Scenographic practice in contemporary chamber Theatre

Scenographic practice in contemporary chamber Theatre

by Benjamin Schostakowski


This PhD research project explored scenographic practice in the creation and presentation of contemporary chamber theatre. The employed practice-led approach allowed for exploration of theoretical insights around stage composition within the chamber theatre form, directly resulting in the creation of two new performance works. This document details the development of the conceptual framework informed though creating What’s Wrong with Gregor Post? and the two creative practice research cycles creating A Tribute of Sorts (Versions I & II). The study arose from an enthusiasm of practice – my interest in creating contemporary theatre works that exploit intimacy through scenographic activation. The practical component of this study holds a weighting of 75%, the exegetical component holds the remaining 25%.

This study’s focus is on the operation of chamber theatre space, not necessarily the styles of work in that space. In order to set up the study, the term “chamber theatre” is redefined from being ‘a form of performance and dramaturgy that restricts the stage means of expression, the numbers of spectators and actors and the scope of the themes’ (Pavis 1998, 46) to become theatre works that are, either through design structures or their physical performance space, intimate, confined or framed.

Rather than identifying existing gaps in literature the goal of this study was to take a theoretical idea related to the practice of scenography and apply it in a practical setting. In this way, the study investigated if the scenographic components of a chamber theatre performance could be employed as a machine that operates according to its own logic of operations, psycho-plastic manipulations, and metatheatricality. By doing so, testing if the scenography becomes a dramaturgy that contributes to spectorial meaning-making in and of itself – to discover if the theory works to achieve outcomes in a practical context. Christopher Baugh’s seminal text, Theatre Performance and Technology: the development of scenography in the twentieth century (2005), offers a way of engaging with contemporary scenography that resonated strongly with my practice as a theatre-maker. Baugh’s theoretical propositions worked to propel this study forward through three creative practice cycles.

By analysing particular moments in the creative development cycles of making What’s Wrong with Gregor Post? and A Tribute of Sorts, this study proposes that elements of scenographic process can be employed as a practical means of creating contemporary chamber theatre. This study offers theorists and practitioners a clearer understanding of how scenography functions in the creation and presentation of performance work made for chamber theatre spaces.

As an Australian scenographer whose career as an emerging artist is centred on creating performances in chamber theatre space and within intimate design structures, I have experienced a gap in methodological approaches specific to working in chamber spaces. This study charts my personal working practice and is an attempt to connect existing scenographic theory to a more specific context, to the development and performance of contemporary chamber theatre.


Read the full research here