Between the Lines of form 262: Simon Donger, Scenographer
Scenography is the key topic of the upcoming issue and we are pleased to announce that the scenographer, Simon Donger, is one of our authors. In addition to working as a stage designer, director and curator, he is also an academic member of staff and course leader at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama at the University of London where he was involved with developing the master programme in scenography.
His current projects include two productions for the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow for which he designed and implemented interactive projections. His article “Lebendiges Licht – Theatre Space” goes into more detail. We asked him in advance about his method of working and his collaboration with the Bolshoi Theatre. In addition, a video clip shows the design work for the ballet, “A Hero of Our Time”, and parts of the performance.
form 262 will be published on 15 October 2015.
Between the Lines of form 262: Simon Donger, Scenographer from form – Design Magazine on Vimeo, preparatory interactive design and performance implementation for “A Hero of Our Time”, Vera’s Haze.
How and why did you become a scenographer?
I first trained in sculpture though rapidly found that the live body was intrinsic to my work. Since performing bodies are highly malleable and inventive, I shifted my practice to scenography.
Which influences did shape your way of thinking and your working practices?
At this point, I was fortunate enough to spend three months assisting the company Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio and this is the single most important influence on my approach and practice. Their concern with performance as a point of resistance to institutionalised modes of being and living, and their process of rehearsing set, light and sound without performers, consolidated my interest in scenography as a living organism that questions bodies rather than frames and defines them.
Which role will designers play in the near and far future with regard to your own working context?
There are more and more scenographers operating as directors, too. This allows very different directorial approaches to exist. I would hope this diversification will continue to expand.
What led to the collaboration with the Bolshoi theatre in Moscow?
The collaboration with the Bolshoi was the result of a technical problem they were facing for two new shows they were creating. Though each show had different directors and designers, both wanted lots of water on stage and the theatre could not logistically allow it. They thus considered projection and invited me to pitch and demonstrate a design. Anyone can project rain or a pool of water but for it to be somehow realistic and effective it would need to be affected by the performer’s presence: for instance, water ripples when one steps into a pool. So the projection needed to be interactive and this is not simple to achieve nor is it common in ballet.
How do you develop the set design for a production? How does a typical design process look like?
The design process is very much dependent on the context and the collaborators of a given project. The director, choreographer, performers and other designers have much impact on the progress of the design. Because there are so many interesting ways of collaborating, I tend to select very different projects and contexts, so my process keeps evolving. This being said, like all stage designers there are certain things I am particular about and always include in any process: hand drawing or sketching is constant from start to end of projects as it is essential for me to capture moments of the performance that I can then visually and speculatively manipulate on paper. Also, I always write a visual dramaturgy of the scenography: this is a text that explains the reasons behind every design decision vis-à-vis the dramaturgy of the performance and the director’s ideas and requirements. I write this document at the very start of the project and keep rewriting it as the project evolves.