With a strong basis in expressionism, atmospheric sets focus on elements that create a pervading tone, mood, romance, mystery or nostalgia. There are numerous ways to do this, but atmospheric elements found in theater have included (but are not limited to) rain, snow, glitter, bubbles, confetti, streamers, fog, foam, haze and confetti. No matter what the set is “the space in which the story must unfold. The element employed may have a metaphorical effect, but also has to prove itself within the given bounds.”
Radical German scenic designer Katrin Brack has mastered atmospheric set design. She describes her work as what “fits as a gesture, without shamming through decoration”.
Her groundbreaking design for “Ivanov” was made entirely of “a fog controlled by a draught across the stage as a moving sculpture in “Ivanov”. As simple as it was total.” Characters entered thru a thick wall of fog at the back of the stage, disappearing and appearing out of thin air with little to no real “scenery” (we’ll work on a definition of scenery at another time).
The production and her design looks stunning and audience members have told me it’s unlike anything we’ve seen here in the States. But in Europe her design has sparked a debate on what scenic design is and on a more core level- what scenic design can be. Some people say Katrin’s set isn’t set design. Others say it’s crossed into a new phase of design, taping into something a standard piece of “scenery” (again we’ll define this later) can’t express.
Can atmosphere be scenic design? Comment below and let me know what you think and send me some of your favorite atmospheric sets.
Digital sets can take us to new fields of view, depths and perspectives that other design styles cannot. Often digital effects are used to give the feeling of a “live” environment, give the actor a stronger sense of control of their space or can even be used to create digital actors entirely. Both The Ring Cycle used and The Magic Flute utilized digital actors voiced or sung just offstage, while a computer interpreted and mimicked their actions onstage thru projections. Digital sets can then combined with box, unit, atmospheric (projection on fog is amazing), installation, site-specifc and collaged sets.
"The Ring Cycle" - Carl Fillion
"The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Nighttime" - Bunny Christie