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Medieval Theatre Production Techniques

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Elizabeth Amos

on 9 December 2013

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Transcript of Medieval Theatre Production Techniques

Medieval Theatre Production Techniques
Processional Staging
Pageant wagons
mainly used in England, Spain and the Netherlands for cycle plays in 15th and 16th centuries
audiences would assemble at various places and the wagon would bring the show from locale to locale
the pageants were divided into 24 parts that would extend over three days
each wagon was owned by a guild and each play was assigned to an appropriate guild (e.g. "The Last Supper" would be assigned to the Baker's Guild)
3 different theories on the structures:
Stationary Staging
Included:
Performances in Churches
Performances in Courtyards
Mansion Stages
Theatre in the Round
Booth Stages
The Neutral Platform Stage
whether on wagons, in churches, or outdoors in conjunction with mansions the idea of a large non-localized playing space was common throughout Medieval Theatre
"Shifts of locale could be created in the imaginations of spectators rather than by changes of the scenery" (Wilson, 120).
Conclusion
The church was highly influential in the production of Medieval Theatre, but performances became a community effort. Technological advances allowed for special effects to be created that would continue to influence later dramatic periods.

Disclaimer: All information gathered is based on scholarly speculation largely formed from pictures and limited stage directions.
Medieval Theatre Background
refers to theatre in the time between the fall of the Western Roman Empire (5th C.E.) and the beginning of the Renaissance (1400 C.E.)
plays meant to teach audience about religion and morality
therefore plots were less dramatic and had little tension
special effects and large stages were used to make plays more entertaining and visually spectacular
Harris, John Wesley. Medieval Theatre in Context: An Introduction. London: Routledge, 1992. Print.
Theory 3
Most radical theory, stating that processional staging was too complicated to actually have happened. Instead, the wagons may have operated as floats and paraded through town until they arrived at a set location where the show would take place.
Special Effects on Wagons
the estimated dimensions of the "houses" on the wagons are: 10 ft long and 11 ft wide
removable roofs were positioned on top of 4 pillars
are reported to have carried stage machinery for effects called "secrets" such as:
grid irons- an iron structure used to raise and lower God
thunder barrels- created sound effects
shiny surfaces- reflected light for halo effects
trap doors- allowed actors to be raised and lowered
there are unexplained reports of "two rolls of tree" being used to "put forth the pageant"
Wilson, Edwin, and Alvin Goldfarb. Living Theatre: History of the Theatre. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2008. Print.
Wilson, Edwin, and Alvin Goldfarb. Living Theatre: History of the Theatre. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2008. Print.
Wilson, Edwin, and Alvin Goldfarb. Living Theatre: History of the Theatre. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2008. Print.
Southern, Richard. The Medieval Theatre in the Round: A Study of the Staging of The Castle of Perseverance and Related Matters. New York: Theatre Arts, 1975. Print.
Liturgy and Mass were presented as types of preliminary performances
Mystery, Miracle and Morality plays were originally produced within churches
these performances at first were not heavily spectacular but slowly grew to enhance entertainment
mansions first appeared in the church, but soon grew too elaborate and performances were moved outdoors
Church Performances
Courtyards
When performances moved outside of churches they were adapted to large sets within courtyards. These sets included built mansions and occasionally incorporated the actual mansions of wealthy citizens that looked onto the yard. These houses also doubled as additional seating for audiences.
The English Stage: A History of Drama and Performance by John L. Styan. Cambridge University Press (July 13, 1996)
Harris, John Wesley. Medieval Theatre in Context: An Introduction. London: Routledge, 1992. Print.
Mansions
A series of stage structures used to represent specific locations such as heaven or hell
arranged around an open playing space called the "platea", which could be a huge platform stage erected in courtyards of towns, residences or monasteries or in a town square
occasionally existing sites (e.g. Roman Amphitheaters) were used as a setting for the mansions
Wilson, Edwin, and Alvin Goldfarb. Living Theatre: History of the Theatre. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2008. Print.
Theatre in the Round
performance venues were built by digging ditches and using left over dirt to create walls, having one entrance-way
audience seating would be cut into the walls
performers felt it was important to separate the audience from the action and therefore would install moats or fencing around the acting area
scaffolds were used for the set, which was often of the Heaven and Hell mansions
Harris, John Wesley. Medieval Theatre in Context: An Introduction. London: Routledge, 1992. Print.
Booth Stages
a "high thrust platform with a curtain area at the back for the actors to enter from and costume themselves in" (Harris, 108).
had very little, if any set and functioned to focus on the actor and what he was saying
Harris, John Wesley. Medieval Theatre in Context: An Introduction. London: Routledge, 1992. Print.
Special Effects in Stationary Staging
"Actors impersonating heavenly beings could be 'flown in' on lines and ropes from the roofs of adjoining buildings" (Wilson, 121).
music played a significant role with some dramas including choruses and others solo performances
professional entertainers accompanied performances and entertained before and after presentations and during breaks
mansions representing Heaven frequently contained flying machinery to lift performers aloft
mansions representing Hell often spewed forth fire and smoke
Wilson, Edwin, and Alvin Goldfarb. Living Theatre: History of the Theatre. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2008. Print.
Wilson, Edwin, and Alvin Goldfarb. Living Theatre: History of the Theatre. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2008. Print.
Wilson, Edwin, and Alvin Goldfarb. Living Theatre: History of the Theatre. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2008. Print.
The wagon was a 2 story structure on 4-6 wheels and the bottom level was a dressing and storage area for props and costumes, with acting space
Theory 1
Multiple wagons were used in conjunction with each other. One would be a one-story wagon containing scenery and acting would take place either on bare scaffold carts or on the street.
Theory 2
Discussion Questions
1. Which pageant wagon theory do you think is most likely to be true, or can you think of any other variations that may be possible?

2. Are there any speculations on what the "two rolls of tree" used to "put forth the pageant" could be?

3. Why do you think it is that the concept of a neutral stage has survived into present-day theatre, while localized stage areas (mansions) have not retained their popularity?
David Vivian!
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