Designing for Tennessee Williams' 'Plastic Theatre'

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In the early 1940s, when Tennessee Williams was working on his first successful play, The Glass Mengerie, he developed an idea he termed ‘plastic theatre’ or ‘sculptural drama’, an idea that he believed would launch a new type of theatre that would move away from what he dismissed as ‘typewriter theatre’ by affording equal value to the non-literary elements of stage production and to the literary text. Rather than being ‘new’ or ‘revolutionary’ Williams’ notion can be seen as part of a development that had its roots in the theories and practices of late 19th and early 20th century European theatre theorists and practitioners. However, in the application of his theory to the writing of his plays, Williams’ brought about a close connection between the work of the stage designer and that of the playwright.
The way designers of the 1940s and 50s responded to Williams’ ‘plastic theatre’ or ‘sculptural drama’ had an enduring influence on American scenography; the plays of Tennessee Williams have continued to challenge the creative and technical resources of the designer into the twenty-first century.


Keywords: Set Design, Tennessee Williams
Stream: Performing Arts Practices: Theatre, Dance, Music
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Cathie Clelland

Lecturer, Drama Department
School of Humanities, The Australian National University

Canberra, Australian National Territory, Australia

Cathie Clelland teaches in the Drama Department of the Australian National University and has special interests in the theory and practice of directing and design and in Australian and American drama. As a theatre practitioner, she works as director and designer for ‘papermoon', the production company of ANU Drama, as well as for many companies in Canberra and beyond. She is currently a PhD candidate exploring Tennessee Williams’ idea of ‘plastic theatre’ and its implications for the practice of set design.

Ref: A09P0090