement and promulgated its aesthetic values: simplicity, unification, collaboration. Inspired by European modernist production, especially the work of Edward Gordon Craig, Adolph Appia, and Max Reinhardt, New Stagecraft artists produced simplified or abstract settings, unified design concepts, and introduced a more collaborative production model. This dissertation argues that the New Stagecraft revolution was not only an aesthetic shift, but also the beginning of theatrical design as a profession. I do so by analyzing ways in which New Stagecraft designers defined and defended their professional status. They developed new tools for script analysis and documenting their work, published books and articles demonstrating the value of good design, and strategically allied themselves with organized labor and major universities. They also institutionalized their practices in labor regulations, entrance exams, and educational curricula. The perceived stasis of the design process can be attributed to the preservation of specific design behaviors in these institutions. Methodologically I draw on studies of designing based in the cognitive and design sciences. Archived remnants of past designers are analyzed through principles of situated and extended cognition, such as offloading, affordances, and artifact use. I then develop my conclusions through concepts of professional expertise, including reflective practice and practicum education, and finally link individual practices to social change by applying the history of professionalization as it has been developed by sociologists. In total this dissertation charts a method for applying cognitive studies research to theatrical design history, and a way of linking private creative practices to larger changes in theatrical production methods. By studying the behavior of influential scenic designers, both in the studio and in their professional networks, I show how strategically placed individuals’ processes came to define the field.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairMcConachie, Brucebamcco@pitt.eduBAMCCO
Committee MemberArmstrong, Christopher Drewcda68@pitt.eduCDA68
Committee MemberJackson-Schebetta, Lisalisajsch@pitt.eduLISAJSCH
Committee MemberGranshaw, Michellemkg31@pitt.eduMKG31
Date: 17 June 2015
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 8 April 2015
Approval Date: 17 June 2015
Submission Date: 14 April 2015
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 287
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Theater Arts
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Scene Design, New Stagecraft, Cognition, Design History, Theatrical Design
Date Deposited: 17 Jun 2015 16:01
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:27


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