In all my time in education, if there is one thing, and one thing only, that I have learnt as a theatre maker, it is that scene changes are a huge waste of time, space, thought and energy and should be completely banished from any show, ever.
“Chair-waving”, as Nicholas Blincoe called it in his Guardian Unlimited blog, by definition is “between acts, in the set changes that usually take place in the dark.” Yet, Blincoe, doesn’t seem to point out why they are so awful other than remarking that they are “bad, bad business” and are clumsily done. I have seen this all too often and it’s time there was an end. Scene changes in the dark often take a very long time, unnecessarily break the continuity of the action and, more often than not, are very noisy – all these factors can hinder a production to a disastrous point. Even a scene change between acts, an interval perhaps, the audience are thrown completely and take an immediate disinterest.
It is my belief, that if you are going to do a scene change, you should let it happen in front of the audience and curate it as part of the performance. If done well, there is nothing more joyous than seeing a swift and slick scene change to help the journey of the performance. The audience shouldn’t be masked from any such change because they become excluded and ousted but instead should be part of every single moment of the whole show.
I am currently working on a production of Woyzeck by Georg Buchner. Every change is openly played and crafted as part of the action – it becomes an important part of the story and there are certainly no chairs involved! The play, as with any, requires the empathy of the audience to follow the characters on their journey, and with so many scenes (I think our version has 28 in total), it is imperative that the story is clear and coherent so that we never lose the audience throughout the journey. We endeavour to show costume changes, set changes; although minimal, and clear lighting changes – all of which are a vital part of the story.
Quite clearly, through my own experience, the problem exists in the early education of any theatre makers’ career. Therefore, it should be included in the school’s curriculum that no chairs should be used to create a set and no set changes should take place in the dark. There are 101 ways to create a scene without a chair and even more to change a set – we can always go back to the ease of a chair (yawn).
But to the many professional productions that I have seen, I am coming to the stage where chair-waving nightmares often dominate my sleep. Please can we all put a stop to this for the greater good of the theatre world?