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Theater is an intricate form of artistic expression. Some of its main applications include the creation of an avenue for the transfusion of culture from one generation to another and maintenance of the uniqueness of various aspects of specific societies. Plays form part of the many ways through which theater passes on culture through several generations in a society.
Although educative in nature, plays also serve as means of entertainment for most people. Themes represent the important elements that comprise a play or story. Unlike storytelling, plays bring imagery in stories to life. They enable audience to connect better with the story while obtaining entertainment as a bonus.
However, the successful execution of these functions depends on the observance of certain aspects of the play by the various involved parties. For instance, the utilization of objects such as lighting, props, and costumes has the ability to affect the audience’s perception of the play and understanding of the story.
To aid in a better elaboration of this concept, this paper explores a case study of the play Romeo and Juliet presented at the California Shakespeare Center on 25 July 2013. The essence is to analyze lighting, props, and costumes in terms of their effect on the themes in the story and a general understanding of the entire play by the audience.
One of the most important aspects in designing a set for a play is choosing the appropriate lighting for each scene. The lighting helps in the creation of the mood for the play and enhances the theme so that the audience connects with the director’s vision for the play.
For instance, dim lighting creates a romantic or sad feel to a scene in a play, thus enabling the audience to understand the story through emotional connection through enhancement via light. Therefore, it is utterly critical to make the right choice of lighting depending on various factors such as the location of the stage and the time of day the play shows.
For the play, Romeo and Juliet, a California Shakespeare Theater production hosted on the theater grounds on 25 July 2013, the directors, in conjunction with the set designers, chose to hold the play at an outdoor setting. This aspect means that factors such as natural light from the sun or moon or foggy weather came into consideration.
The crew thus had to ensure that the lighting sets the mood for each scene without interference by these circumstances. One of the main advantages for the location is that the natural surrounding creates a more realistic feeling to the play as it is easier to incorporate scenes that require nature’s raw beauty outdoors than it is to create such on an indoor setting.
The crew did a brilliant job in choosing the location as well as the time of day to show the play. The Shakespeare Center is located on a hilly serene area with lush green trees and a cool breeze. In consideration of the fact that most people refer to the play as a romantic story, albeit with a tragic ending, the scenery matches the general theme of the entire play.
The only disadvantage for the setting is the chilly weather that results from the cold evening breeze, which is typical of mountainous regions. The choice of location provided for perfect lighting for the entire play. The lighting enhanced the themes of contract between light and darkness, irony, and romance without the application of excessive effort on the part of the set designer.
For instance, in the balcony scene where Romeo meditates on Juliet’s beauty, it is easy for the audience to create the contrast between the sun and the moon as they experience both during the performance of the play by watching the sunset and the moon rise.
The time set for the play allowed the audience to ease into the play using natural evening light and gradual transition into artificial lighting, thus creating an overall natural mood to the occurrence of the play. This way, the play felt more ‘real’ as opposed to an act, hence enabling better emotional and psychological connection with the audience.
Additionally, it is much easier to introduce light in right amounts to a dark area than it is to make a bright area appropriately dark when need be, a concept that the set designers took full advantage. For instance, the use of lighting during the scene where the two lovers spend a night together, the use of appropriately dim lighting enabled the designers create a romantic feel to the episode, and matching the director’s vision for the part in the play.
The use of floodlights to create the illusion of daytime also worked perfectly in creating irony in the contrast between light and darkness. For instance, the audience experienced the difference between the romantic and seemingly rightful acts done in the scene where the lovers lay together at night and the scene immediately after, where Romeo has to leave in the morning to commence his exile, which is a seemingly shameful duty.
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It is easy for the audience to connect with the storyline of a play just by looking at the costumes that the actors wear. The choice of costumes indicates the culture and societal norms to which the audience should relate the play. For instance, the play Romeo and Juliet is reminiscent of the Edwardian era during which the playwright, Shakespeare, lived.
Attire in the Edwardian era was indicative of society’s insistence on chastity as one of its most important moral values, especially for women, and class for men. Most plays’ directors and designers who organize plays based on Shakespeare’s script comply with this mode of dress as a communication tool with the audience and project themes in the story in general.
However, the director, Shana Cooper, with assistance from the costume designer, Christine Crook, decided to take a different direction by using modern designs for the play apparel as opposed to costumes that indicate the story’s expected cultural background. The main advantage for use of such costumes concerning the audiences is that it enables them to apply a more modern perspective to the story as opposed to the application of imagination as is usually the case in most Shakespeare plays.
By choosing outfits such as jeans, sneakers, and dresses with modern designs, the costume designer appeals to the audiences’ experiences as a basis for their understanding of the story as is the director’s plan, which is easier for most people in the current era. In the play, the costume designer applied the use of fabrics such as satin and lace with a modern cut to reflect Juliet’s class as opposed to depending on the overall medieval designs.
In addition, the length of dresses for female actors in the play remains below knee length to embody the theme of chastity present in plays with older settings. Also notable in Juliet’s costume is the designer’s use of sheer fabric that creates a sense of rebellion and indicates the character’s age without compromising on the elegance representative of the character’s social class in the play.
Although the use of modern outfits such as costumes adds a new twist to the story, it also alters the mindset of the audience regarding the concept of the story. The original story reflects on the culture of the Edwardian era and the consequences that came with the practice of society’s norms at the time. However, in Shana Coopers’ twist, that concept is lost through the application of modern apparel to a classic story.
Another disadvantage of using a different range of costumes is that some of the themes lose their meaning in the story. For instance, chastity decreases in importance in relation to the story when the audience can see through the main character’s dress, thus presenting a very different ideology from what Shakespeare had in mind.
The inclusion of nudity, albeit of a mild nature, when Romeo and Juliet spend the night together also creates a different perspective of norms that were morally acceptable in the story. Although the scene is more believable to the audience, it alters their perception on discretion concerning sexual behavior.
Overall, although the costumes add a modern twist to the story, they also take away some aspects that are unique to the play, such as the cultural nature of the society that the story represents.
Props are objects that actors use on stage to aid in their performance, especially in the expression of various concepts in a play. They are essential in creating a better understanding of the story for the audience through reflecting the director’s vision for the play. Most enactments of Romeo and Juliet create scenes that represent the setting of the Edwardian era, which mainly consisted of buildings that reflected social stratification on the society.
For instance, the Capulet and the Montague families in the play represent two feuding families from the same social class. Therefore, in most cases, plays include props that indicate their wealthy status, such as antique furniture and elegant buildings with balconies with the most common being castle designed props. Although seemingly irrelevant with regard to the storyline, they are crucial in creating the appropriate mental picture for the audience.
The overall application of the props on set enhanced themes such as danger and violence, although the designer failed to exploit the full potential of the props in the creation of a realistic experience throughout the story. Although the application of an outdoor setting is creative in making the mood for the play, the set designer, Daniel Ostling, fails to utilize the appropriate application of props in the play.
Such oversight diminishes the importance and portrayal of themes, such as wealth, which are important in the understanding of the reason behind the constant violence between the two families. Instead of props that indicate majestic buildings, the set designer uses a makeshift balcony and a ladder that in no way portrays elegance.
It is difficult for an audience to imagine Romeo as a man from a rich family when the actor portraying the character stands on a plain platform in place of a balcony. Additionally, in doing so, the designer exhibits his or her assumption that the audience is conversant with the story, thus denying the portion of the audience who are experiencing the play for the first time some important details to the story.
Another disadvantage of using inadequate props for the play is that they change the audience’s perception of the performance. Most actors endear to make their performances feel as real as possible by telling the story behind the play as best they can. However, by using substandard props, the set designer reduces the performances of the actors to mere illustrations.
The downside to such action is that such an audience may only appreciate the experience enough to watch the performance once and may not recommend the same to others, hence reducing revenue generation for the theater and esteem for the actors. Not all props in the play were substandard.
However, some props were impressive, hence creating a feeling of exhilaration for the audience. For instance, the use of a real fire pit added the realness of the story, and thus making the performance more realistic. The utilization of an outdoor setup added to the possibility of creativity for the set designer in enhancing themes such as violence and danger.
Although the play provided much entertainment and observed a majority of the essential components of the story, the use of lighting, choice of costumes, and props largely affected the audience’s perception of the story in the play. Some of the effects were positive while others were negative in the sense that they altered the overall story and the subsequent lessons the author sought to impart. In essence, the play was a nice performance, with a modern twist to a classic tale.