Adolphe Appia

by Pericles Lewis

The Swiss theorist Adolphe Appia (1862-1928), like the English actor and set designer Gordon Craig, created methods for implementing Richard Wagner’s vision of the “total work of art” in the theater. Appia, in The Staging of Wagnerian Music Drama (1895) and Music and the Art of Theatre (1899), proposed to banish painted backdrops and replace them with three-dimensional settings; his sets made use of risers and steps to emphasize the three-dimensionality of the physical space of the stage, and the actor’s presence within it. He advocated the abolition of the proscenium arch and of all naturalistic details of setting; for him, the stage was a dramatic, rhythmic space to be organized artistically, somewhat along the lines of the reorganization of pictorial space in post-impressionist and abstract art. Instead of a fourth wall opening onto a room, Appia envisioned the stage as “a vista into the unknown, into boundless space.”[1] As a result, his stage designs aimed at evoking an atmosphere rather than representing a concrete place.[2] Appia’s ideas about lighting and staging influenced many different types of production.[3]

  1. ↑ Quoted in Lee Simonson, “The Ideas of Adolphe Appia,” in The Theory of the Modern Stage, ed. Eric Bentley (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968), p. 48.
  2. ↑ Oscar G. Brockett and Robert R. Findlay, Century of Innovation: A History of European and American Theatre and Drama Since 1870 (Prentice-Hall, 1973), p. 211.
  3. ↑ This page has been adapted from Pericles Lewis’s Cambridge Introduction to Modernism (Cambridge UP, 2007), pp. 195-196.

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