Designing for Tennessee Williams' 'Plastic Theatre'
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
Lecturer, Drama Department